LOS ANGELES — The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt said that President-elect Donald J. Trump “walks into the Oval Office with a more intimate relationship with the Jewish people than any other president in the history of the United States of America.”
Greenblatt made the statement while participating in a “dinner-style information conversation” about political and Jewish values at the Shalehevet High School in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
The event was moderated by Danielle Berrin, a senior writer and columnist for the Jewish Journal, who — among other questions — asked the panelists how think the Trump administration will either exemplify or contravene Jewish values.
Greenblatt said, “we don’t yet know.” He added, “I think it is worth nothing that whether you like this President-elect or not… This man walks into the Oval Office with a more intimate relationship with the Jewish people than any other president in the history of the United States of America. So I just wanted to point that out.” He added his belief that “the notion of having children who are ‘shomer Shabbas’ [Sabbath observant] in the First Family is pretty remarkable.”
The panelists were critical of Trump overall, although there were a few glimmers of positive comment. Rabbi Ari Segal, who heads the Shalhevet Institute, said, “Whether you like him or hate him, he did show empathy in this election; maybe not for everybody. But for the states — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — he showed more empathy for them than Hillary Clinton did.”
Segal also pointed out that many students voted for Trump in a mock election the school held, which caused him to have ” a moment of deep self-reflection.” He said lots of people who “planned on voting for Donald Trump went into the voting booth knowing they were going to vote for Trump, but they didn’t tell anybody,” referring to what is known as the “Silent Majority.”
He added, “I’ll take it as a moment to pat the students of Shelhevet on the back… I take it as a badge of honor that the students of Shalhevet have created a ‘safe space’.” Siegel went on to say, “I wish we had communities that weren’t echo chambers.”
Dan Schnur, a political analyst and director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, touted the fact that the USC Dornsife / Los Angeles Times poll was the only major poll that correctly predicted Trump’s win.
Berrin asked Greenblatt to address accusations that the ADL has become a partisan organization. “I would challenge the claim that we are somehow more partisan today,” Greenblatt said.
“We’re not … I’m an easy target for those kinds of accusations. I worked of the Obama administration,” Greenblatt noted. “Full disclosurr: I worked in the Clinton administration [too].” He recalled that he took a stand against the Iran deal, “much to the umbrage of my old boss,” President Barack Obama.
In sum, he said, “one thing we will never do, is we will never tolerate intolerance. Period. And to those who think that’s political, so be it.”
Berrin referred to recent comments by Rabbi Sharon Brous, who had declared “the world has gone mad,” and had referred to Steve Bannon as an “an alt-right, white supremacist purveyor of racist, Islamophobic, and antisemitic propaganda as chief strategist to the White House.” Berrin asked: “So my question to the panel is, do you know of anything Steve Bannon has said that was antisemitic? And if not, does his long association with people like Andrew Breitbart and others, strongly identified Jew, suggest another dynamic is at work?”
Greenblatt said, “I’ll jump in and simply said that I don’t know what’s in — I don’t think any of us know what’s in Steve Bannon’s heart. We don’t really know what his motives are. But we do know that as executive chairman of that media company, he identified a market center and felt that his website Breitbart could serve it. He was very explicit.”
Paraphrasing Bannon, Greenblatt said, “he said, we will make this the platform for the alt-right. And I will repeat what I said about the alt-right. This is white supremacy 2016. Racism, antisemitism, etc. We saw that.” (Greenblatt backed down from claims that Breitbart News is the “premier” alt-right site last month.)
Many have told me he’s got Jewish employees. Many have reminded me he opened up a Jerusalem office. That all may be well and good, but we have crunched the numbers. We have looked at the data. And anyone who tells you that the alt-right is not a problem is wrong. So, I don’t know what’s in Steve Bannon’s head. And I don’t know what’s in his heart. I can’t speak to what his intentions are. All we can do is focus on the outcomes.
Later in the debate, Greenblatt went on to say, “Karl Marx was Jewish, right? People say that Vladimir Lenin, who led a lot of stuff, was Jewish. Research has found that Hitler had a Jewish grandmother. I’m not comparing the president-elect to any of those historical figures, but I simply was trying to point out that those who say he doesn’t understand us… are wrong. He does. That doesn’t give him a get out of jail free card. It doesn’t. But we should acknowledge that it’s complicated.”
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz