End the Gorka Calumny
This past week has been both solemn and happy in Israel. Israel mourned and remembered more than 23,500 of her best men and women who died defending their country, as well as the many innocent victims murdered in evil acts of terror. On the very day Israel celebrated 69 years as the only true independent democracy in the Middle East, UNESCO slammed it as the aggressive “occupying power” of Jerusalem and referred to that city’s holy sites by Muslim names only.
At the same time, the invitation given to Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour to speak at a CUNY commencement has continued to evoke condemnation. Sarsour — who was praised by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as a “suffragist” because of her role in the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year — recently shared a podium in Chicago with fellow activist and marcher Rasmea Odeh. They each attacked Zionists for their supposed “land grab.” Ironically, they spoke before a group called “Jewish Voice for Peace,” whose mission statement includes seeking “an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem” and “security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Odeh is being deported from the US because she never reported in her immigration application that, as a terrorist in Israel, she murdered two men and was convicted by a military court. She served ten years in jail before being released in a prisoner exchange.
Sarsour declared in The Nation in March that one cannot be both a feminist and a Zionist. This week, former Anti-Defamation League national director Abe Foxman called Sarsour “a bigot.” And yet, she continues to receive support from Jews and non-Jews who are blind to who she really is.
Some of the same people advocating for Sarsour have attacked Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump. The most glaring allegations against him are that he is an antisemite with connections to fascist groups in his late father’s native Hungary. Because these are very serious charges, I chose to investigate the matter. What I learned was that the allegations are baseless and entirely unfounded. Gorka’s interactions with Jews, Jewish communities and Israel have been uniformly positive and thoroughly supportive.
But first of all, who is Gorka? He is a British-born scholar with expertise in radical Islam and counter-terrorism. His father was a political prisoner in Communist Hungary who continued fighting to free his country even after his escape to London. Before that, the Gorka family had assisted Jewish friends during the Holocaust.
Gorka himself returned to Hungary as a young man to help his ancestral homeland anchor itself with the West. Without question his politics skewed to the right. When key segments of the Hungarian Right began expressing antisemitism, Gorka fought them in ways that ended his political career in the country.
My investigation into Gorka taught me that he is (at least) the third generation of his family to take personal risks on behalf of freedom and on behalf of Jews.
Gorka’s chief critic has been Jane Eisner, the editor-in-chief of The Forward, which has published many articles making a case against him. The time and effort the paper put into this work is impressive. I have to believe that if there was anything — even a single anecdote — in Gorka’s past that was remotely antisemitic, The Forward would have found it. Yet in all the articles, there was not a single report of anything Gorka ever said, did or wrote that might paint Jews in a negative light. The closest thing to validation of his naysayers was a video of an interview he gave that was deceptively edited to make it look as if he supported something he clearly opposed — as anyone who read a complete transcript of the interview could discern.
As far as I can tell, The Forward’s entire case against Gorka seems to be that he is proud of his Hungarian heritage and has worked with the Hungarian Right. While we all know that Hungary — like many counties in the world — has produced antisemitic figures, including some active in its political right today, the efforts to tar him with that brush are not based on any evidence at all. To smear an innocent man is immoral and politically dishonest.
So during this week when we mourned and celebrated with Israel, we continued to face anti-Zionism and antisemitism in America. Sarsour has tried to obfuscate her anti-Zionism with a show of philosemitism (she raised money to repair a desecrated Jewish cemetery in St. Louis). Also, many Jewish women worked with her on the Washington march. But as we know from the UN — the parent body of UNESCO — anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Unfortunately, too many Jews are in the ranks of the anti-Zionist camp. And too many Jews have joined with the allies of Sarsour in libeling Gorka.
As a Jew who has children living in Gush Etzion and members of my family who have served in or are set to enlist in the IDF, I am very proud. I did not vote for Trump in November. But he is our elected president and all Americans are invested in his success.
I support freedom of the press and I think the president should spend less time attacking the media and more time doing the work of all of the people of America who he was elected to serve. I believe he will find a more balanced press when he does. But he must know that there will always be media criticism. All of America, including the president, are the beneficiaries of a free press.
In fairness to the president, Gorka was a great appointment and he should be commended for it. The Gorka calumny should be buried once and for all.