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Undermining Civil Society: David Horowitz's Corrosive Projects

If you liked Lee Kaplan, Dafka Exposed,
you'll probably love this expose of the David Horowitz machine.
Undermining Civil Society

David Horowitz's Corrosive Projects

April 11, 2005

London, England

"A smear is among the simplest of propaganda techniques. It can take
the form of repeated, unapologetic, systematic name-calling, or otherwise
implying or asserting that opponents are bad, evil, stupid, untrustworthy,
guilty of reprehensible acts, or part of some undesirable category.

A smear might be conducted subtly or vaguely so the target cannot seek
legal action against a slander or libel, which must be specific and
believable to be legally actionable. False implications can be masked by
otherwise truthful statements."[1]

In a democratic and civil society, one expects a free exchange of ideas,
respect for the opinion of others, and it is taken for granted that all
members of society are able to air their views without fear. It is also
assumed that most members of the society have the potential to remain well
informed [2]. Without this basis, the notion that a society can make the
least-worst collective decisions or retain a modicum of civility will be

Although the United States used to trumpet the glory of its democracy and
the related freedoms, it is disconcerting to find many developments that
are hostile to the aforementioned assumptions. All of the following are
detrimental to a civil society: truculent right-wing radio-talk shows, the
sensationalist Springer-type talk shows, Fox News, , and David Horowitz's
projects. This article examines the pernicious nature of some of Horowitz's
projects, and it attempts to explain what role they may play in the United
States today. An evaluation of these projects should also put into context
Horowitz's campaign for an "academic bill of rights".

An overview

Horowitz, a self-declared former Marxist, is now engaged in a variety of
projects ranging from promoting an "academic bill of rights", writing books
[3], a database on "leftists" and "jihadists", and the FrontPage "magazine"
[4]. FrontPage (FP) is primarily a platform for extreme Zionists to smear
leftists, to attack academics who may be critical of Israel or the current
US imperial proclivities, and to hurl ritual abuse against "jihadists" ­ in
reality, a thinly-veiled racist attack on Muslims or Arab people.
Denigrating and insulting labels are flung around in FP, and its writers
often brand anyone near the left with such labels as "racist", "jihadist",
"anti-semite", etc. The American progressive broadcaster Al Franken's photo
appears with a "racist" label juxtaposed; Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old
ISM volunteer who was killed by the Israeli army, is portrayed as "matron
martyr saint for the pro-terrorism Left, the Joan of Arc of Palestinian
terrorism" FrontPage also loves to denigrate: Prof. Juan Cole, Prof. Ward
Churchill, Prof. Noam Chomsky Simply put, civility and integrity are in
short supply at FP.

A new Horowitz "project" is the DiscoverTheNetwork database that monitors
"leftists"; it applies the same McCarthyite Campus-Watch formula to a wider
group of activists. It draws on the "research" of the articles that have
appeared in FP, Campus-Watch, and liberally insults and denigrates those it
has chosen to track. There is no place in a democratic society for such
corrosive databases like DiscoverTheNetwork ­ these amount to databases of
libel [5].

With friends like these

One of FrontPages's most pernicious writers is Steven Plaut, a man who
"could be thought of as Israel's Daniel Pipes" (Pipes is the instigator of
Campus-Watch), and is someone who "launched an Internet site on which he
publishes articles that typically espouse far-right positions" [6]. Given
that Plaut was born and raised in the US, educated at top US universities,
one would have hoped that he had learned the finer points of living in a
democracy; however, he now lives in Israel, and this may have dulled his

For an insight into Plaut's integrity and civility the following incidents
should warn anyone about the character of this person:

" a young political philosopher and human rights campaigner from Ben
Gurion University, Dr. Neve Gordon, was accused by an extreme right-wing
polemicist from Haifa University, Dr. Ste[v]en Plaut, of being a supporter
of Norman Finkelstein, whose book, The Holocaust Industry, led many on the
Right to associate him with Holocaust deniers. When Gordon decided to sue
him for libel, Plaut subsequently disseminated articles attacking Gordon on
the Internet, including on some extreme right-wing Kahanist sites. Morton
Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization in America, also weighed in
against Gordon by writing to the President and the Rector of Ben Gurion
University questioning the continued employment of Gordon and protesting
his libel case which, Klein argued, was an intervention in the civil
liberties of Plaut because it denied Plaut's right to freedom of
expression! [...] Writing under assumed names, Plaut has a long history of
attacking, labeling, and targeting left-wing scholars in Israel. One
anonymous article appeared under the name of Socrates in the Middle East
Review of 2001. " [7] (emphasis added)

