US President Donald Trump hosts a recent meeting at the White House. His administration, the author writes, has enabled intolerance and fake-news era extremists..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of the troubling effects of the Trump presidency is the normalization of radical views on issues ranging from terrorism to climate change to human rights. This trend is taking place in the Jewish world and Israel as well, and not just among far-right groups but also in places that we would have expected to know better.
This week, for example, the high-brow IDC college in Herzliya will be hosting ousted Trump aide Sebastian Gorka as a keynote speaker at a conference of its International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Gorka, a paragon of alt-right, fake-news-era whose credentials on counter-terrorism have been challenged, would never have been invited to such a platform before the Trump era. But Trump has provided celebrity name-recognition to some of the darkest thinkers in politics – and for reasons that I still find hard to fathom, many Jews continue to eat this up.
Gorka, you might remember, has been a controversial voice since before he was part of the Trump administration. He has described Islam as a “violent religion” while dismissing violence coming from white supremacists – despite the fact that white supremacists have attempted twice the number of terrorist attacks in America as Muslims.
Gorka, like so many Trumpists, has a preference for brusque, black-and-white analyses that are based on stereotyping and lack human understanding. This kind of approach, which completely dismisses the importance of appreciating the human factors that contribute to terrorism, is particularly dangerous. It ignites anger and exacerbates hostility, while doing little to actually counter terrorism.
His views are also often predicated on falsehoods – again, a pattern in the Trump world. (Remember how he was going to release his tax returns? Biggest inauguration ever?) Rolling Stone magazine, which ran an in-depth expose on Gorka, concluded that “just about anything Gorka has said or written, [is] wrong in every way ... [But] his hyperbole and his hands-off relationship with the truth have lately sent his stock skyrocketing with the president.”
Although the president no longer holds Gorka stock, apparently there are many in the Jewish and Israeli communities that still do.
Plus, like so many Trump senior staff who walked into the White House with virtually no qualifications (Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Steve Bannon, also come to mind), Gorka is considered inept. As former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter tweeted: “Gorka: Probably the most stupid of the alt-right in the White House.”
Mia Bloom, a professor of communications and Middle East studies at Georgia State University, told CNN that she heard Gorka speak about Islamic State and “he was so ill-prepared that she and other participants wondered if they were witnessing some kind of practical joke.” He lacks the most basic credentials for his job – like speaking Arabic or experience working in the Middle East. “He was making incredibly basic errors about the Arab revolt,” Bloom said. “We were all looking at each other like, what is he doing here?” Despite the fact that so much of what is coming out of the Trump administration is unnuanced, hatefilled, hyperbolic and extreme, so many high-profile Jews keep buying into it. This world view is not only unethical in that it groups millions of people into the same field as radical terrorists. It is also dangerous. We need sanity, facts and understanding, not grandiose click-bait headlines.
I am trying to understand the lure of radical, hate-mongering extremists – even ones who associate with neo-Nazis – rather than more sage counselors.
Many other counter-terrorism experts could have been invited, even from the Republicans, such as Gov. Tom Ridge (former secretary of Homeland Security) or Doug Fife. But the IDC chose Gorka, and we need to understand why.
Two thoughts come to mind. One is that Jews are sometimes too comfortable putting other people in boxes. We often hear two categories for ideas: good for the Jews and bad for the Jews. But this narrow, tribalist mentality is now creating some very strange bedfellows.
(Think Jared Kushner sitting around the cabinet table with the now-gone Bannon and Gorka.) Some Jews are ironically aligning themselves with the most violent and hateful ideologies because that has become too comfortable, and is arguably too familiar.
The other thought that comes to mind is power. The IDC, like other groups, has perhaps been attracted by the idea of having a high-power, high-profile speaker, no matter who it is. Celebrity seems to count more in some circles than morality. We are falling into that trap too.
Gorka’s participation on such a panel as a keynote speaker diminishes the quality and character of the program and institution. Shame on the IDC for lowering itself to be a platform for such a base populist nationalist and xenophobe.
We need to resist the legitimizing of Trumpesque ideas and habits of discourse. Hate-based, broad-brush, black-and-white and unfounded views do nothing to make the world safer. They only further ignite hostility and urge toward violence. We should resist the starry- eyed temptation to align with headline-grabbing extremists and hang on firm to the ability to see details, grays, facts, and actual human beings around us.
The author is vice chairwoman for media and policy for Democrats Abroad Israel.