Bannon to Join Zeldin at N.Y.C. Fund-Raiser

Congressman says Breitbart head got a ‘bad rap’
Representative Lee Zeldin during a 2016 appearance in Southampton

Representative Lee Zeldin of New York’s First Congressional District is under fire from Jewish and other activist groups over a participant in a fund-raiser for his re-election scheduled for next Thursday in Manhattan. 

The fund-raiser is to feature Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an opinion and commentary website that Mr. Bannon described last year as “the platform for the alt-right,” a loosely organized group that is widely seen as promoting white supremacy, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and neo-fascism. 

Mr. Bannon served as the White House chief strategist during the first seven months of President Trump’s term. Previously, he led the Trump presidential campaign, having taken a leave of absence from Breitbart. He was fired from the Trump administration in August, and returned to Breitbart the same day, vowing to continue promoting the president’s agenda. 

Mr. Zeldin, a second-term Republican, is one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress. In October, he penned an article published on the Breitbart site in which he argued against recertification of the Iran nuclear deal. 

A petition demanding Mr. Zeldin disinvite Mr. Bannon from the fund-raiser is being circulated by groups including Bend the Arc, which describes itself as a Jewish social justice organization. The campaign, called “We’ve Seen This Before,” will include a protest outside Mr. Zeldin’s district office in Patchogue on Monday, during which the petition is to be delivered. 

“That Bannon’s first fundraiser for a House Republican is for a Jewish Congressman is a shanda (disgrace),” the petition reads. “As a member of Trump’s inner circle and executive chairman of Breitbart, Steve Bannon proudly foments hatred against immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women, the poor, and Jews. His platform and strategy empowered the white supremacists who violently took to the streets in Charlottesville,” in August. “By hosting Bannon, Congressman Zeldin is declaring that he wants to be part of that plan too.”

The petition, had 3,443 signatures as of yesterday. 

An email sent to Mr. Zeldin’s Washington office last week was not answered. In a follow-up call on Tuesday, an official advised sending an email to Mr. Zeldin’s communications director, Katie Vincentz. Neither the call nor the emails had been returned as of noon yesterday. 

Mr. Zeldin did address Mr. Bannon’s appearance at the fund-raiser during a Nov. 27 interview on CNN. Mr. Bannon, he told the network’s Wolf Blitzer, “has gotten a bad rap in many respects.” In fact, he said, Mr. Bannon has spoken passionately about “the need to combat the rising B.D.S. movement on college campuses and also abroad.” B.D.S. refers to boycott-divest-sanctions, a strategy employed by opponents of the apartheid system in South Africa and now aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Mr. Bannon, he said, has also spoken with him about strengthening America’s relationship with Israel, moving that country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and “treating our adversaries as our adversaries.”

“I agree with him in some respects, I might disagree with him in other respects,” Mr. Zeldin said, “but there’s certainly a lot in his background that a lot of people just don’t know.”

Perry Gershon, an East Hampton resident who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to oppose Mr. Zeldin next year, was more direct. “Steve Bannon and Lee Zeldin are cut from the same cloth,” he said yesterday. “Both are dangerous fearmongers who don’t represent our shared values as Americans.”

Rabbi Jan Uhrbach of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons in Bridgehampton said on Monday that she was “very distressed to see that our elected representative is aligning with someone who has been supportive of and given a platform to hate and divisiveness.” Mr. Bannon, she said, “has systematically attempted to undermine civil discourse and faith in both the core institutions of our democracy and in truth itself. I think that one can’t include, as part of a political coalition, people who support hate and, in this instance, someone who’s really given a platform to white supremacists, and not be complicit in that. I would encourage the representative to distance himself from what is clearly hateful ideology and speech.” 

Rabbi Uhrbach said that she has spoken with Mr. Zeldin several times about the rise of white supremacists and Nazism in the United States and asked him to take an unequivocal stand against it. “It’s one of the central moral issues facing us today,” she said, “and speaks to the safety and well-being of everybody in our community — all races, all religions. It is devastating to see the rise of this, and to see elected officials cozying up to it.” 

Mr. Zeldin’s relationship with Mr. Bannon has also drawn criticism for the latter’s support of another candidate, Roy Moore, who is running for the Alabama senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions after he became Mr. Trump’s attorney general. Multiple women have said that Mr. Moore pursued romantic relationships with them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, one of them asserting that he molested her when she was 14. 

Mr. Bannon appeared at Mr. Moore’s campaign rally on Tuesday, one week ahead of the special election. “Washington Republicans have disappeared into the abyss with this decision to endorse and support electing a child molester to the Senate,” Evan Lukaske, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a release issued on Tuesday. 

On Monday, the Republican National Committee reversed a decision to withdraw financial support for Mr. Moore’s campaign in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations. In the about-face first reported on Breitbart News, the party will support Mr. Moore in the campaign’s final week. 

“Any organization that spends money to elect child molesters has no business spending money in New York,” Mr. Lukaske said, “and Representative Zeldin needs to do the right thing now or explain to voters later why standing with Washington Republicans was more important than standing up to a child molester.”

“Steve Bannon’s priorities are electing a pedophile in Alabama and raising money for Lee Zeldin,” Mr. Gershon said. “That says a lot about Lee Zeldin.” 

Mr. Zeldin, for his part, told Mr. Blitzer on Nov. 27 that he believes Mr. Moore should step aside. “That’s my personal opinion,” he said.