Here is a recent example where Plaut savages Jonathan Cook, an important
free-lance journalist who frequently writes on Palestine and the Middle
East. Plaut easily brandishes the "anti-semite" slur and here he
demonstrates hyperbolic tendencies:

Cook is a self-proclaimed "freelance journalist". He is in fact a
vicious anti-Semite openly endorsing Palestinian mass murder of Jews. The
very fact that he has never been deported nor jailed by Israel speaks
volumes about the extent to which the Israeli government is really willing
to defend the country and Israelis. Cook writes anti-Israel propaganda for
the Egyptian anti-Semitic daily al-Ahram the anti-Semitic British daily The
Guardian, al-Jazaara [sic], and just about any other anti-Semitic outfit
you can think of.[8]

In 2004, Plaut lifted the email list of an electronic discussion forum
based at the Univ. of Haifa [9]. Then, using this list, a co-conspirator
called "Rocky" proceeded to send hateful emails to the forum posing as
someone called Yusuf, a "Zionist Palestinian", who also was "your token
Arab who adores Israel". "Rocky" then made the mistake of using CC instead
of BCC to forward one of his diatribes. The ensuing email exchange between
"Rocky" and Plaut discussing the faux pas was revealed when "Rocky"
repeated the mistake by sending it to the entire distribution list! It
would make amusing reading were it not for such a sordid attempt at
deception, the smearing of others, and interfering in a discussion of
Israeli academics on how to obtain a modicum of justice for the
Palestinians [10]. Furthermore, one could well imagine the furor if a
Palestinian academic were to pose as a malevolent prankster in a Zionist
website posing as Moshe "your token Jew who adores Palestine." Plaut's
activities demonstrate a lack of integrity and honesty. Perhaps one would
expect higher standards from a Princeton educated professor, but maybe in
Israel, in a business school, this is considered par for the course. These
facts notwithstanding, he is a regular contributor to FrontPage!

And another dubious operator

A book review is a critical assessment of a book and a means of
highlighting its importance to a wider audience. However, there is another
type of book "reviewer" who uses the medium to denigrate books they don't
agree with, or to praise books they agree with; book reviews become a means
to propagate their ideological stance. The Amazon book review sections have
given rise to a breed of reviewers who use this resource for ideological
ends. Alyssa A. Lappen, another FrontPage and Campus-Watch "journalist", is
a prolific Amazon book "reviewer". Her reviews tend to have the following
defining characteristics: if the book is favorable to Israel it is
generally issued glowing remarks, if the book is critical of Israeli
policies it is denigrated, and books that present the Palestinian narrative
are similarly savaged. Books like Joan Peter's From Time Immemorial are
issued such glowing praise as "This monumental and fascinating book." Note
that Prof. Norman G. Finkelstein and Prof. Yehoshua Porath have
demonstrated that this book is a "threadbare hoax", a product of the
shoddiest "scholarship", and a book written for propaganda purposes [11].
Lappen issued glowing reviews of dubious texts published by Encounter
Books, an enterprise run by Peter Collier, Horowitz's longtime buddy [12].
Lappen's activities undermine what could be a valuable resource of bona
fide book reviews; instead her propaganda imperatives transforms the book
review section to just another ideologically debased space. Amazon may well
want to implement a more stringent policy to avoid dragging its website
further into the mud.

