“Racist, fascist, anti-gay! Stephen Bannon, go away!” Jewish protesters shouted last night as they marched toward the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City – where Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump’s appointed chief strategist, was invited to attend this year’s Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) Gala. When police told protesters to disperse outside the hotel or risk arrest, the march continued around the block.
The protest – planned by organizations including IfNotNow, T’ruah, and Jews For Racial and Economic Justice – drew a 500 to 600-person crowd, a sea of kippas and signs with slogans like “Fire Bannon” and “Bannon is treyf.”
The demonstration criticized the ZOA for aligning with Bannon, a highly controversial figure in the Jewish community as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a media outlet he described as “a platform for the alt-right.”
Jewish college students actively participated in the protest with contingents from Columbia University, Barnard, and New York University. For them, the protest wasn’t just about Bannon’s presence at the ZOA but communicating to an older generation of Jews that it’s time to do things differently.
Sarah Miriam Revesz, a senior at Swarthmore College and a member of IfNotNow, explained that protesters wanted to send a message to the ZOA that “…we saw what they were doing.”
“They have a history of saying, if someone is pro-Israel, they can’t be anti-Semitic. Stephen Bannon is very clearly anti-Semitic. It’s a demonstration of being pro-Israel at any cost.”
She believes that cost is too high for both Jews and other minorities, and the Jewish community needs to change its past self-preservation strategies. “We know that our safety as Jews will not come from cozying up to power like the older generation has tried to do,” she said. “And it won’t come from isolating ourselves… Our safety will come from standing in solidarity with groups threatened by the new administration and strengthening our bonds of ally-ship with them.”
For Sophie Edelhart, a Barnard and Jewish Theological Seminary sophomore in Jewish Voice for Peace, the protest was about both taking a stand against Bannon and “showing the Jewish establishment, especially the ZOA, that they don’t represent me and a lot of my friends and Jewish youth.”
She found it cathartic, she said, “to be in a space that was taking such a strong stance and to sort of see my anger reflected in others,” she said. “It assured me that this isn’t a singular experience but a systemic problem and a problem with the Jewish establishment.”
Itay Barylka, an New York University freshman and IfNotNow member, felt a similar communal unity. “As a young Israeli living in the United States, it’s frustrating to see how what we consider right wing in Israel is the status quo here,” he said. “Other than the absurd police presence, I’d say there was an incredible sense of community and oneness. The people at that protest and the people with us in spirit were not going to stand silently while Trump and his friends try to impose this new white supremacist order in America… Finally the complacency of the left is being lifted.”
In the end, Bannon failed to appear at the gala. ZOA President Morton Klein speculated to Haaretz that Bannon was ultimately deterred by the protesters.
Sara Weissman is the editor in chief of New Voices. Kvetch or kvell to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.