Zeldin Pushes Back at Bannon's Critics

Representative Lee Zeldin meeting Vice President Mike Pence in Washington earlier this year

Representative Lee Zeldin has taken strong exception to the characterization of Stephen Bannon, the White House's former chief strategist, as anti-Semitic.

Mr. Bannon is to headline a fund-raiser for the congressman's re-election campaign in Manhattan on Thursday.

Mr. Bannon's appearance there is to be the first in a planned series of fundraisers he will attend in support of Republican members of the House and Senate. It remains to be seen if these fund-raisers will be impacted by the defeat of Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, for whom Mr. Bannon went to bat.

Mr. Zeldin's communications director responded to emails seeking comment about Mr. Bannon on Friday. The day before, The Star had published an article about the upcoming fund-raiser. Mr. Bannon's participation in the benefit has spurred a petition, organized by a group called Bend the Arc Jewish Action, demanding that Mr. Zeldin disinvite him, as well as a protest outside the congressman's district office in Patchogue.

The Star had sought comment on Mr. Zeldin's embrace of Mr. Bannon, who is seen as an ally of the so-called "altright," a loose coalition of far-right conservatives who reject a traditional Republican platform. Some members of the alt-right unabashedly express neo- Nazi, white-supremacist, and anti-Semitic views, and some of those views have been aired on Breitbart News, to which Mr. Bannon returned as executive chairman after his firing from the Trump administration in August.

Mr. Zeldin, who is Jewish, was also asked about allegations that Mr. Bannon has himself made anti-Semitic statements.

In his reply, Mr. Zeldin pointed to Mr. Bannon's pro-Israeli policy positions.

For example, he said, Mr. Bannon is opposed to the "boycott, divest, sanctions" (B.D.S.) strategy, which is aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and which some consider anti- Semitic. Mr. Bannon, he said, was "the most passionate advocate I spoke to in the White House for combating the growing B.D.S. movement on college campuses and around the world."

Mr. Bannon, Mr. Zeldin said, is also an advocate for passage of the Taylor Force Act, which would stop most American aid, humanitarian and otherwise, to the Palestinian Authority, unless the Palestinian Authority took specific steps to counter violence against American and Israeli citizens by individuals under its control - specifically, by stopping support payments to the widows and children of individuals killed in a terrorist act or imprisoned by the Israeli authorities following such an act. (Opponents of the Taylor Force Act contend that Israel's definition of a terrorist act is problematic.)

Mr. Bannon also supports moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a policy President Trump announced last week, and decertification of the Iran nuclear deal, Mr. Zeldin said.

"I've witnessed countless people shamefully trying to smear him not only as anti-Semitic, but also calling him a Nazi, which truly is an absolutely disgusting character assassination," Mr. Zeldin said of Mr. Bannon.

While he was not defending Breitbart News, Mr. Zeldin said, "the sum total of content used to call them anti-Jewish was one story written by a Jewish author that called Bill Kristol a 'renegade Jew.' That's it." Mr. Kristol, the founder and editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, is a vocal opponent of President Trump.