Once it was the job of the shtadlan — a literal translation from Hebrew is “intercessor” — to make the case for the Jews to the czar, the sultan, the king.
Now a couple of the president’s men are seeking shtadlans to make their case to the Jews.
Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s top strategic adviser, and Sebastian Gorka, an adviser on counterterrorism, have met, been photographed with and vouched for by Jewish figures happy to counter the impression that either is no friend of the Jews.
Gorka, under scrutiny for his purported ties to the Hungarian right, name-checked a number of Jewish supporters when he spoke last week at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York.
“The two Davids — Ira, Bruce, Jeff, Mort, Joel, Noah — you know who you are, OK, especially thank you to Rabbi Billet, who wrote this Friday an amazing piece,” he said, according to The Atlantic.
Hershel Billet, the rabbi of the Young Island of Woodmere, on of the largest modern Orthodox synagogues in the United States, had written an essay defending Gorka against charges that “he is an anti-Semite with connections to fascist groups in his late father’s native Hungary.” Bruce Abramson, a lawyer, and Jeff Ballabon, a media strategist, have penned similar open letters of recommendation.
Joel Pollak, a senior editor-at-large at Breitbart News, has called charges that Gorka is anti-Semitic a “smear.” And Mort Klein, the national president of the Zionist Organization of America, has declared that Gorka is a “great friend of Israel.”
Klein also has defended Bannon against charges that the news site he once led, Breitbart, courts anti-Semites within the so-called “alt-right.” Bannon recently posed for a selfie alongside Shmuley Boteach, the celebrity rabbi and one-time Republican congressional candidate, who tweeted, “Steve is a great, stalwart friend of the Jewish state.”
Non-Jewish politicians have always relied on Jewish surrogates to help make their case to Jewish voters.
What’s unusual here is that Bannon and Gorka have been identified — their defenders say unfairly — with movements deemed by many in the Jewish community as hostile to Jews.
Here’s a gallery of the Bannon-Gorka intercessors:
Klein was probably the most outspoken critic among leaders of national Jewish groups of the Obama administration, and he has been among the most vocal Jewish defenders of the Trump administration.
“ZOA’s Morton Klein recently met and had a long meeting with Dr. Gorka at the White House, and can confirm that Dr. Gorka is a great friend of the Jewish people and Israel,” the ZOA posted on April 4.
“ZOA’s own experience and analysis of Breitbart articles confirms Mr. Bannon’s and Breitbart’s friendship and fair-mindedness towards Israel and the Jewish people,” ZOA posted in November, responding to criticism of Bannon from the Anti-Defamation League. “To accuse Mr. Bannon and Breitbart of anti-Semitism is Orwellian. In fact, Breitbart bravely fights against anti-Semitism.”
Jeff Ballabon and Bruce Abramson
Ballabon and Abramson, in op-eds and through networking, helped make the case for Trump during the campaign, first to fellow Republican Jews and then to Jewish voters in the general campaign.
In March, they rebutted reporting in the Forward which linked Gorka to the Vitez.
“The Forward could not find a single shred of evidence suggesting that Sebastian Gorka has ever done or said anything even remotely anti-Semitic,” they wrote in the Jerusalem Post. Instead, they charged, the Forward has a political agenda: Gorka defends Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees, while the Forward is “an aggressively anti-Trump, pro-Syrian-refugee publication.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Rabbi Boteach sought out Bannon last week after attending Israel Independence Day festivities at the White House, and posted on social media photos of himself and Bannon posing in front of Bannon’s whiteboard, which lists Trump’s promises and checks them off once completed.
Writing about the experience in Breitbart, Boteach said: “How can a man who publicly fights BDS, stands as a foremost opponent of the Jew-hating genocidal regime in Iran, and opens a Breitbart bureau in Jerusalem so that Israel’s voice can be heard be labeled an anti-Semite?”
Pollak is the senior editor-at-large at Breitbart News. A Harvard Law graduate who interned for Alan Dershowitz, he tried and failed in 2010 to unseat an Illinois Democratic Congresswoman with a campaign focusing on her endorsement by J Street.
“Steve cares deeply about the fate of Jewish communities in America and throughout the world, a fact that is reflected in Breitbart News’ daily coverage,” Pollak wrote of Bannon last November. “It was in that spirit that Steve joined Breitbart News CEO Larry Solov (also Jewish) in launching Breitbart Jerusalem last year, fulfilling Andrew’s dream of opening a bureau in Israel specifically to cover the region from an unabashedly Zionist perspective.”
In February, Pollak wrote: “As any of his Breitbart News colleagues could testify, Gorka is not only pro-Israel but ‘pro-Jewish,’ and defends both against the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. But facts do not matter to the left and the mainstream media in their efforts to frighten the public and harass the administration.”
Honorable mention: Ronald Lauder
Does Trump need a Jewish intercessor? He has his daughter, Ivanka; her husband, Jared Kushner, and his adviser, Jason Greenblatt. No less a figure than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed Trump’s pro-Jewish bona fides.
Still and all, another intercessor has emerged in Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress — the sole Jewish leader to give Trump a pass for omitting mention of Jews in his Jan. 27 statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Any fair reading of the White House statement … will see it appropriately commemorates the suffering and the heroism that mark that dark chapter in modern history,” Lauder said at the time.
The twist: Lauder has also emerged as an intercessor for another leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He hosted a private dinner for Abbas and Trump officials at his Washington home last week, and has encouraged Trump to press forward in his plans to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace.