Anti-Progressivism is not Anti-Semitism: Shame on Those Who Smear Sebastian Gorka
Bruce Abramson and Jeff Ballabon
The Jewish Press March 2, 2017
The hatchet job against the Trump Administration continues. The most recent victim is Sebastian Gorka, a member of Trump’s inner circle. The charge is (surprise!) anti-Semitism. And the behavior of Jewish progressives leading the attack is shameful.
Since President Trump announced his candidacy, his detractors have slandered him—and his supporters—as every kind of hatemonger known to progressivism. The most recent manufactured charges involve anti-Semitism. As we detailed for the Institute for The Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP), the so-called “evidence” is farcical. Orthodox Jews highly sensitive to real anti-Semitism remain among Trump’s strongest supporters. Their response to the anti-Trump attacks has been a simultaneously snappy and gloomy addition to the pantheon of Jewish humor: What’s the difference between Donald Trump and Jewish leftists? Trump’s grandchildren are Jewish.
The Orthodox response is hardly idiosyncratic. Donald Trump has been so familiar, and so friendly, for so long that the predictable leftist scaremongering has been far less effective than usual. Because the President’s aides are less familiar, however, they are more vulnerable. The first target, Steve Bannon, was so off base that the ADL, which had led the attack, was forced to issue a humiliating retraction; its relentless search for evidence of Bannon’s alleged anti-Semitism came up completely empty.
Enter Sebastian Gorka. Gorka, whose family suffered through fascism and communism in Hungary, is proud of his ancestral roots; the paparazzi have spotted him wearing historical Hungarian medals. Furthermore, when the Iron Curtain fell in the early 1990s, Gorka left the comfort of London to help Hungary transition from the Warsaw Pact to NATO. Because his politics have always been conservative, many of his closest Hungarian allies and affiliations were right of center. And, as those closely familiar with his work in Hungary have stated in no uncertain terms “Gorka has a decades-long record as an opponent of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and anti-American sentiment in Hungary and fought to undermine elements on the political right—even going as far as helping launch a political party to push conservative voters away from anti-Semitic parties.”
Nonetheless, the flagship progressive American Jewish publication, The Forward, exploited America’s unfamiliarity with Gorka’s work as an opening for character assassination. First, it seems that some of Gorka’s connections in Hungary—though not Gorka himself—were also connected to other people or organizations that had taken anti-Semitic positions or actions. Though Gorka’s personal track record is strongly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, The Forward focused on the records of selected associates of his associates rather than to his own work. By that standard, nobody who has ever associated with any American political party could escape charges of anti-Semitism.
The Forward’s scramble to make its case latched on to Gorka’s medals, and assigned them its own biased interpretation of their meaning. But as Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, an Orthodox Jew and Gorka’s former colleague explained, that bias is badly misplaced. Different Hungarian regimes used those medals in different ways, and Gorka’s family history is consistent only with positive associations. To put the matter into an American context, making a case against Gorka’s medals is like insisting that anyone who visits the Jefferson Memorial is celebrating slavery, or the FDR Memorial is celebrating the internment of Japanese citizens and the refusal to admit Jewish refugees from Hitler. Such conclusions are beyond absurd; they’re offensive.
When Jewish progressives ambivalent about the Palestinian flags at this summer’s Democratic National Convention feign outrage at obscure Hungarian symbols, there is more to the story than meets the eye. The alleged evidence of anti-Semitism in Trump’s circle is such thin gruel that it has become necessary to ask what is driving it. The Forward provided the answer—courtesy of former KKK leader David Duke. According to Duke, “[Jewish groups] define an anti-Semite as someone, anyone, who opposes the organized Jewish agenda.” Duke claimed that Trump qualifies, and The Forward approvingly embraced Duke’s analysis to confirm its own biases.
Tragically, Duke’s description is not groundless—and it is a far greater condemnation of American Jewish leadership on today’s left than of the president, Steve Bannon, or Seb Gorka. Too many Jewish progressive activists equate Jewishness with what they term “social justice,” chauvinistically label this political agenda “Jewish values,” and see all opposition to progressive politics and policies as an attack on their “Jewish values.”
Because Trump, Bannon, and Gorka oppose the progressive agenda, Jewish progressives portray – and may truly see – them as inherently anti-Semitic. Perversely, the progressive Jewish equation of progressive values with Jewish values turns leftists with long histories of animosity towards the Jews into pro-Jewish advocates. This bizarre bit of logic explains how progressive Jews could attack the Trump team for anti-Semitism while endorsing Louis Farrakhan’s former spokesman, Keith Ellison, to lead the DNC. In a new twist on the ways that Jews can become our own worst enemies, progressive members of our tribe have discovered abnegation: they reject as anti-Jewish those most concerned with Jewish survival, and embrace as pro-Jewish those who subscribe to the vilest anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
Progressive Jewish Americans abusing Jewish history to score cheap political points are poisoning political discourse, dismissing the pain that Jews have suffered throughout history, masking the frightening rise in global anti-Semitism, embarrassing the Jewish community, harming the Jews of Israel, and defaming fine Americans. In an era where Democrats embrace openly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel leaders and movements, the Jewish left has launched this witch hunt against individuals – like Trump, Bannon, and Gorka – who are actively working to protect not only all Americans, but particularly the Jews, including the often-targeted Jews of Israel.
We are pained to have to write such an article, but the left’s slander of decent people who have committed their lives to helping Jews is now out of control. It is an embarrassment, a distraction, and an affront to those chafing beneath, or fighting, the very real anti-Semitism that genuinely threatens our people.
Bruce Abramson, a technology lawyer in private practice in NYC (www.bdabramson.com), is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic (www.b2strategic.com) and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy.