Philly Jewish Group Calls for Opposition to Trump Stategist Steve Bannon

Young Jews demonstrated at Senator Pat Toomey’s office and the local Jewish Federation.

Photo by Jared Brey

Photo by Jared Brey

A group of young Jews marched through Center City Tuesday afternoon, calling on Republican Senator Pat Toomey and the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish Federation to speak out against President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon to a senior advisory role in the White House.

Bannon is a former executive of the news site Breitbart — a “platform for the alt-right,” in Bannon’s words — who became CEO of Trump’s campaign over the summer. The alt-right is a loose affiliation of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, far-right ideologues and Internet trolls. The term was created by a man named Richard Spencer who believes that white people should have their own country. Spencer concluded a speech in Washington this past weekend by saying “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Several audience members reacted by raising their arms in the Nazi salute.

Trump’s decision to bring Bannon to the White House has been loudly condemned by Congressional Democrats and groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center as the elevation and institutionalization of white nationalism at the highest levels of government. The decision has been praised by people like David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

In an interview with the New York Times on Tuesday, Trump said of the alt-right: “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.” He also defended Bannon, who has said he is not a white nationalist, but an “economic nationalist.”

“Fire Bannon” was the official rallying cry of Tuesday’s demonstration, as neither Toomey nor the local Jewish Federation has spoken out against Bannon’s appointment. But the protest was about something far larger than one hiring decision: namely, the swift mainstreaming, during and since Trump’s election, of far-right, explicitly racist ideas.

“Nazis are not welcome here,” the group chanted, a sentiment that apparently does not go without saying in 2016, when survivors of the Holocaust are experiencing historical déjà vu.

After marching from the Municipal Services Building to Toomey’s office at 17th Street and JFK, Rebecca Hornstein, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, addressed the crowd over a megaphone.

“We’ve seen this before, and we know that the most dangerous thing we can do right now is stay quiet and see what happens,” she said.

The protest was organized by IfNotNow, a group that formed in 2014 to build opposition within American Jewish communities to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. But the election of Trump has compelled the group to speak out on other issues.

“For most of our lives as young American Jews, the only anti-Semitism we experienced are snide comments, a joke about appearance or tired stereotypes,” said Ian Gavigan, an organizer with IfNotNow. “I think this is the first time for many American Jews that we’ve felt that history could repeat itself. That the lessons of the Holocaust are real. That democracy can be taken apart quickly and before our eyes. And that this is a fight that we have a responsibility as a people with a set of privileges to take part in. We’ve been learning the lesson ‘Never again’ our entire lives, and now we have to really put that into practice.”

When it reached the Jewish Federation building at 21st and Arch streets, the protesters laid white roses on the steps in honor of the White Rose resistance movement in Nazi Germany. After Trump’s election, the national Jewish Federation sent him a letter of congratulations, which riled the young Jewish men and women who came out to protest on Tuesday.

“We are turning our attention to the crucial fight against fascism,” said Gavigan, also an aide for Democratic Councilwoman Helen Gym. “We’re not just here for ourselves. We’re here for all of the other targets of would-be state violence, of racism, of xenophobia, of Islamophobia.”

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