In her FrontPage articles, Lappen often demonstrates a similar lack of
intellectual integrity to that found in her book "reviews". Some of her
articles deal with the professors of Middle East Studies at Columbia Univ.
(MEALAC), a current Zionist pet hate. Another favored target for smearing
is the ISM, the non-violent volunteer group opposing the Israeli
occupation. To smear the ISM she quotes Walid Shoebat, a dubious "Zionist
Palestinian" who broadcasts from a settler radio station and wears a kippa
[13]. To score cheap propaganda points, Zionist organizations have put
Shoebat on tour around the US, and Lappen quotes him extensively. Her
technique amounts to the journalistic equivalent of quoting the village
idiot. Shoebat often talks about the hateful nature of "jihad theology",
and Lappen uses this to smear the ISM and its founders:

"Not surprisingly, Beit Sahour is also home to Ghasson [sic] Andoni
and George Rishmawi, are the co-founders of the Rapprochement Center. They
also co-founded the International Solidarity Movement with Huwaida Arraf
and Adam Shapiro. Both organizations appear to be driven by the malevolent
jihad ideology that Walid Shoebat describes."

Now, even a group advocating non-violent resistance and dialog with the
Israelis is smeared with Lappen's favorite term of abuse. Never mind that
most of the leading Palestinian activists of the ISM are Christians and
that roughly a third of the overall ISM membership is Jewish (including one
of the co-founders, Adam Shapiro) -- they still deserve Lappen's "jihadist"
scurrilous smear. It is too much for Zionists to acknowledge that there are
sensible and courageous Palestinians seeking to defend their rights using
non-violent means. Lappen and her FrontPage ilk smear Palestinians in the
ISM and all other Palestinians with wide brushstrokes, and in the process
demonize and dehumanize all Palestinians.

Interpreting Horowitz's various projects

Several foundations pour millions ($13.7m through 2003) into the Horowitz
projects, and these range from ultra-right-wing The Lynde and Harry Bradley
Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, to the notorious extreme-right-wing
Scaife Foundations [14]. Why would these foundations support Horowitz's
hateful and corrosive operations? There is one clue in the funding list
where one finds the John M. Olin Foundation contributing $15,000 to
"support a public opinion study directed by Frank Luntz." Now, Frank Luntz
is a pollster and propagandist for the Republican Party and Fortune 100
companies, but in addition, one of his main preoccupations is defending
Israel's image abroad. Luntz is a proponent of what Zionists call hasbara,
i.e., an aggressive propaganda campaign to whitewash Israel's image in the
US [15]. So, from the funding sources we can surmise that pro-Israeli
propaganda is one of the purposes of Horowitz's projects. Furthermore,
given the nature of the right-wing funding groups behind his projects one
can theorize about the projects' purposes, and these can be categorized as:
(1) pushing the envelope and narrowing the political spectrum; (2) an echo
chamber effect; (3) smearing critics of the US imperial role and Israel;
(4) a ratcheting of smears, and (5) "mirror flak".

i. Pushing the envelope and narrowing the spectrum

Some right-wingers want to transform the political scene by narrowing the
political spectrum, and undermining their opponents on the "left". In order
to accomplish this "radical" right-wing dream, projects are promoted to
push the political discourse envelope. Twenty years ago, the American
public would have had no stomach for Bill O'Reilly or similar corrosive
talk show hosts [16]. In the meantime, an array of increasingly extreme
rightwing propaganda and media were unleashed on the US public. These
projects first appeared on the margins, and then moved towards the
mainstream; the right-wing radio talk show format moved into the
mainstream. This process continues today and explains the purpose of the
various Horowitz endeavors, that is, to push the envelope, narrow the
political spectrum, and move the entire political discourse to the right.
FrontPage makes FoxNews look respectable, and thus serves to legitimize
media like Fox. The implication is that if there are players to the right
of Fox News, then Fox can't be all that bad.

ii. Echo chamber effect

A message is amplified and legitimized when several players repeat it. If
Campus-Watch was alone railing against critical academics, then Daniel
Pipes' frothing could easily be dismissed as deranged diatribes. When
several players repeat the message, then one propagandist lends legitimacy
to the other; the more players, the stronger the legitimizing effect [17].
This seems to be the reason that a Campus-Watch-type clone has emerged ­
these organizations even share personnel!

