Jewish congressman defends having Bannon headline fundraiser

WASHINGTON — Congressman Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, defended his decision to have Steve Bannon headline a fundraiser.

“There’s a lot about his background that doesn’t get talked about and he’s gotten a bad rap in many respects,” Zeldin said Monday on CNN after being asked about a report that Bannon, a one-time senior adviser to US President Donald Trump and the CEO at the Breitbart News website, will headline a fundraiser next month for Zeldin, who represents a Long Island district in New York.

Bannon has called the Breitbart site a platform for the “alt-right,” the loose assemblage of anti-establishment conservatives that includes white supremacists and anti-Semites. Bannon was the architect of Trump’s appeal to the far right and also speaks of “globalists” who control world finance and the media — a messaging that for some has echoes of classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Breitbart also is strongly pro-Israel, has reported sympathetically on Jews who face anti-Semitism on campuses and in Europe, and said he hopes anti-Semites will wash out of the alt-right movement.

Zeldin said that people were sending him messages on Monday calling Bannon a “Nazi or Nazi sympathizer.” Referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, the congressman said Bannon “is someone who passionately speaks to me about the need to combat the rising BDS movement that’s taking place on college campuses and also abroad.”

Also, Zeldin said, Bannon speaks to him about “strengthening the relationship with our friends like Israel, which has included the need to pass the Taylor Force Act” — a bill that would cut funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it pays subsidies to the families of Palestinians who kill Israelis — “or moving the embassy to Jerusalem or treating our adversaries like adversaries.”

The Zionist Organization of America drew fire earlier this month for having Bannon speak at its annual New York gala.

“I agree with him in some respects, I disagree with him in other respects,” Zeldin said. “There’s a lot about his background people just don’t know.”

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