RCA silent on Bannon, but ‘extremely concerned’ about anti-Semitism

Ben Sales

(JTA) – The Rabbinical Council of America’s executive vice president told JTA that the appointment of Stephen Bannon was too “political” to address in a letter it sent to President-elect Donald Trump.

Rabbi Mark Dratch added, however, that his centrist Orthodox rabbinical organization is “extremely concerned” about rising anti-Semitism.

In its letter to Trump, which appeared Wednesday as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times, the RCA called on the incoming president to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and not to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the United Nations.

“There are a lot of, a lot of issues, and this was not meant to be a cholent,” Dratch told JTA on Wednesday evening regarding the letter, referring to a traditional Jewish stew eaten on Shabbat. Bannon’s appointment, said Dratch, “is also very political, and as a rabbinical organization our inclination was to get involved in issues that were important diplomatically for the Jewish community but that were not political.”

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Bannon is the former chairman of Breitbart News, a website that Bannon himself called “the platform for the alt-right,” a loose movement of the far right whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”

A handful of Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, have condemned his appointment. Two conservative groups, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America, have endorsed Bannon based in part on his and Breitbart’s pro-Israel stance. Several large Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee, have not commented directly on Bannon.

Dratch noted that a statement sent Wednesday in tandem with the RCA letter said it was time to “work together with our President-elect. As religious leaders, we wish to make a statement protecting the rights of all and restoring unity and civil discourse in the United States.”

He said the alt-right’s role in rising anti-Semitism and bigotry does worry the RCA.

“We are extremely concerned about the impact that’s had on the rise of anti-Semitism,” he said. “We’re concerned about the rise of anti-black feeling, anti-Muslim feeling, problems that women are facing. There are lots of concerns.”

In the letter to Trump, the RCA congratulated him on his victory in last week’s presidential election and reminded him of a pledge he made to recognize Jerusalem as “the one true capital of Israel.” It also thanked President Barack Obama for defending Israel in the U.N. Security Council.

“As Mr. Trump is about to assume the presidency of the United States of America, we ask him to act on these articulated principles by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and by standing firmly against the hateful and discriminatory rhetoric that is the underpinning of such anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations,” the letter said.

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