(September 1, 2017 / JNS)
By Jonathan S. Tobin/JNS.org
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 anti-Semitic 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.
The reason for their antipathy is no secret. Gorka was an editor at Breitbart.com 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 anti-Semitic. 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 anti-Semitism, 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 JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.