David Horowitz and Jewish Identity
Frontpage's Editor-in-Chief discusses how he sees his work and life within the framework of Jewish history and thought.
[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.