iii. Smearing of critics

The Hasbara Manual, a 131-page propaganda manual, was distributed to
US-zionist campus organizations; it lists many techniques to whitewash
Israel, and to defuse the message of its critics [18]. Two of its key
recommendations are to: (1) "attack the messenger and not the message", and
(2) to "gain points" with the public targets by "manipulating," and
diverting them from "rationality," "real examination," and "thinking
critically". Well now, this is a splendid explanation for the role
FrontPage and Campus-Watch play in the US today. Much of what these
organizations do is smearing and undermining rational discussion of a range
of issues.
Both FrontPage and Campus-Watch have targeted Prof. Juan Cole, and they
seem to be particularly incensed by Prof. Cole's Informed Comment, a
popular and important news analysis blog [19]. Prof. Cole is critical of
the US war in Iraq, of US policy in the region in general and of
US-foreign-policy subservience to Israel in particular. FrontPage devotes
copious resources to smearing Cole in an attempt to discredit Informed
Comment. Prof. Cole has on occasion lambasted the FP libelous attacks on
him, but of more interest is his explanation for some of these activities.
Cole suggests that one of the purposes behind the repeated smearing
operations is to obtain what he called a "Google Smear". This is Cole's

"It seems to me that David Horowitz and some far rightwing friends of
his have hit upon a new way of discrediting a political opponent, which is
the GoogleSmear. It is an easy maneuver for someone like Horowitz, who has
extremely wealthy backers, to set up a web magazine that has a high profile
and is indexed in google news. Then he just commissions persons to write up
lies about people like me (leavened with innuendo and out-of-context
quotes). Anyone googling me will likely come upon the smear profiles, and
they can be passed around to journalists and politicians as though they
were actual information "[20].

iv. Ratcheting of Smears

It is instructive to read Prof. Joseph Massad's statement to the Columbia
Univ. ad hoc committee examining the complaints against him [21]. Massad
describes in detail the ordeal he has been through and the attacks seeking
to destroy his academic career. In his description, it is clear that the
smears ratchet in virulence; they build on one another. The right-wing New
York Sun may produce a smear that is then regurgitated with further
elaborations in other newspapers and so on. If all the defamations appeared
in one article or in a few accusations, then it would be easy for Prof.
Massad to obtain legal redress. However, how can one sue for libel if the
accusations ratchet over time and are attributable to various sources?
FrontPage, Campus-Watch, and New York Sun just regurgitate smears,
elaborate them and compound what amounts to libel. Prof. Massad documents
one case where the New York Sun misquoted him, and while he asked for a
correction at the Sun, Jonathan Calt Harris (associated with Campus-Watch)
wrote an article amplifying the offending smear [22]. Steven Plaut quotes
Calt Harris and the pernicious cycle continues. When nefarious
organizations work in tandem, it is difficult for anyone who has been
libeled or smeared to defend themselves. FrontPage contributes to
undermining one of the key assumptions of a civil society, the basic
respect for the opinion of others.

v. Mirror flak

Sporadically one finds leftist critiques of different news media, human
right groups, NGOs and so forth. For example, one often finds critical
studies of the BBC or CNN output issued by leftist groups, and this author
has written several critical articles about Amnesty International (AI)
[23]. Right-wing groups aim to counter or neutralize these critiques by
what one could refer to as "mirror flak". While I have repeatedly
criticized AI for its dubious record on reporting human rights abuses in
Israel-Palestine, one suddenly encounters an article by the notorious
Steven Plaut claiming the opposite [24]. That is, Plaut claims that AI is
biased against Israel. So, by attacking AI, or any organization that has
been criticized by the left, the effect of the original critique is
neutralized. AI can claim that it is being attacked by both "left" and
"right", and thus must be doing something right. The same thing happens
with the critical studies of the BBC or CNN. On a regular basis, various
groups will produce mirror flak, thus helping these organizations avoid
having to confront accusations about their biased stance. Several articles
in FrontPage fall into this category.

Horowitz and his "Academic bill of rights"

A creative writing course at the Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, assigns some
New York Times articles as part of its readings, but there are students who
object to this, and assigning reading materials is a constant struggle
[25]. Their objection has nothing to do with the dubious nature of the NYT,
but with its "liberal bias"! Horowitz's "academic bill of rights" would
"protect" students from having to read materials that weren't compatible
with their ideological outlook [26]. While purporting to be a "bill of
rights", in reality, it aims at politicizing and introducing ideological
monitoring into academia. Prof. Massad's experience with disruptive
students makes salutary reading to determine what this would imply [27].

