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In Hungary, Sebastian Gorka Fought and Tried to Undermine the Anti-Semitism of the Far-Right

Last week, The Forward published a highly misleading article about Deputy Assistant to the President Dr. Sebastian Gorka, incorrectly insinuating he has had “ties” with anti-Semites in Hungary. This narrative is a complete perversion of his involvement in Hungarian politics, which was an example of the opposite: 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.

Significantly, Budapest-based Forward writer Lili Bayer neither provides a single anti-Jewish quote from Gorka himself, nor cites anyone who claims Gorka holds any hateful views. Instead, Bayer spends most of her article darkly pushing inflammatory quotes through attempts at guilt-by-association—even as Gorka has denied any association with the people The Forward is trying desperately to tie him to.

Indeed, writing at The Hill, European Union commissioner Tibor Navracsics—who has known Gorka for decades—defended him as “a man who has spent his life battling fascists and anti-Semites of all sorts.” Monday also saw prominent Washington voices lining up to support Gorka’s character against the smears, including Democrat Josh Block of the Israel Project, and Matt Brodsky, formerly of the Jewish Policy Center.

Despite its centuries of proud history and culture, Hungary is still a small country in Eastern Europe, half a world away from Washington, D.C. For more than half a century, it was held captive behind a brutal Iron Curtain. Of course, Americans have every reason not to be aware of the political scene in Budapest, its capital city—and The Forward is shamefully confident that its readers are unaware of the currents of Hungarian politics. Hopefully, this article will provide the needed context.

In 2006, Gorka worked as press coordinator and advisor for a wide-ranging anti-Socialist protest coalition.

In 2006, former Communist Youth leader and Socialist Prime Minister of Hungary Ferenc Gyurcsany gave what was supposed to be a confidential, closed-door speech to members of his party. A few months later, a recording of the prime minister's remarks were leaked to Hungarian Radio. He admitted that the Socialist Party had knowingly lied to Hungarians to come to power, and that the party had no idea what it was doing. Following the release of the recording, a wave of anti-Socialist, pro-democracy demonstrations swept the country, which lasted for months.

During that time, Gorka was in Budapest, working as a press advisor for the Hungarian National Committee (Magyar Nemzeti Bizottság), a protest coalition which contained a range of voices on the Hungarian right. Gorka’s allies in the coalition were pro-western, liberty-minded political figures who wanted to break off and marginalize the anti-democratic and anti-Semitic excesses of the then-ascendant Jobbik party. He had no dealings with extreme or xenophobic elements of the protest movement. It is unsurprising, though cynical, that the same media which studiously avoids giving attention to the more radical elements of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and Womens’ March movements attempts to tie Gorka to unsavory characters he’s never met.

Gorka launched a new political party with dissidents who rejected anti-Semitism of the Jobbik Party.

Indeed, Jobbik is an anti-Semetic party in Hungary, as evidenced by the quotes provided in The Forward. Gorka, however, was never affiliated with this party. Indeed, he squarely rejected it and helped launch a political effort to undermine its appeal.

In 2007, Gorka was approached by two former members of Jobbik, who rejected the party expressly because of its retrograde, anti-Semitic extremism. They sought help with a new initiative, called the New Democratic Coalition (UDK), to create space in Hungary for a pro-Western, classical liberal political party to be a counterweight toward the anti-American and anti-Semitic Jobbik party.

The Forward knew all this, despite the way it framed the story, because it quoted one of the UDK’s leaders, Tamás Molnár, a dissident artist who helped organize anti-Communist youth into what later became the Jobbik party. He explained that “Jobbik went in a militant direction that I did not like.” The Forward also quotes him saying that “he could not imagine Gorka having anti-Semitic views.”

The Forward should be praising the members of the New Democratic Coalition for rejecting anti-Semitism and their former Jobbik party. But that, then, would reflect well on Gorka—and the highly partisan website is in the business of character assassination. The truth about Gorka’s contribution to the UDK is the precise opposite of what The Forward claims.

Gorka tried to push the Hungarian far-right towards the middle, urging them to pursue economic liberty rather than xenophobia.

After the former Communists won power again in 2004, Gorka became a public figure in Hungary, pushing back on both the anti-democratic tendencies of post-Communists and the unhealthy revanchist and irredentists on the right, as embodied by Jobbik and some elements of the Fidesz party leadership.

In keeping with this effort to move the Hungarian right in a more moderate direction, Gorka was asked to write a series of editorials for the Magyar Demokrata newspaper to promote a different, more pro-American, pro-liberty viewpoint. In these pieces, Gorka argued against the socialism of then-Prime Minister Gyurcsany, his Hungarian Socialist Party (MSzP), and in favor of a free market economy. The articles address how the country can overcome its legacy of Communism as well as the extremism evidenced by certain right-wing factions.

An excerpt of a typical article, “Rebuilding a Country: We call it democracy, but are we free?”:

If a person believes in liberty, he must also believe in the notion that individuals are inherently good. He must believe that with freedom, a person will work and provide for his family, or live responsibly at minimum. These are the beliefs that provide the foundation for a true free-market democracy. However, what we experience in our country today is neither a true democracy, nor a free-market system. It could not even be called crony capitalism. Instead, it is a superficial democracy with a distorted national economy that is suffering from primarily the former communist elites’ network, rather than from multinational companies. The prospect of true free-market democracies and progressively high growth proves the accuracy of the above assertions. We only have to look to Slovakia which radically lowered its tax rates eighteen months ago or Estonia, the post-communist regions’ most deregulated national economy.

In a perplexing and transparent attempt to make Gorka sound like an evil, Austrian critic of the Treaty of Versailles, The Forward takes issue with another of Gorka’s articles, in which he stresses the injustice to Hungary of the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles, which resulted in a loss of most of its territory. “We fought on the wrong side of a war for which we were not responsible, and were punished to an extent that was likely even more unjust — with the exception of the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire — than any other [diplomatic] punishment in the modern age.” Is this supposed to be controversial?

Gorka’s pieces fall squarely within the mainstream of conservative and libertarian thought. Gorka never had any dealings with András Bencsik, the anti-Semitic editor of Demokrata, and he was not a regular reader of the paper. He submitted these pieces in an attempt to bring these mainstream, pro-America views to the conservative movement in Hungary. He explained that his writing at the time shows “how everything I did was in the interests of a more transparent and healthy democracy in Hungary. This included a rejection of all revanchist tendencies and xenophobic cliques.”

This is just another far-left attack on Trump.

They’re at it again. The same left-leaning outlets who spent a month late last year trying to paint White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon as a “white nationalist” are using the same playbook against another Trump administration target.

Everything that Sebastian Gorka did in Hungarian politics was in the interest of moving the Hungarian Right away from xenophobia, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. Because he is a conservative, he could best do this from his position on the right side of the political spectrum. But the attacks on him aren’t really about substance.

Let’s be clear: this attack on Sebastian Gorka is, primarily, about continuing a media onslaught on the Trump administration in the wake of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s departure. It is an attempt to sow chaos, and to make the White House feel embattled over yet another national security figure. Gorka is a target because he is an effective surrogate for the administration, able to go toe-to-toe with hostile reporters. The fact that they’d completely twist the history and personality of a good man to make him appear hateful is, sadly, something we’ve come to expect of the far-left in American media.

It shouldn’t succeed.