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Deputy Assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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How Anne Frank Was Astro-Turfed

A defender of civil rights gets roped into a partisan attack on a public servant

Liel Leibovitz
April 20, 2017
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Deputy Assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A letter circulating through Congress, Tablet has learned, is collecting signatures from members of the House in the hopes of pressuring President Donald Trump to dismiss his counter-terrorism advisor, Sebastian Gorka, due to what the letter describes as “troubling associations with a number of anti-Semitic organizations.”

There’s little point in rehashing just how troubling the orchestrated campaign against Gorka truly is. For weeks, American media outlets have circulated poorly sourced stories arguing that Gorka is a member of a “Nazi-affiliated” group.

The various attacks on Gorka have been debunked again and again, and yet they rise, with lawmakers emerging here and there to try and get Gorka fired or, worst, stripped of his citizenship and deported. If facts and common-sense don’t move you to question this orchestrated assault against a public servant appointed by a democratically elected president, nothing will.

But as the latest salvo against Gorka takes off, it’s interesting to note that one of the driving forces behind the letter is the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, a group that has become one of the loudest voices in the #resistance to Trump and that merits further scrutiny.

When White House press secretary Sean Spicer moronically claimed last week that Hitler did not use chemical weapons, the organization named after one of the Nazi tyrant’s most famous victims demanded Spicer’s head. Spicer, thundered the group’s executive director, Steven Goldstein, “lacks the integrity to serve” in his job, and must be fired at once. It was hardly the first time Goldstein had accused the administration of rank anti-Semitism, in the harshest terms possible: When Trump spoke out in February about the threats against Jewish community centers—a statement that some argued was too little, too late—Goldstein issued a sharp rebuke. “Make no mistake,” it read, “the anti-Semitism coming out of this administration is the worst we have ever seen from any administration.”

Ulysses S. Grant would surely be relieved to hear that his executive order to expel all Jews from Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee is forgiven and forgotten, and James “Fuck the Jews” Baker is undoubtedly thrilled that no one seems to remember his administration’s legislatively important antipathy to the Tribe.

*The center spent decades as a solemnly respectable educational institution. Last year, however, it underwent a dramatic transformation, changing its name from the Anne Frank Center to the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, expanding its focus to include a laundry list of prejudices—the website names, among others, Islamophobia, transphobia, and “bias against the differently abled”—and appointing Goldstein as its new head.

A one-time co-campaign manager for former New Jersey Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine, Goldstein had previously served as press secretary for New Jersey’s other Democratic Senator, Frank Lautenberg, as well as an adviser to Chuck Schumer. He is best-known, however, for heading Garden State Equality, an action group that successfully worked to make same-sex marriage legal in New Jersey. Goldstein’s deputy at the Anne Frank Center is David Smith, who had served in the same role at Garden State Equality.

There is, of course, nothing nefarious about accomplished civil rights activists moving from one organization to another, and there is nothing wrong with anyone engaging in civic opposition. Moreover, as a steadfast and vocal critic of the Trump administration and its misdeeds, I’m the first to applaud any organization that does serious and conscientious work to guarantee that no rights are trampled and no group threatened by any decree, design, or mishap.

But there’s something wrong with using a universal icon of innocent suffering to costume a sock puppet in partisan politics. Those opposing Gorka and “resisting” Trump must learn how to behave like serious political adults. If they have arguments against Gorka’s proposed policies or his professional credentials, bring them forth and debate their merits. Hiding behind the moral mantle of a dead Jewish girl while calling someone a Nazi with absolutely no evidence is just plain revolting.

And, in the age of social media, it’s also plain dangerous. With so many soapboxes on which to stand and shout these days, it’s easy enough for anyone to simply create organizations that claim to represent entire constituencies and then use them to validate and promote their agenda. No track record is necessary, and no real supporters necessary—all you need is some funding and a good brand name and you’re off to the races. It’s the sort of icky top-down skullduggery that liberals have for decades been accusing conservatives of practicing with impunity, and it uses Facebook, Twitter, and other amplifiers to short-circuit the traditional and essential kind of political coalition-building predicated on actual affinity by real people with real lives and real ideas.

If the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect—which is now at best tangentially associated with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam—wants, as it claims, to bring about the “kinder and fairer world of which Anne Frank dreamed,” it should probably dedicate itself to the less glamorous work of correcting ahistorical comments, avoiding ugly witch hunts, and teaching others how to avoid meaningless political theater. Anne Frank has suffered enough.

*Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Anne Frank Center was founded by Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, in 1959. Otto Frank was not involved in the organization’s founding, according to a newly published article in The Atlantic, which states that it was founded in 1977.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.