David Horowitz and Jewish Identity

[This article is reprinted from the ICONIA blog.]

I heard from David Horowitz by email early in September after he saw my review of a play at a Jewish theater in the Washington area, which I argued was unfair to him. Although the theater had canceled a play about Bernie Madoff, because it included the character Elie Wiesel — and the real life Wiesel pressured the theater to remove his name from the production — the playbill of Willy Holtzman’s Something You Did included a character identified as a Horowitz-like figure. The character, it turns out, was whiny, a total cartoon of a conservative pundit and frankly anything but complimentary, and arguably even downright evil.

In an article in the Washington City Paper, Ari Roth, artistic director at Theater J, which ran the play, argued it differed from Imagining Madoff, because Holtzman changes his characters’ names. But since Holtzman names names in the program, I wondered aloud whether Horowitz was given the same right of refusal afforded to Wiesel. “Or maybe, in the eyes of Theater J, neocons just fall on the Madoff side of the equation,” I wrote.

After having an email exchange with Horowitz, who is founder and the president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Editor-in-Chief of FrontPage Magazine and author of a staggering number of books and essays, I posed four questions to him about his Jewish identity. He discussed his favorite Jewish authors and artists and the role Israel plays in Jewish writing.

ICONIA: Do you identify as a Jewish writer per se? What, if anything, does the term mean to you?

DH: It’s one of the existential givens about being born a Jew — or maybe the existential given — that there’s no way to escape this fact, although certainly many Jews, particularly Jews on the political left, attempt to do so.

When I was a leftist, I certainly would have felt uncomfortable identifying myself as a Jewish writer, although even then I wrote a cover feature for Ramparts magazine, called “The Fate of the Jews.” The essay is still available in a collection of my writings called Left Illusions, along with a more recent, equally lengthy piece of mine called “Why Israel is the Victim.”

It has been our fate as Jews, since some of our ancestors had the bad judgment to challenge the Roman Empire, to have our backs to the wall and to inspire enough people to hate us so that we can never forget that we are Jews even if we would like to. Even those Jews who choose to provide aid and comfort to our enemies — and there are many — do so out of a perverse desire to escape the guilt they think we deserve. The forces of Jew-hatred are on vivid display today, when Jews are faced with a second Holocaust in the Middle East, spear-headed by Islamists and actively abetted by the secular left, many of whom are Jews. In these circumstances, I could hardly think of myself as a writer outside my identity as a Jew.

It is also the case, however, that ever since I wrote “The Fate of the Jews” I have also thought of myself within the framework of Jewish history and thought. The radical tradition into which I was born — the hope for a “promised land” in this life and on this earth, for a tikkun olam, is pretty clearly a Jewish idea, and it has become a focus of my writing in recent years.

I first confronted this issue in an essay called “The Radical Left and the Fate of the Jews,” which was about the false messiah Shabbatai Zvi and was published in a book called The Politics of Bad Faith. It is also a theme of the elegy I recently wrote for my daughter Sarah, who was deeply involved in Judaism, called A Cracking of the Heart.

ICONIA: Who are some of your favorite Jewish writers and artists?

DH: My favorite novelist is Saul Bellow. I am also a fan of some Phillip Roth books, particularly The Counterlife, American Pastoral and Sabbath’s Theater. Among younger writers, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated is a small masterpiece. Among non-fiction writers, Norman Podhoretz and Ruth Wisse. Among artists, the renegade Mendelssohn, Ravel, Aaron Copland.

ICONIA: To what extent, if at all, do you find that your Jewish identity affects your writing and lecturing?

DH: My Jewish identity is now at the heart of my writing. I am working on a book in which Dostoevsky is a central figure, the greatest critic of the messianic delusion, which is the gift of the Jews that threatens to engulf us through the combined forces of radical Islam and radical socialism. But Dostoevsky was also a passionate anti-Semite and Russian messianist who inspires Jew-haters in our own day.

ICONIA: Israel is obviously on the minds of many Jews. Do you think every Jewish writer has to take a stance on Israel, or is Israel (and Israeli politics) not necessarily a Jewish issue?

DH: Every Jew and every Jewish writer defines himself by his stance or lack of a stance towards the only Jewish state. Israel is the Jew writ large. The attacks on Israel are no different from the attacks on Jews through the centuries. If Israel were a totalitarian, genocidal theocracy like Iran or Palestinian Gaza or the West Bank, then its critics would have a case. But since it is a democracy, the most tolerant, civilized and benevolent country in the Middle East, which provides more rights and privileges to its Muslim minority than any Muslim state in the world, the attacks on Israel – under siege by forces that seek to wipe it from the face of the earth — are forms of Jew-hatred identical to those of the past, from the times of Vespasian and Mohammed to that of Adolf Hitler.

  • Jim Johnson

    A man may not consider himself a Jew but would it matter if Hitler considered the fellow a Jew.

    Left wing Jews in Russia may not have considered them selves Jews but the Nazis and their co conspirators might hear their newest captive claim he was not a Jew. Do you think they cared what he thought he was?

    Where will the captive's protection come from?

