He was a gifted media personality, one of the first to understand social media’s economic and political potential. The website he created turned into the home field of the American conservative right, including racist groups existing in its margins.
Breitbart died in 2012, at the age of 43. Stephen Bannon, another gifted media personality, took over Breitbart News and pushed the website’s content beyond the extreme: The margins became the center; racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-Semitism were welcomed.
During the US presidential election, Breitbart News served as Donald Trump’s semi-official mouthpiece. Bannon, a racist or an opportunist living on other people’s racism, was appointed head of the election campaign. In Trump’s White House, he will serve as the president’s chief adviser.
We are familiar with the combination between racism and enthusiastic support of Israel from Europe, from the far right parties there. Actually, we are also familiar with this combination from Israel – from the culture minister, for example, or from the coalition chairman. In America, it is somewhat of an innovation. It placed the Anti-Defamation League, the important Jewish organization, in a difficult dilemma. From its very beginning, the ADL has been fighting against racism and in favor of Israel. Suddenly, in Trump’s America, the two values have clashed. The dilemma is how to fight against racists without harming the pro-Israel body; how to fight for Israel without teaming up with racists.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s new CEO and national director, visited Israel last week. I asked him what were his thoughts when Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer legitimized Steve Bannon in front of the cameras. The Israeli envoy’s willingness to meet with Trump’s adviser was a necessity that cannot be condemned. The public groveling marked the abyss that has been created between Israel and the majority of the Jewish community.
“The ambassador has a role to fill,” said Greenblatt. “I respect that. I have a role too. For 100 years, the League has been working with the perception that the way to fight for the Jews is to fight for other minorities as well. We were at the forefront of the battle for African Americas, for immigrants and for LGBT people. That is our world view.”
When Trump’s supporters, led by the Breitbart website, incited against minorities – Muslims, Hispanics, black people, and Jews here and there – Greenblatt accused them of racism. In response, he was showered with death threats. The people who cursed him on social media included Jews, Trump supporters. He was also cursed on the left when he slammed Bernie Sanders’ criticism against Israel.
“I have no intention of turning into a tool in the battle between America’s parties,” he told me, “but we must fulfill our mission. The groups that believe in white supremacy don’t control America, but during the elections they became part of the central stream. These are the same elements which burned crosses in Ku Klux Klan ceremonies 50 years ago.”
Social media made this lawlessness possible, I said.
“There is no doubt about it,” Greenblatt replied. “What is happening on social media is very troubling. According to our estimate, there have been 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets online in the past year, and that’s an underestimation. We are not the only ones who are worried; so are Jewish businesspeople who are suffering financially. Extremism is bad for Jews – it’s bad when it comes from the right and it’s bad when it comes from the left.”
"Aren’t you exaggerating?" asked.
He showed me a picture saved on his phone which has been widely spread on social networks: Two Auschwitz ovens with a fire burning in them, and a sign on top reading, “Beds for sale, for Jews.”