Campus Profile: David Horowitz

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BY Pam Chamberlain

**This profile is one in a small collection produced for PRA’s report Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses 2007-2011. Figures profiled played significant roles in campus controversies reviewed for that report. In the assessment of our authors, these figures’ campus appearances have done more to inflame existing divisions than to build towards positive alternatives. However, we imply no moral, ideological, or other equivalency. Individual profile authors decided what information was most useful for readers to evaluate their claims, rhetoric, and roles in campus controversies.

With material from the Free Exchange on Campus Coalition, and Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, used with permission.1

Ex-leftist David Horowitz is currently one of the most infamous conservative critics of American universities. A prolific writer of books, op-eds and blog postings, an active and controversial public lecturer, and a skilled and dogged debater, his work is regularly posted on his websites, www. frontpagemag.com and www.discoverthenetwork.org.

Horowitz spent his college years in the late 1950s at Columbia University, where he was involved in American Communist political organizations. He went on to receive his Master’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley. He has said that his politics changed “when the Black Panthers murdered my friend Betty Van Patter in 1974. I have described this event, along with the transformation of my politics at length in Radical Son,” published in 1996.

By 1985 Horowitz had launched an assault against his erstwhile leftward compatriots, whom he now calls “violently, fervently committed to their unholy war to tear down American democracy and replace it with their version—an Americanized version—of communism.”2 In 1992 he co-founded Heterodoxy, a magazine whose mission was to expose campus “political correctness.” In 1988 with conservative philanthropic funding, he and his long-time collaborator Peter Collier established The David Horowitz Freedom Center.

In recent years, Horowitz’s original concerns with racial rights and the representation of the history of slavery have morphed into a focus on supposed liberal bias on college campuses through his organization Students for Academic Freedom (SAF), which he founded in 2003 and which claimed nearly 200 chapters just two years later. Students for Academic Freedom members were enjoined to uncover political bias on the part of individual faculty members and report incidents to SAF, which in turn would mount intense media campaigns against specific faculty members.

Horowitz and others like him have contributed to a campus climate where some students feel their teachers are fair game for ad hominem attacks. The attacks have been skillfully focused on a few major frames that remain barely altered over decades: our colleges are on the decline because of the Left’s influence; protecting higher education is all about freedom. Horowitz has been notorious in crafting a series of campus-based campaigns, from calling for a student bill of rights on campus to trying to enact what he calls “Academic Bill of Rights” legislation at the state and national levels, an attempt which has been considered, and failed to pass, in 24 states. Calling for such an Academic Bill of Rights is both redundant and misleading, as most colleges already have rules ensuring political and other types of free expression.

Horowitz has implied that progressives (whom he sometimes calls “campus fascists”) who are not in agreement with him are aligned with radical Islamist terrorists. In 2005, for example, while speaking at Columbia University, he passed out a pamphlet that bore a picture of Noam Chomsky with a turban and beard, under the heading “The Ayatollah of Anti-American Hate.” Later he would argue, “I have never called for Chomsky to be fired or to be barred from classrooms. I wrote a pamphlet showing what an ass he is. How is this anti-diversity?”3

In 2006, Horowitz published The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, charging academics with indoctrinating students with leftist and radical political views and implicitly attempting to create a McCarthy-like blacklist of liberal professors. The Free Exchange on Campus Coalition analyzed the book with a report called “Facts Count,” in which the authors noted:

“Mr. Horowitz’s research is sloppy in the extreme and, we believe, manipulated to fit his arguments. Mr. Horowitz’s book is characterized by inaccuracies, distortions, and manipulations of fact—including false statements, mischaracterizations of professors’ views, broad claims unsupported by facts and selective omissions of information that does not fit his argument.”4

While Horowitz’s thematic concerns range from feminism to colonial studies, he has made strong claims regarding both what he sees as antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus and as insufficient attention to or appreciation of a radical Muslim threat against American and Jewish interests.

For example, “Facts Count” asked Professor Bettina Aptheker of the University of California, Santa Cruz to respond to Horowitz’s claim that she “authored an article in The Wave pledging support for Palestinian terrorists, whom she euphemistically described as ‘antioccupation activists.'” Professor Aptheker responded, “I have never, ever supported or called for the support of terrorists, Palestinian or otherwise. The reference quoted was not to Palestinians but to Israelis active in the effort to end the occupation of Palestinian territories.”

