Jewish and Muslim students at Georgetown University protested and sharply questioned White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka, who appeared on campus on Monday for a panel discussion on cybersecurity and “fake news” amid growing controversy over his background and views.
Before his appearance, the students gathered outside the lecture hall with signs saying “Hate has no place here” and “Gorka’s gotta go.” One sign had a crossed-out swastika on it, a reference to Gorka’s longstanding affiliation with the Vitezi Rend, a far-right Hungarian organization with historical ties to Nazism.
When the lecture began, the students entered the hall with their signs but did not disrupt proceedings. Gorka criticized the protesters, calling them purveyors of “fake news.”
“Every single person holding a placard to protest my parents and myself, I challenge you now go away and look at everything I have said or written in the last 46 years of my life and find one sentence that is anti-Semitic or that is anti-Israeli, because you won’t find one,” Gorka said.
During the question-and-answer portion of the talk, Gorka was asked by students about his ties to Vitezi Rend, his reported inability to speak Arabic, and whether the Trump White House had itself propagated “fake news.” Student Andrew Meshnick told Talking Points Memo that Gorka’s answers were “combative” and “defensive.” After five questions, and with 20 minutes left to go in the scheduled panel, Gorka left the room, claiming that other panelists ought to be heard. “It was clear he was uncomfortable,” Meshnick said. “He was huffing and puffing and just very angry.”
A Georgetown University spokesperson said that Gorka had pre-arranged leaving early with event organizers, but this was not announced to students or journalists in the room at the time.
Many of the protesters were wearing Jewish ritual garb such as yarmulkes and prayer shawls. This led them to be criticized on social media by Jewish supporters of Gorka, who claimed that the protesters were inappropriately utilizing Jewish and Holocaust imagery on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was Monday.
The students pushed back hard.
“I wore my tallis because as a Jew it is incumbent on me not only to fight anti-Semitism, but to do so as a Jew,” Georgetown freshman Tanner Larkin told the Forward. “Mr. Gorka is linked to neo-Nazi groups, but repeats that he has nothing against Jews.”
“The fact that it was on Yom HaShoah was a cruel twist of the knife for Jewish students.”
“I find it reprehensible that [Gorka], a man with alleged ties to neo-Nazis, was invited to come speak on campus, especially on” Yom HaShoah, another Jewish student, who asked not to be named because of the threatening tone some critics had used against him, told the Forward. The student, who was accused by national security consultant and frequentGorkadefender David Reaboi of “dress[ing] up as an Orthodox Jew,” said that he actually is Orthodox and has worn religious garb for a decade.
INSANE: @Georgetown has a guy dress up as an Orthodox Jew (w yellow Star of David!) to call Gorka a “Nazi”— talk about offensive. pic.twitter.com/jn1WaqFrtS— David Reaboi (@davereaboi) April 24, 2017
The student also explained that he wore a yellow star “not for the protest but for Yom HaShoah, as a way to remember those who were forced to wear similar stars by the Nazis.”
Aiden Pink is the Deputy News Editor for the Forward.