Graduate Theological Union
Graduate Theological Union (Photo/file)

Bay Area academics sign letter seeking Bannon’s ouster

A growing list of Bay Area Jewish academics is signing on to a national statement of principles decrying President Donald Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and permanent member of the National Security Council and demanding his immediate resignation.

Signatories say they will not support or assist any American Jewish organizations and groups that do not denounce Bannon and the “voices he represents.”

The statement calls the former Breitbart editor a “deep threat to America in general and American Jews in particular.” It also draws parallels between Nazi Germany and current political activity in the United States.

“As the heirs to the legacy of the Holocaust, which began with the actions undertaken by ‘fringe groups’ in Germany, and as scholars of the Jewish experience, we must be ever vigilant toward disturbing trends in our own society,” it reads. “It is crucial that organized American Jewry speak out and demonstrate against Bannon. This is not a partisan issue; rather, it is about ensuring the stability of the core structures of our democracy.”

Organizers sent the statement to the Jewish Federations of North America, a national umbrella organization, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Individual signatories were asked to send it to their local federations and JCRCs around the United States, including in the Bay Area.

The open letter started with three signatories, and days later had 62.

David Shneer of the University of Colorado organized the statement of principles after his local federation in Boulder, along with the local JCRC and JCC, refused to denounce Bannon.

“The goal is to pressure Jewish community organizations with wealthy donors — who are Trump supporters and who probably like the fact that Bannon is taking a hard line against Muslim immigration — to take action,” Shneer said by phone. “I feel confident the Colorado JCRC and federation are afraid of losing donor support.”

Naomi Seidman
Naomi Seidman

Shneer says that since he was only one person and wanted to have a more substantial impact, he put together a group of academics to spread the message, which is why he recruited his longtime friend and former teacher Naomi Seidman, now a professor of Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

“He’s the one person who’s tried to figure out how to do more than just do more than another petition,” Seidman told J. “If we push it a little bit.”

The reason for the statement of principles, Shneer said, was that every time there’s a new anti-Semitic act, the Jewish community “runs around instead of getting at the source.”

But a number of progressive professors disagree with Shneer’s strategy. According to Seidman, they say that unity in the Jewish community is more important in the face of some 90 bomb threats against JCCs and other Jewish institutions across the country. And she says other academics are pondering the wisdom of shutting down dialogue with Jews who have different ideas.

In addition to Seidman, Bay Area academics who have signed on to the letter include Maggie Levantovskaya of Santa Clara University; Charlotte Fonrobert of Stanford University; and Rutie Adler, Robert Alter, Benjamin Brinner, Daniel Boyarin and Chana Kronfeld, all of UC Berkeley.

max cherney
Max A. Cherney

Max A. Cherney is a former J. staff writer.