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September 3, 2017 7:20 pm

The Truth About Gorka, Liberal Jews and Israel

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin /

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Sebastian Gorka with President Donald Trump. Photo: Facebook.

After what turned out to be a brief stint working as a national security aide to President Donald Trump, Sebastian Gorka unloaded on the group that he considered his chief tormentors: liberal Jews. In a radio interview, Gorka said his support for Israel was the reason many on the left singled him out for opprobrium. In particular, he said, “The liberal elements of the American Jewish population, has basically become anti-Israeli. It’s the greatest, saddest paradox.”

Is he right about that?

No. Like all such generalizations, any attempt to describe all liberal Jews as anti-Israel is a slander. Some liberals have turned on Israel and they have swelled the ranks of critical groups like J Street, with many others backing anti-Zionist and antisemitic organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace that support the BDS movement. But most liberal Jews are still pro-Israel and many play a role in maintaining support for Israel via AIPAC and other groups.

But the avalanche of attacks on Gorka—including many from Jewish sources, some of which were unfair—was real. What was confusing about it, for him, is that he didn’t understand why being pro-Israel cut him no slack from liberal Jews.

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The reason for their antipathy is no secret. Gorka was an editor at before his stint at the White House, and he’s returning to the website. Like Steve Bannon, his former Breitbart boss, Gorka was a victim of the purge of Trump loyalists from the West Wing and left complaining about the omission of references to the threat from Islamist terror in the president’s recent Afghanistan speech.

Breitbart is often falsely accused of being antisemitic. It is, in fact, ardently pro-Israel. But, as Bannon has said, its combination of right-wing populism and attacks on liberals made it a platform for alt-right extremist readers. Breitbart is not so much an ideology as a way of thinking, in which all foes are enemies who must be eviscerated rather than debated. Trump’s style is both inspired by and deeply appealing to the Breitbart mentality that is the symbol of the intemperate spirit of our times.

As far as liberals are concerned, that means it’s open season to assail those associated with Breitbart or Trump. For Gorka, that meant a deep dive into his background as the son of Hungarian exiles by The Forward newspaper. Most of what it discovered was more a matter of guilt by association than proof of anything damaging. The Forward’s editor specified that Gorka wasn’t being accused of antisemitism, but that seemed to be their intent. Even Peter Beinart, one of its most liberal columnists, said their coverage was being used to justify such accusations and that it ill behooved those who ignored Barack Obama’s unsavory associations with Israel haters to make a fuss about it. The low point was reached when The Forward published a story about his son’s high school science project, as nasty a piece of work as anything from Breitbart. Though the story was withdrawn, The Forward has yet to fully explain this breach of journalistic ethics.

The infuriated Gorka responded by saying The Forward is pro-BDS and pro-Iran deal. He’s wrong about the former and right about the latter. The Forward publishes some opinions that most Jewish or Zionist publications would never consider, but it is not anti-Israel. It is, instead, a reflection of the views of liberals who are detached from the reality of the conflict with the Palestinians as understood by most Israelis, and deeply critical of their government.

In contrast, to Jewish conservatives, especially those who are Orthodox in terms of faith, liberals treat Israel’s safety as less important than domestic concerns and not a litmus test for their support. That means that many are prepared to make common cause with enemies of Israel if, like Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, they are also involved with the anti-Trump “resistance.”

That’s not the same as being anti-Israel. But it does explain why so many Jews aren’t worried by the Democratic Party’s drift away from Israel, and are, conversely, actually irritated by the way Republicans have become its lockstep supporters.