In another example, “Facts Count” compared Horowitz’s Islamophobic assertion with the evidence he himself had provided to back his claim:

Mr. Horowitz quotes Professor Mark Ensalaco as saying, “‘I see that our student are angry and hurt about what happened in New York and Washington [regarding the 9/11 attacks], and as important as it is for us to promote learning here at the University, I think it’s also important to promote tolerance.’” Mr. Horowitz then writes, “By tolerance, Professor Ensalaco meant tolerance for those who appear to be America’s enemies.” […] Mr. Horowitz goes on to claim, “Professor Ensalaco regards the United States as responsible for the 9/11 attacks on itself.”

Mr. Horowitz bases this claim on this quote from Professor Ensalaco: “I’d like our students to understand the historical context of the attitudes that caused the attacks. If the students understand the complexities involved, perhaps they’ll avoid the conception that all people of Islam or all Arabs are terrorists.” Mr. Horowitz seems to provide no evidence, other than his own interpretation, that what Professor Ensalaco actually meant is that the United States is “responsible for the 9/11 attacks on itself.”

Three years later, the Free Exchange on Campus Coalition (FECC) followed up with “Facts Still Count.” It argued that his book One Party Classroom, coauthored with Jacob Laskin (who would later post his own refutation of the FECC reports5), repeated many of the same methodological errors and ideological biases.6

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, evidence derived using recognized and rational methods that can be replicated and verified. In One-Party Classroom, David Horowitz does not meet even minimal standards for sound research methodology (as outlined in our document titled The “Faculty Bias” Studies: Science or Propaganda). He presents an unrepresentative sampling of institutions, departments and courses in higher education. Upon that shaky foundation, Horowitz then plugs in distorted and inaccurate data, and makes a series of logical leaps that would make any reader, much less an academic researcher, cringe.

The authors point to errors, deliberate misquotations, and outright fabrications in the case of University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) Professor Bruce Larkin. Larkin teaches a course called “The Politics of the War on Terrorism,” exactly the kind of course listing that could have been expected to inflame Horowitz’s imagination. Horowitz did not disappoint.

Despite Horowitz’s assertions to the contrary, Larkin had never denied that al-Qaeda planned the attacks of Sept. 11. What the actual syllabus said, arguably the genuine focus of Horowitz’s ire, was something much more subtle:

How did Bush and Cheney build the fiction that Iraq was a participant in the 9/11 attacks, raising a question about what, if any, connections existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Notably, the bigoted internet site jihadwatch.com, while written primarily by Robert Spencer and Hugh Fitzgerald (but not containing articles bylined by Horowitz), is a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.7

This pattern of inflammatory statements and misrepresentations has clear significance for the debate over policy differences regarding conditions in the Middle East as they are debated on campus. [See related campus profiles for reports on incidents in which Horowitz has been involved.]

 

 


 

1 Horowitz, “Response from David Horowitz.”

Free Exchange on Campus coalition membersL American Association of University Professors, American Civil Liberties Union, American Fedeation of Teachers, Campus Progress/Center for American Progress, Center for Campus Free Speech, Free Press, National Association of State PIRGs, National Education Association/NEA Student Program, People for the American Way Foundation/Young People For, United States Student Association; Campus Progress Materials: Niral Shah, “Know Your Right Wingers: David Horowitz,” Campus Progress, January 10, 2006, http://campusprogress.org/articles/david_horowitzs_enimies_list/; David Horoqitz, “Response from David Horowitz,” January 5, 2008, http://campusprogress.org/articles/response_from_david_horowitz/.

2 Shah, “Know Your Right-Wingers: David Horowitz”

3 Horowitz, “Response from David Horowitz.”

4 Free Exchange on Campus Coalition, “Facts Count: An Analysis of David Horowitz’s The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” May, 2006, http://cdn.publicinterestnetwork.org/assets/woUsLGhMMPR98xFTxvDWyw/Facts_Count-Report.pdf.

5 Jacob Laksin, “Discounting the Facts,” FrontPage Magazine, June 15, 2006, http://archive.frontpagemag.com//readArticle.aspx?ARTID=4039

6 Free Exchange on Campus, “Facts Still Count: An Analysis of David Horowitz’s One-Party Classroom,” Spring 2009, http://www.campusspeech.org/resources/facts_still_count.

7 Jihad Watch, http://www.jihadwatch.org/.