  • bob maram

    david, oh how i agree with you. i am almost eighty years old and have been political since i was a teenager. i passed out leaflets for harry truman in1948. i grew up as a liberal and still regard hubert humphrey and henry jackson as some of my hers heros. i still have liberal tendencies( is that an affliction, david/ if so i am guilty. i just feel that the democrats left me. it was not th me who left but rather they the democrats who rejected me after the carter nomination in 1976 and the mgovern nomination in 1972. but david i so much miss the anti communists on the left. i miss the new leader magazine . i miss dissent when irving howe was editor.. no, i was never a left wing radical and i am aware that there is certainly a totalitarian temptation on the left but i place truman along with reagan as great americans. god, i hated henry wallace! thank you again david. you make a n old jew happy. bob maram

  • Bigmo

    Jews have an amazing ability to delude themselves. Who in the Middle East would replace their situation for the Palestinian situation?

    Its like Jews can never do wrong. Its also funny how Horowitz never talked about the role Judaism and the Talmud played in stirring anti-semitism throught out Europe.

    Read Dr Kevin Macdonald

    • Larry

      Look, the Europeans burned loads of witches. These witches were totally innocent women. Why we should we assume that the Jews were at fault for being persecuted. Come to think of it, have you read about what Oliver Cromwell did to the Irish? At the time, there were rumors that declared authoritatively that the demonic Irish had held games to see who could stab his sword the farthest into a captive Englishman’s flesh. Some said the Irish had even roasted Protestant Englishmen alive, then eaten the steaming meat.’” (see the book "The Lucifer Principle"). So Englishmen did "ethnic cleansing" in Ireland. Ask Dr. Kevin Macdonald if the Irish "stirred up" that treatment.

    • ziontruth

      "Its like Jews can never do wrong."

      Oh, they can do plenty of wrong.

      Like voting 78% for the DemoMarxist party, now a stronghold of Jew-hatred (mostly in its "New, Improved" anti-Zionist brand)

      Or like taking back their lands in 1967, but leaving all the Arab settler-colonists there after that, instead of sending them packing.

      Plenty of wrong. You'll find me as sharp a critic of Jewish behavior as any. Though not in the way you on the Old Right or your fellow travelers on the New Left would wish.

    • aspacia

      Arabs living in Israel have far more rights and freedoms than in any other part of the Middle-East. You have not read both sides of the issues and should know that the Arabs are attempting to confiscate Israel and all Jewish heritage as their own.

      Did you know you are a Muslim regardless of how you self identify.

    • TRUTH

      "Who in the ME would replace their situation for the Palestinian situation?"

      is a ridiculous question considering the "Palestinian situation" is their own fault' Not to mention the "Palestinian situation" exists in 4 places Israel, west bank, gaza, and the arab countries and 99% of all jews in arab countries where killed, fled or expelled. In fact Arab Muslim subjugated and persecuted jews for 13 centuries.

      But for argument sake, how about the Kurds in Syria who have been systematically stripped of their citizenship and persecuted for the past 60 yrs only because they wanted a little cultural atunomy. In Israel the Palestinians have as much cultural autunomy as they want in fact arabic is even an official language in Israel. Or the Kurds and Shiites in Iraq who where brutally murdered and persecuted by the sunnis led by Saddam, kIlling 300,000 of them in 10yrs. bombing their villages with chemical weapons. It took the US military to finally put an end to it. Or how about the Baihi people who come from Iran. where they have been persecuted and discriminated against for 150yrs as well as in arab countries simply because they are an offshoot of islam. The center of their religion happens to be in ISRAEL!! because that is the only place in the ME where they enjoy real security. and the list goes on.

      Israel is the only democracy among 22 Arab countries with a standard of living 6 times greater than the rest of your pathetic Arab world. Saudi Arabia is the most prosperous Arab country. Its A country that ONLY ALLOWS MUSLIMS TO BE CITIZENS AND WOMEN ARE SUBJUGATED SO MUCH THAT THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO EVEN DRIVE CARS. The rest of the the Arab world is a lesser version of the same thing. Acctually the racist dictatorship of Hamas in gaza is just as bad.

      Israel is the most tolerant democratic prosperous country in the ME period.
      its the only place where women are treated equally and gay people are not killed or imprisioned and where arabs enjoy the only free and fair elections in the ME. The Arabs that are Israeli citizens have more freedom, more rights, and a higher standard of living than arabs do in Arab countries especially PALESTINIANS.

      and thats the real kicker
      THE PALESTINIANS GET TREATED BETTER BY THE JEWS THAN THEY DO BY THEIR FELLOW ARABS!!! the "Palestinian situation" in Arab countries is far worse than in Israel or the West Bank. Out of 22 Arab countries Jordan is the only one that allows Palestinian to be citizens and the Palestinians revolted against Jordan in the 1950s and launched a coup on the government in 1970 claiming that jordan was part of Palestine. The rest of the Arab world discriminates in the harshest way possible or flat out persecutes Palestinians. for instance, Because the Palestinians where the biggest supporters of Saddam Hussien and even supported his invasion of Kuwait, Kuwait responded by killing and expelling 400,000 palestinians. Arafat even said Kuwait is worse that Israel. And ever since Saddam Hussien was deposed the pals have been persecuted throughout iraq. Libya is another Arab country that killed and expelled large number of Palestinians.