All liberal Jews don’t deserve to be labeled as Israel-haters, and Gorka’s support for the Jewish state shouldn’t earn him immunity from all criticism. But neither should it have been ignored in a rush to demonize someone who, whatever you may think of his politics, was eager to be an ally of the Jewish people at a time when we can use all the friends we can get. That so many Jews are unmoved by that fact is, as Gorka correctly notes, a sad paradox.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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  • Adam Klein

    I don’t agree. Gorka attacked very harshly Jews who criticized the fact that Trump didn’t even mention Jews in his holocaust speech in January. Nothing he posts shows any concern for Jews in the slightest. In fact Gorka criticized the forward for it’s criticism of the movie wonder women for not being diverse enough (the concern of the white nationalist) who by the way this woman was in a very anti-Semtiic filTriple 9 and seems to be a Jew to the left and that is who Gorka defends. Not Jews on the right in Israel.

  • Bruce Gold

    The author completely misses the point, by ignoring an entire category of people, of which many believe Gorka to be a member: Christians who love Israel, but not Jews. I can’t believe this piece was published without that angle being examined even one bit. Sorry, that’s journalistic malpractice. I consider myself a centrist, but I read left wing sources, and I know there is a lot of concern amongst Jews on the left that right wing groups which support Israel don’t actually like Jewish people. The left believes some of these people support Israel because it is necessary to get them to them Apocolypse, while others who support Israel but don’t like Jews see Israel as a soldier in the war against Islam. The left is justifiably concerned that Gorka is an anti-Semite who supports Israel. How could the author have possibly missed this angle?!?

    • Sebastien Zorn

      Really, right wing pro-Israel groups that don’t like Jewish people? I know of no right wing pro-Israel group that bars Jews, especially Israelis, the way the recent Gay Rights March did.

      Care to provide some examples?

      All the pro-Israel Christians I know of are people like Chloe Valdary

    • Joy Daniels Brower

      You’re an idiot, Bruce, if you continue to peddle that nonsense about Gorka and antisemitism! And what’s that REAL nonsense about his “hating Jews?!?” Hungary may not have been good to its Jews in WW2, but that doesn’t mean that all Americans or Englishmen of Hungarian descent are, de facto, Jew haters!! What poppycock!! Finally, I’ve heard all those arguments about the supposedly “true” feelings of Evangelicals about those pesky Jews; and although I’m sure many do exist, the ones that I know – and the organizations that I support – don’t have a hate-the-Jew bone in their bodies!! Stop spreading lies and false rumors that are increasingly annoying and disgusting!

  • SaciPerere

    ” liberals treat Israel’s safety as less important than domestic concerns and not a litmus test for their support. ”
    So what is their support if Israel’s safety is of little concern?
    What is the litmus test for this support? A once in a lifetime visit to eat falafel?

  • EricB

    All the Jewish red-diaper babies have grown up to become one of the greatest enemies of Israel. Shame on them!!

  • glsfbg

    Gorka is correct about the Forward. This is not the “Jewish Daily Forward” of the past that was published in Yiddish & English. This incarnation of the Forward is a left wing rag that is actually anti-Israel & anti-Semitic & surreptitiously markets this message to Jews.

    • Andrew Lowy

      Couldn’t agree more about the Forward. Then again, Trotsky wrote regularly for the Yiddish edition (Forverts) during his brief deportation to the US — so it’s hard to define the point at which the original was replaced by its incarnation (if indeed it ever was).

      In light of where we are politically in 2017, I think the whole history of the Jewish left (including communism, socialism, liberalism and leftism) needs scholarly re-examination. A refreshed analysis will identify the true nature of the Forward today and whether some of its motives are spurious or even nefarious in that context.

  • stannadel

    Back in Hungary Gorka praised the Jobbik militia modeled on the Arrow Cross fascists who murdered many Jews and which, like its parent organization, was virulently Antisemitic. He might not be an Antisemite but he certainly had no problem associating with and supporting virulent Antisemites. Too many Jews and anti-Islamists are wiling to give him a pass for this because he is “pro-Israel” or anti-Islamist.

    • Adam Klein

      Except there is little evidence that he is “pro-Israel. Hates Muslims yes but that doesn’t make someone pro Israel and in fact he has limited concerns about Israel and criticizes the Forward not about it’s Israel coverage but their article on the movie wonderman that the forward for not being diverse enough. Why does that bother Gorka. Shouldn’t he care more about Israel as his defenders claim.

