Jewish leader urges open mind about Trump despite antisemitism concerns

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The president-elects chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has been accused of antisemitic views but a Jewish leader says Trump should be given a chance

Donald Trump should be given the benefit of the doubt in appointing people associated with the far right, racism and alleged antisemitism, the leader of one of the USs leading Jewish organisations has said.

Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, told the Guardian: I think the president has the right to choose his own people and we should take a look-and-see approach.

Regarding Trumps appointment of Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of the far-right Breitbart website who has been accused of stoking neo-Nazism, as his chief of strategy, Rosen said: Im not defending many of the things Bannon has said or the newspaper he worked for. I think many statements are unfortunate. I certainly dont accept any bigotry or racism, Im not defending any of that.

But, he added: You give Trump the benefit of the doubt. He is the president. Every president picks people that we dont necessarily agree with and hold our noses on What you see is many who argue Bannon is not a racist or antisemite, and others who argue strenuously he is. My attitude is let the president choose his people and lets see what the outcome is, and be prepared to speak out if there are any problems.

An ex-wife of Bannon, Mary Louise Piccard, has said that he had made antisemitic remarks almost a decade ago when he objected to sending their twin daughters to an elite Los Angeles academy because he didnt want the girls going to school with Jews, according to 2007 court papers.

Bannon has denied being antisemitic, telling the Wall Street Journal such claims were a joke, and that he was an economic nationalist, not a white supremacist.

Rosens comments come amid fraught debate among American Jews over Trumps election, appointments and likely policies on Israel. While some prominent Jewish organisations have remained silent over the appointment of Bannon, others have issued condemnations.

The Anti-Defamation League denounced Trumps choice, with its chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt, accusing Bannon of harbouring antisemitic and white supremacist views. It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the alt-right a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed antisemites and racists is slated to be a senior staff member in the peoples house, Greenblatt said in a statement.

The progressive pro-Israel J Street group said Bannon had an extensive history of championing the views of the extreme right in the United States and around the world. It accused Trump of fanning the flames of hatred by appointing Bannon.

The National Jewish Democratic Council said: We fear that Trumps choice of Steve Bannon is just the first appointment of many individuals who have engaged in, or at least, tolerated antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.

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A demonstration outside Trumps Soho hotel denouncing the appointments of Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Michael Flynn. Photograph: Erik M/Pacific/Barcroft Images

But Aipac, the most prominent pro-Israel lobby group, and the Conference of Presidents, which represents more than 50 Jewish agencies, are among Jewish organisations which have said nothing publicly about Bannons appointment.

Some observers have suggested that, in the calculations of some Jewish organisations, Trumps anticipated policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his opposition to Barack Obamas nuclear deal with Iran outweigh his association with the far right.

During the election campaign, Trump pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an act of huge symbolic significance, and to back the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. He also said he would tear up the Iran nuclear deal, which has been strongly criticised by Israel.

Rosen said: I expect Trump to be a strong supporter of Israel and to understand Israels security concerns. I think hell be a good friend The election of Trump in the immediate term will be a bigger hug, call it that, with Israel [than would have been the case with Hillary Clinton].

He added: Its helpful not to put as much pressure on Israel than some presidents have in the past. I personally believe more of the pressure needs to be put on the Palestinians than the Israelis. I think American Jews from all factions would agree with that.

Despite anxieties in some quarters over Trumps policies and appointments, we need to give him a chance, said Rosen.

Rosen urged the president-elect to voice condemnation of the alt-right movement to a larger audience in a more public way because I think its frightening a lot of Americans.

But, he added, lets give the president who won the chance to show his views. Theres time to respond to problems that may evolve we do have a democracy, we do have elections, opportunities to respond if things dont go right

[Trump] is a smart guy, he knows where America stands and he knows hes got to win elections going forward. Therell be some rough moments but well be fine.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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