I am a former CHAT student who graduated in 1999. I am writing to you regarding the statement that was sent out by email on March 26, 2019, regarding a social media post involving Aviva Polonsky and Sebastian Gorka.
As a former student, and member of the pro-Israel community, I am writing to express my disapproval and dissatisfaction with the statement.
I have viewed the Facebook post in question. In no way does it suggest that it was an official CHAT communication. Moreover, no reasonable person could possibly believe that a picture posted on social media with Sebastian Gorka, tagging students and the school name, means that the school endorses Sebastian Gorka’s positions on every issue. CHAT’s statement euphemistically states that Mr. Gorka holds “controversial views.” To many on the left wing, Benjamin Netanyahu holds “controversial views”; Israel’s justice minister holds “controversial views”; and many right-wing politicians hold “controversial views.” One asks whether students posing with Prime Minister Netanyahu, or on the other hand someone from J Street, would have evoked the same response.
Frankly, the statement was incoherent as to what exactly the school was trying to make sure “did not happen again.” I doubt it is the first time CHAT students have been tagged in social media posts. Moreover, the students were clearly happy to be part of the picture and there is no evidence whatsoever that the picture of them was taken unwillingly.
The students attending at AIPAC were not coerced or forced by anyone to hear from Mr. Gorka. The students attended AIPAC willingly in the hopes of hearing from the pro-Israel community on both sides of the political spectrum. AIPAC featured speakers from both the right and left who come together in the united cause of supporting Israel. The students are getting important exposure to the very heart of American pro-Israel politics.
Not only was the statement entirely unnecessary, but it served to foment more controversy and outrage, in a culture that is not lacking for either. By making a statement like, “[w]e take this matter very seriously and are working to ensure that something like this does not happen again,” CHAT is inevitably chilling any future political engagement by students or teachers. More problematically, CHAT’s Head of School and President of the Board are now taking upon themselves the mantle of deciding who is and who is not an appropriate person for students to associate with. This inevitably leads down a slippery slope of censorship.
Since no reasonable person could believe that the post in question represented an endorsement by the school of all of Mr. Gorka’s views, his actual views are somewhat irrelevant. However, it is important to note that he is extremely pro-Israel and speaks passionately in defense of Israel. The biggest controversy surrounding Mr. Gorka is that he has been accused of supporting a pro-Nazi group because of a pin he wears to honour his father. He has explicitly denied any anti-Semitic associations and it has been reported that:
Gorka has worn the organization’s medal and uniform to public events, saying he does so to honor his father’s anti-Nazi and anti-communist activity. He has denied membership in the Vitez Rend, the original group, but not in the Historical Vitezi Rand. Gorka also has denied being a fascist or anti-Semite.
He has been quoted as saying:
He was also the keynote speaker at an Israeli Anti-Terror Conference
All of the available statements online which have been actually made by Mr. Gorka are stridently pro-Israel and philo-Semitic.
In a time when Jewish unity is extremely important, CHAT’S caving into pressure from the “outrage mob” has now led to division in our community, with student being turned against student, with the controversy now spreading to media outlets such as the CJN, and with the issue surely to spread even further without our tight-knit community. The school’s statement was unnecessary and improper. I am extremely disappointed by the school’s response.