Jacobs speaking at a podium
Rabbi Rick Jacobs speaking at the 2013 URJ Reform Biennial, Dec. 12, 2013. (Courtesy/URJ)

Reform and Conservative leaders must pull out of conference that will feature Gorka

Sebastian Gorka is the Trump administration’s top counterterrorism adviser. In this capacity, he was invited to speak during the Jerusalem Post annual conference May 7 in New York City. Inviting a White House counterterrorism adviser would not be a problem under normal circumstances. But Gorka is not a normal presidential adviser.

Gorka is a sworn member of Vitézi Rend, a radical right-wing nationalist group in his home nation of Hungary. This group has a well-documented connection to the Nazis. This is not a case of some social justice warrior invoking Godwin’s Law but a literal connection to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the extermination of European Jewry.

As the Forward reported: “Vitézi Rend was established as a loyalist group by Admiral Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary as a staunch nationalist from 1920 to October 1944. A self-confessed anti-Semite, Horthy imposed restrictive Jewish laws prior to World War II and collaborated with Hitler during the conflict. His cooperation with the Nazi regime included the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands.”

Considering the overwhelming evidence against this man and his undeniable connection to a Nazi-aligned political group, you would expect that American Jewish leaders also invited to this conference would speak out, demand Gorka be disinvited or at the very least quietly step away from the microphone. But you would be wrong.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Reform movement’s synagogue arm, the Union for Reform Judaism, are still listed as speakers. Both of these rabbis are widely respected and considered moral leaders for the progressive North American Jewish community. So, one must ask, why are they silent when faced with such an obvious moral hazard to our community?

As a longtime member of the Reform movement, I am most disappointed in Rabbi Jacobs’ slow response to calls for him to pull out of this conference. While the URJ did say that it was reviewing the situation and its president’s participation in the event, it has been unacceptably slow to make a decision.

Some have said that these two leaders should keep their commitment and speak directly to Gorka. That would be the wrong move. Rabbi Schonfeld and Rabbi Jacobs both have tremendous followings and significant platforms to put pressure on the Jerusalem Post and the Trump administration to push Gorka out the door.

The invitation of Sebastian Gorka to an event like this normalizes the racist right wing in our country and offends the memory of the lives exterminated by Vitézi Rend during the Holocaust. For leaders of our community to assist in legitimizing Gorka — leaders who purport to stand for justice and a willingness to speak truth to power — this is simply unconscionable.

Donald C. Cutler
Donald C. Cutler

Donald C. Cutler is a Jew who lived in San Francisco from 2012 to 2021.