Lately, we all hear this bad press surrounding our president and his advisors, while as Jews we are concerned about the changing US relationship with Israel and anti-Semitic attacks like the recent vandalism of a St. Louis Jewish cemetery and the bomb threats to schools and other Jewish institutions across the country. The fact is, however, that the government is still running, the military is still fighting, the IRS is still collecting taxes–– and, if there are attacks against Jews, law enforcement is still going to protect Jews.
The real danger, especially for us Jews, lies in something we can learn from the holiday of Purim: the role of a leader’s advisors. In the Purim story, evil Haman gains the trust of King Achashverosh, who gives Haman his royal stamp— the one object signifying the king’s power. Haman uses the king’s authority to persecute the Jews of Persia. Today, it is unfortunately possible that a top government official, after gaining the trust of the president, will target groups he does not like. While he might not seek to exterminate a people like Haman did, he could oppress and harass them.
Steve Bannon could be this person.
Before his political career, Bannon served as executive chair of Breitbart News, a right-wing news site. Bannon has a love-hate relationship with Jews, having employed Jewish staff while promoting a website that is a haven for the alt-right and white supremacists, notorious anti-Semites. The alt-right also believe that Muslims are a threat to western civilization and use this belief to justify their intolerance.
Now that Bannon is a political advisor, he has the ear of the president just as Haman had the ear of King Achashverosh. In an unprecedented move, President Trump demoted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence to roles beneath Bannon on the National Security Council, where he has an outsized influence on real-time and long-term national security planning.
We must learn from Purim, and from Esther’s actions to save the Jews even in the last moments available, that we must be vigilant and be prepared to counter political malfeasance through political action— and that is on us.
Meshulam Ungar is in 10th grade and attends both Kemp Mill Synagogue and Young Israel Shomrai Emunah in Silver Spring, Maryland.