      "role Judaism and the Talmud played in stirring anti-semitism throught out Europe"

      OOO, ofcourse minus the "jewish question" in Europe everything was perfect in Christian European society. Forget thousands of years of constant warfare and barbarism, conquest, persecution of christians by christians, christian on non-jewish minority, the subjugation of women, slavery, imperialism. Forget all their historic racism, oppression, and bigotry.
      Jews did not invade conquer, kill, or threaten anyone in Europe, They where a tiny scattered minority that kept to themselves. All you Jew haters have to rely on is a bunch of conspiracy theory BS. There are only 15 million jews in the world and 2.2 BILLION christians and 1.6 BILLION muslins even though judism pre dates those religions by thousands of years because it was the Christians and the Muslims that tried to conquer convert and subjigate the world not the jews.

      25% of all nobel prizes are by jews even though jews only make up 1/8 of 1% of the world population. 3 out of Israel's 8 university are consistently ranked in top ten in research outside the US. Israel spends more per capita on civilian research in development than any country in the world. Israel has the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. No group of people or country has contributed more per capita to the well being of the world in science, academics, and medicine than the jews.

  • Chezwick_Mac

    DAVID: "Every Jew and every Jewish writer defines himself by his stance or lack of a stance towards the only Jewish state. Israel is the Jew writ large."

    Nothing could be more true. Zionism can be defined in its essence as the Jewish national liberation movement…and yet, unlike other liberation movements that are supported and celebrated around the world, it is so often demonized as something uniquely evil. This is the basis of the 'anti-Zionism is a form of anti-semitism' school of thought that I and many others subscribe to. The fact that some Jews would embrace the anti-Zionist narrative is – as David articulates – a true litmus test in the establishment of identity. But to my mind, that identity is less ethno-religious than it is political/philosophical. All of us, Jew AND gentile, are at least somewhat defined by our attitude towards the Jewish state. It is exceedingly rare – for example – to find a proponent of Israel on either extreme of the political spectrum.

    What I'm trying to say is that David has much more in common with a conservative, Evangelical Christian supporter of Israel (and of academic freedom, for that matter) than he does not only with the Norman Finklesteins and Noam Chomskys, but even with fellow Jews who are apolitical and/or noncommittal in their views towards Israel (and other issues). And this brings me to my larger point…

    I've had a conversation or two with my black and Hispanic friends, trying to convey to them that THEIR value as human beings is defined much more by their quality as individuals than by their race or ethnicity…part of my war on multiculturalism This premise applies of course to everyone, including myself. My Scotch-Irish ethnicity is no more the primary source of my self-identity than is the religion of my ancestors. I just don't incline towards this kind of parochialism. It is – I believe – part and parcel of the larger political and philosophical struggle between the individual and the group…and ultimately, between human freedom and collectivism.

    I have nothing but the greatest admiration for David Horowitz. His writings have done much to shape my own political and intellectual identity. But his Jewishness is to me but a footnote, relevant perhaps in the shaping of his world-view, but entirely subsumed by the end result, which is his philosophical conservatism and his robust defense of human freedom.

    David, please tell me if I've gone astray here…and if so, how.

  • Gooroo

    Bigmo say what? Judaism played a role in stirring up anti-semitism? Really? Are you saying that my girlfriend got raped for dressing to girly? I should have put her in a burqa that would have saved her…

  • Samurai Hit Woman

    My husband was a Jew who held Israel in great esteem, and followed everything about Israel with intensity, but did not necessary hold Jews as individuals in any esteem at all, they had to earn it.

    When we first married he was an atheist then became an agnostic, and straddled the fence on the subject, until he finally jumped off the fence and landed as an evangelical Christian.

  • radicalson


    Shaping one's world-view is more than a footnote, but I take your point and don't disagree with it.

    • Chezwick_Mac

      Yes, I could have worded that better. And I've been thinking about this subject ever since I read and responded to your article this morning.

      I realize something I've overlooked. Much as I'm a believer in American exceptionalism, so too could a case be readily made regarding the exceptional history of the Jewish people. They were the first to ever conceptualize God in universal terms; they derived so much of their uniqueness through the depredations they suffered through the centuries as a perennially persecuted minority; and today, their homeland is surrounded by implacable enemies, near and far, vowing their destruction…a precarious existence of a nature and degree shared by no other nation, not even South Korea.

      It should come as no surprise that such unique characteristics and challenges should inspire you in a way that far transcends whatever affinity I may have for my own Scotch-Irish lineage….(which for me, IS but a footnote). Anyway, thanks for listening.

      • Liberty Clinger

        The way you described Jewish survival made me think of "Fiddler on the Roof" – a great metaphor not only for Jews but for all people who find it necessary to use their all their strength, grit, intelligence and creativity, not only to survive hard times, but to prevail and live well.

  • HostileLogic

    CAIR's pushing of this lawsuit is a blessing.

    Now they get to put Sharia on widespread public display in defending it.

  • bob


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