  • Pinchas Baram

    Tobin is trying too hard to walk the tightrope and be “fair” to all sides– the result is, he falls and crashes BECAUSE Gorka is basically right, even if statistically one can say not all progressive Jews are actually 100% anti-Israel.

    For more than the statistics, the weight of evidence– i.e, the loud and heavy media onslaught against Gorka, and Bannon, and of course Trump– is alas often from leftwing jews, may they be cursed.

  • Andrew Lowy

    Excellent piece, Jonathan. But let’s be honest about labels here. We all know that “liberal” is a term that has been hijacked by the Left, (leftist Jews included). Gorka is referring to leftist Jews, not truly/classically liberal Jews, and as far as his comments pertain to the antipathy of leftist Jews toward Israel, he is spot-on. The charge of slander is only technical. Meanwhile, the Forward’s commentary continues to clumsily veer between the liberal and the left.

  • TheGhostWriterTomes

    “That means that many are prepared to make common cause with enemies of Israel if, like Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, they are also involved with the anti-Trump “resistance.”

    That’s not the same as being anti-Israel. But it does explain why so many Jews aren’t worried by the Democratic Party’s drift away from Israel, and are, conversely, actually irritated by the way Republicans have become its lockstep supporters.”

    Reads like double-talk to me, vague lip-service pretending to be pro-Israel while rationalizing tacit support of its enemy’s advocates is just muddled, smug hypocrisy.

  • Ilya

    Liberal Jews supported Obama for 8 years though it quickly became obvious that his policies were anti-Isrsel. And they would vote for him again if he could run for third trerm. Hence Gorka is absolutely right – liberal Jews are in essence and de facto anti-Israel and anti-American because they routinely site with forces trying to destroy both

  • enufizenuf

    Good article, but a misstatement or overstatement with no malice behind it does not constitute slander.
    Besides, Considering the onslaught of unfair and untrue attacks on Gorka by liberal Jews it seems to me quite normal that he might make such a statement.

  • LtcHoward

    Jonathan Tobin makes a valiant attempt to partially whitewash the Jewish liberal establishment. I have many Jewish liberal friends. Unfortunately, they were very quick to condemn Israel for “violating” what they believe SHOULD be Israeli policies. They are also quick to pass on as the gospel, vicious slander. No, Jonathan, Gorka is correct. I believe that the reformed Judaism movement and Jewish liberals will result in the destruction of Israel and deep damage the American Jewish community

    • Joy Daniels Brower

      I won’t shed one tear for the Reform Judaism movement (in which, BTW, I was raised!) if it finally implodes due to assimilation and liburd/leftist politics, but I DON’T believe that Reform Judaism will cause the great – and STRONG! – state of Israel to be destroyed! Supporting Israel from abroad (and even at home) are the Evangelical Christians and the growing Orthodox movement. God works in mysterious ways, but actually, this new-found and vibrant support isn’t mysterious at all!! It’s just Christians and Jews sorting things out and finding enormous common cause in supporting each other – and defying and, ultimately, crushing the enemy!

  • Andrew Lowy

    Jonathan, excellent piece, thank you. But let’s be honest and understand that what we as conservative or classically liberal Jews — and Gorka — mean when we speak about “liberal Jews” in this context is of course “leftist Jews”. The discussion should be viewed in that context, especially on matters concerning Israel.

  • Reb_Yaakov

    “Liberal Jews” is a term that implies that Jews follow an ideology different from Jewish ideology.

    • Joy Daniels Brower

      You’re right! Modern-day “liberalism” (to be distinguished from “Classical” liberalism!) is the new religion of the leftist Jews that I know! Most of them, in fact, don’t even really believe in God!! And how can one be a “Jew” and NOT believe in God?!?

    • Andrew Lowy

      That’s not an implication, it’s a fact.