Perhaps Prof. Rashid Khalidi indicates a basic objection to Horowitz's bill
of rights:

"If students were coming to be told ideas that they arrived at
university with they would be getting nothing of value here. If they were
not to be challenged, if there were not to be forced to rethink the things
that they come here as 18 year olds [...] with, what on heavens sake would
be the point of a university, what would in heavens name be the point of
teaching. We would just arrive with monolithic conventional ideas, and we
would leave with monolithic conventional ideas. This is why academic
freedom is absolutely vital." [28]

And who does Horowitz think he is to have the stature to call for an
"academic bill of rights"? Perhaps this intellectual and moral pipsqueak
should first crawl out of the sewer before pontificating about this topic.
Horowitz's dubious projects, his shady past, and his far-right-wing
connections suggest that what he is proposing is a frontal assault on
academic freedom. His call for this bill is a bit like a pyromaniac urging
safe usage of fireworks.

Caveat Lector

We are supposed to be living in a democracy, and therefore, by all means,
read FrontPage magazine. However, while enjoying the benefits of democratic
rights and civil society one should be aware of the nature of FrontPage and
related projects ­ these aim to undermine these very rights that we may be
taking for granted. This article has just sought to raise awareness about
the nature of our contested ideological space and urge a vigorous defense
of real participatory democracy, academic freedom and civil society. It is
not enough to shrug at yet more right-wing invective, because much of this
poisons our society and must be rejected and uprooted. Civility in our
societies is not an on or off precondition for democracy ­ it can be
poisoned and severely degraded unless it is defended.

FrontPage is not merely a contributor to the "marketplace of ideas," it is
a wrecking operation comparable with the book-burners of yesteryear. It is
also a mistaken conception to think that we just encounter a "marketplace
of ideas", but a more accurate understanding of our society is that we are
confronted with a "battleground of ideas", and here there is no room for
complacency and neutrality.

What would Illich have made of this

Ivan Illich, the radical philosopher and social thinker, once described his
childhood years when he was living in Brac, a small island off the
Dalmatian coast [29]. Illich lamented the arrival in 1926 of a loudspeaker
that upset harmonious and horizontal relationship, and stated that: "up to
that day, all men and women had spoken with more or less equally powerful
voices". After the loudspeaker was installed, there was a scramble to
control the microphone and the communication emerged with a distinct
vertical bias; many were silenced. One wonders what Illich would have made
of the wonders of the internet. Certainly, he would have regarded projects
like Horowitz's FrontPage rag as the equivalent of the village idiot
gaining control of the megaphone.

Paul de Rooij can be reached at proox (at) (NB: all emails with
attachments will be automatically deleted.)
Paul de Rooij © 2005


[1] For a discussion of smears as a propaganda techniques refer to this article

[2] Individuals have the choice of not informing themselves about their
society ­ that is fine. However, what is corrosive is the situation where
individuals want to inform themselves and encounter deception,
manipulation, and outright lying/smearing.

[3] Horowitz has published several of his books with Encounter Books, the
publishing project of Peter Collier, his longtime buddy and co-founder with
Horowitz of Center for the Study of Popular Culture -- the umbrella group
of all Horowitz's projects. The duo also has co-authored some books.
Encounter Books denies that the organizations are related, but they obtain
funds from the same right-wing foundations.

[4] For a detailed list of Horowitz's endeavors see: SourceWatch on Horowitz.

[5] There are several reasons why this type of "database" is not legitimate
in a civil society. First, the persons smeared do not have recourse to
rectify what is stated about them. Most of the "research" on which the
articles are based is abusive and libelous. The intention of the database
is clearly political, to hound the individuals or to tarnish their
reputation. The aims of such databases are deceptive at best and harmful in
general. In a democratic society the main ingredients are open arguments
and an element of respect; the DTN "database" doesn't apply such simple

[6] Aviv Lavie, Not for the faint-hearted, Haaretz, May 5, 2004. Note that
Plaut only publishes in English and most Israelis don't read his articles
or blog. His output is mostly meant for US consumption.

