Editor's Notes: Why we are hosting Sebastian Gorka

The role of a newspaper is not to shy away from tough issues. It is to embrace them.

Sebastian Gorka (photo credit: GAGE SKIDMORE,Wikimedia Commons)
Sebastian Gorka
(photo credit: GAGE SKIDMORE,Wikimedia Commons)
Where do newspapers draw the line? When do certain opinions become illegitimate for publication? And what ideas have no place in these pages?
I have been thinking of these questions ever since The Jerusalem Post announced last week that Dr. Sebastian Gorka, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser on counterterrorism, who holds the title of “deputy assistant to the president,” is the latest addition in a long list of speakers scheduled to appear at its upcoming annual New York conference.
The announcement set off a storm of controversy due to a series of recent news reports – primarily in The Forward – that Gorka was allegedly a member of a far-right Hungarian nationalist group. Even though Gorka has denied the report and having any other antisemitic affiliations as well, a list of Democratic congressmen sent a letter to Trump last week urging him to fire his top adviser.
Other people have taken their protest to the Internet, calling to boycott the conference while petitioning other speakers to pull out as well.
Nevertheless, we stand by our decision to host Gorka.
Here’s why: Since The Jerusalem Post started its New York conference in 2011, it has made a point of inviting the White House to send a representative of the administration to speak at the gathering. That is how the paper came to host former Treasury secretary Jack Lew, Obama adviser Dennis Ross as well as a slew of Republican and Democratic congressmen and senators.
This year, the paper did the same. The White House was contacted and asked to send a representative to the conference. A number of officials were discussed and Gorka ultimately accepted the invitation.
We decided that he would not give a speech but that he would be interviewed by me on stage while knowing that I will confront him with tough questions, including about the various allegations that have been reported in the press.
That is exactly what the role of a newspaper needs to be. I do not know what Gorka will say, but considering the high emotions he provokes in the Jewish community, he should be confronted with the claims against him and be afforded a platform to respond.
In addition, considering the high-ranking position he holds in the US government, he also deserves the chance to discuss the other issues that he works on which are relevant to Israel today, such as the global war on terror, ISIS and other regional threats and challenges.
I am afraid that some of our critics are confused about the purpose of this newspaper’s conference. A newspaper is not an advocacy organization that can push a single agenda and align itself with one side of the political spectrum.
A newspaper is supposed to be a place for people to hear a wide-range of opinions and ideas. If we just read or listen to the people we agree with, what will we achieve? The whole point of newspapers and gatherings like our New York conference is to debate the tough issues and ask the tough questions.
As the primary newspaper for the Jewish world, The Jerusalem Post is carrying out its role faithfully – taking an issue that is at the heart of controversy in the Jewish community and tackling it head on.
Does that mean that all opinions are legitimate, no matter what they may be? Of course not. Some opinions, even when accounting for freedom of speech, do not need to be given a platform at The Jerusalem Post Conference.
Also, just because someone speaks at our conference does not mean that we support her or his viewpoint. We do, however, believe that our job is to present readers with a variety of opinions, especially from officials elected or appointed to the loftiest positions of power and influence in their respective governments.
This has been The Jerusalem Post’s goal since it was established nearly 85 years ago – to tell the story of the Jewish people’s miraculous return to its historic homeland and to bring our readers viewpoints from across the spectrum for them to think about, learn from, and debate.
Our job is not to tell you what to believe. It is to give you the information so you can make educated decisions on your own.
The role of a newspaper is not to shy away from tough issues. It is to embrace them. And that is exactly what we will be doing at our upcoming conference in New York.
A few years ago, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot – then head of the Northern Command – was asked to give a lecture on counterterrorism, a topic he knows a thing or two about. In 2002, Eisenkot was the IDF commander in the West Bank and oversaw Operation Defensive Shield, which was the turning point in Israel’s campaign to stop the second intifada.
The main point he wanted to make in his lecture was that there is no real decisive victory against terrorism. It will come and go in waves and while the military can do a lot to reduce attacks and undermine the enemy’s capabilities, Israel has been fighting since its inception in 1948 and will likely need to continue to fight for many more years to come.
When he did some research, though, he was surprised to discover that the first terrorist victim that Israel counts wasn’t from 1948, the year the state was established. Rather, Israel’s first victim of terrorism was Avraham Zoref, and he was murdered way back in 1851.
Born in 1785 in Kedainiai, one of the oldest cities in Lithuania, Zoref made aliya at the age of 25 with his wife and three children and settled in Jerusalem where the Jewish community was slowly growing.
The problem was that the community did not have a synagogue to pray in. About 100 years earlier, Rabbi Yehuda Hahasid had built a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, but since the community lacked money, it needed to take high-interest loans from local Arabs. When the community members couldn’t pay back the loans, the land was confiscated and the synagogue fell apart, becoming known as the “Hurva,” Hebrew for ruin.
So Zoref decided to get involved. He traveled to Cairo and convinced authorities there to erase the 100-yearold loan, to transfer control over the synagogue back to the Jews and to allow them to rebuild the deteriorating building. Zoref then traveled to Europe and met with a number of wealthy Jews to raise funds for the synagogue.
Despite all his hard work, Zoref never got to see the Hurva rebuilt. Instead, he became the target of local Arabs who were upset at his success in restoring Jewish control over the plot of land. In June 1851, as he made his way to morning prayers, Zoref was hit on the head by a sword. He clung to life until he died of his wounds three months later.
I tell this story since on Sunday night, Israel will bow its head to mourn the more than 23,400 men, women and children who have died while serving in the IDF and defending the State of Israel, as well as in the terrorist attacks that have plagued it since the time of Avraham Zoref.
After 69 years of statehood, Israel still faces threats, some along its borders and some looming frighteningly on the horizon. As Syria unravels, Hezbollah acquires more advanced weapons and Iran continues to dream of nuclear weapons, knife attacks like the one that killed Avraham Zoref 166 years ago, too, continue throughout the country.
Nevertheless, Israel today is in the heyday of its existence as a state. While the threats loom, the country is today the strongest it has ever been – economically, socially and militarily. Does that mean we should just come to terms with the terrorism that plagues our streets or should give up because the threats won’t go away? Of course not.
Israel is a work in progress but one that already gives its citizens and Jews around the world more than enough to be proud of. On this Independence Day, let us not forget that.
Yom Ha’atzma’ut Sameach!