[7] David Neuman, "The Threat to Academic Freedom in Israel-Palestine",
Tikkun, July 2004.

[8] Steven Plaut, Cooking up Calls for Mass Murder, Sept. 2, 2004.

[9] A copy of email where Plaut boasts that he stole the list can be found

[10] Further documentation see:here.

[11] Yehoshua Porath, Mrs. Peters's Palestine, NYRB, Vol. 32, No. 21 & 22 ·
Jan. 16, 1986. Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the
Israel-Palestine Conflict, Second Edition, Verso 2003. Finkelstein states:
"So disturbing (and bizarre) was the book's main argument ­ that
Palestinians had, individually and en masse, fabricated their genealogies ­
that I read it with more than the usual care. It quickly became obvious
that the said author, Joan Peters, had concocted ­ and, more revealingly,
that the American intellectual establishment had lent its name to ­ a
threadbare hoax". (P. 1)

[12] In the 1960s, Peter Collier and Horowitz edited the "anti-war"
magazine Ramparts. Since then Collier co-wrote several books with Horowitz,
and co-founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the umbrella
organization of all Horowitz's projects.

[13] Alyssa A. Lappen, "The Ravages of the Jihad-Occupied Mind", FrontPage,
Feb. 17, 2004.

[14] here. For a discussion of Luntz see: Bill Berkowitz, Luntz on the
Loose, DissidentVoice, Oct. 26, 2004.

[16] O'Reilly telling interviewees to "shut up" in his TV program is
certainly a corrosive influence in a civil society-there is no place for
this type contemptible behavior.

[17] In several articles, Steven Plaut quotes Jonathan Calt Harris ­ one
dubious propagandist quoting another to "prove a point". Similarly, Lappen
quotes Steven Emerson.

[18] This manual will soon be made available online. However, this article
contains a discussion of the manual: Fadi Kiblawi , Israel's Campus
Concerns, Palestine Chronicle, Oct. 23, 2003.

[19] Informed Comment

[20] Juan Cole, The GoogleSmear as Political Tactic, Informed Comment,
March 27, 2005

[21] Joseph Massad, Statement to the Ad Hoc Committee, March 14, 2005.

[22] Massad, ibid.

[23] Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International: Say it isn't so, CounterPunch,
Oct 31, 2002. Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International: The Case of the Rape
Foretold, CounterPunch, Nov 11, 2003. Paul de Rooij, Amnesty International:
A False Beacon?, CounterPunch, Oct 13, 2004.

[24] Steven Plaut, "Amnesty International - Not a Reliable Source",
FrontPage, June 2, 2003.

[25] Personal communication with professor of this course.

[26] The "academic bill of rights" deserves a longer discussion. Prof. Juan
Cole presents good analysis of it and its implications. Furthermore, see
Bill Berkowitz's Horowitz's Campus Jihads, DissidentVoice, October 9, 2004.

[27] Massad, ibid.

[28] Rashid Khalidi, DemocracyNow, April 6, 2005.

[29] There are several versions of this account, and there is a longer one
in one of his books. However, a shorter version can be found in this speech.


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Re: Undermining Civil Society: David Horowitz's Corrosive Projects

This looks pretty creepy. I didn't know that much about Horowitz except that he wrote for Ramparts and scored some pretty good points in that one article. I thought the pie in the face was a step on a steep slope that we really don't want to go down...but after viewing his site, I can see what the alarm is all about. In his writing he comes off much more reasonable sounding than the site (Frontpage) looks. ALthough I don't approve, I can certainly understand why someone would pie him.

A Short Poem for David Horowitz

Now I see why
The asshole got the pie.

Re: Undermining Civil Society: David Horowitz's Corrosive Projects

"Walid Shoebat, a dubious "Zionist
Palestinian" who broadcasts from a settler radio station and wears a kippa...."

Walid Shoebat was on my television show, Club Cruz. He is a Palestinian. He lives in the SF Bay area now and does not wear a kippa. In fact, he has converted to Christianity.

I wonder what else is incorrect in this article?

reply to becky johnson

For more information on Walid Shoebat see:
in particular see: For a simple source to the statement that Becky seems to have problems with. NB: the source = Betar


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