ON JANUARY 5, 2018, LARB published “The Trolls of Academe: Making Safe Spaces into Brave Spaces,” an article by W. J. T. Mitchell, in which he discussed David Horowitz’s activities as “a leading partisan of the alt-right’s internet assault on American universities.”
In response, the attorney for Horowitz’s right-wing think tank wrote with thinly veiled threats of a defamation suit unless we removed Mitchell’s piece. We refused to remove it, and settled instead, after much back and forth on a “Reply,” which we published on February 3, with a head note explaining we could not find a factual basis for many of his claims, and a brief rejoinder by Mitchell.
We were then contacted by an attorney for Palestine Legal, which represents Students for Justice in Palestine, on February 16, “on behalf of a student formerly active with Students for Justice in Palestine,” demanding we remove Horowitz’s piece due to what she claimed were its defamatory statements. We offered to publish their rebuttal. This offer was originally rejected, accompanied by a threat of legal action. We did not respond to that, and on March 19, a revised letter was submitted for publication; the revised letter is below.
LARB is dedicated to providing a forum for dissenting views on hard, contentious topics, and in this case there are not just differing opinions but fundamental factual disagreements among the writers. We invite our readers to review and follow the links. We find the threat of lawsuits to be inimical to our First Amendments rights. But that is just our opinion. The other opinions are below and in the links above.
— Tom Lutz
Dear Mr. Lutz,
I write on behalf of a student formerly active with Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California, Los Angeles and National Students for Justice in Palestine to express serious concerns with your publication of a letter by David Horowitz, titled “Reply to W. J. T. Mitchell’s ‘The Trolls of Academe’” on February 3, 2018. This 1,000-plus word letter includes several false, defamatory statements, including unsubstantiated allegations accusing students of having links to a group designated as terrorist by the US government. Following the Los Angeles Review of Books‘s publication of these statements, at least one student has been contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and questioned about these allegations.
We ask that the L.A. Review of Books retract all unsubstantiated allegations in Horowitz’s February 3 letter. This letter falls shockingly short of your editorial standards and has the potential to cause real harm to the lives of young people engaged in human rights advocacy.
I. Horowitz’s February 3 Letter Falsely Accuses Students of Material Support for Terrorism, a Federal Crime
Throughout his letter, David Horowitz makes numerous unsubstantiated allegations about SJP, and other supporters of Palestinian rights. We are most concerned about false statements alleging SJP is funded by, supports, and is “orchestrated” by a State Department–designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO). These allegations are false, dangerously inflammatory, and can have criminal implications, as the FBI visit ominously portends.
It is a serious federal crime to provide “material support” to a FTO. Material support laws are broad, and their scope is uncertain. The material support statute makes it a crime to provide material support to a designated FTO, or to anyone acting as an agent of a designated FTO. A conviction under this statute carries a potential penalty of life imprisonment.
SJP is a student group located on over 150 campuses across the country. There are SJPs at Ivy League schools, like Columbia and Brown Universities. There are SJPs at state schools like the City University of New York and San Diego State University. Nearly every University of California campus has an SJP group.
Each SJP is independent. SJPs, like other student groups, are funded by their universities; funds which they use to invite speakers, host educational talks, and attend conferences. SJP is currently one of the largest, if not the largest, student social justice movement groups in this country. Students with SJP care deeply about human rights, and often connect the struggle for freedom in Palestine with other social movements, including the liberation of black, brown, LGBTQ+, immigrant, and Native American communities here. I myself was a member of SJP while at law school at the University of California, Berkeley in the mid-2000s.
Horowitz’s baseless allegations against student activists can have serious consequences, especially at this time of intense anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian sentiment and policies at the highest levels of government. You should immediately delete each of these statements from your website to minimize consequences to innocent social justice and human rights activists.
II. Horowitz’s False Allegations Have Real Consequences for Young Social Justice Activists
Your publication of Horowitz’s false accusations without evidence or fact-checking demonstrates a reckless disregard for the truth that has real consequences for students and young people pursuing their education and starting their careers.
Less than two weeks after your publication of Horowitz’s piece, a UCLA student involved with SJP was questioned by two FBI agents at her home. Palestine Legal represents SJP chapters across the country and this is the first instance we are aware of where a student was asked whether SJP had connections to Hamas. The line of questioning closely mirrored the false accusations in Horowitz’s letter in L.A. Review of Books.
Individuals falsely accused of terrorism by Horowitz and others, like the blacklisting site Canary Mission, have reported to Palestine Legal being questioned by employers or potential employers, being put on leave, denied bank accounts, and receiving death threats. Palestinian students, when returning home, have been denied entry at Israeli-controlled entry points into Israel/Palestine.
III. Horowitz Engages in Islamophobic Campaigns to Intimidate Advocates for Palestinian Rights
The David Horowitz Freedom Center is a far-right organization whose founder, David Horowitz, is identified as a “driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements” in the United States by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In its dossier on Horowitz, the Southern Poverty Law Center notes that: “Horowitz paints a picture of Muslims, especially Palestinian Muslims, using broad strokes and generalizations to portray them [as] terrorists and thus enemies of the United States and Israel.”
As you are aware from a previous essay in your outlet, Horowitz’s organization is known for its wanted-style poster campaign on college campuses across the country. Many posters directly target SJPs with accusations similar to those published here, and others include the names of dozens of individual students and professors believed to be supporters of Palestinian rights and racist caricatures of students’ and professors’ faces, appearing next to defamatory labels. The poster campaign has drawn sharp criticism and has been covered by the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, and NPR. Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz also expressed concern over the posters. Administrators at UCLA condemned the posters as “a focused, personalized intimidation that threatens specific members” of the campus community.
Apart from the false allegations of support for terror, Horowitz, by virtue of his false, highly racist and inflammatory rhetoric, should never have been afforded space in your outlet, one that is known for “promoting and disseminating the best that is thought and written, with an enduring commitment to the intellectual rigor […] of the written word.”
IV. Horowitz Has a History of Meritless Legal Threats
You may also be aware that David Horowitz has a history of making unsubstantiated defamation threats against individuals and news outlets that have criticized his false statements and campaigns of hate.
In late 2016, Horowitz sent a cease and desist letter to African-American UCLA senior Robert Gardner after Gardner published an op-ed in the UCLA Daily Bruin criticizing Horowitz’s Islamophobic poster campaign, of which he was a target.
“You falsely describe David Horowitz as a racist,” wrote Horowitz attorney, Paul A. Hoffman, in a letter to Gardner on October 17. “You should have checked the facts more carefully before printing your Op-Ed.” The letter calls Robert’s article “defamatory” and threatens that, “Further publication or republication [of your Op-Ed] will also demonstrate your malicious intent and will support the imposition of punitive damages against you personally.”
Horowitz sent a similar threat letter last spring to UCLA’s Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Jerry Kang, after Kang denounced the Horowitz poster campaign as “thuggish intimidation” and “demagoguery.” As retribution, Horowitz also featured Kang himself on one of the posters plastered on UCLA’s campus.
Palestine Legal is aware of at least one other news outlet that has received a similar legal threat letter from Horowitz’s lawyer after the outlet printed statements calling Horowitz a racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-black.
None of these individuals or outlets responded to Horowitz’s threats. None were sued. Indeed, any such lawsuit would have been swiftly dismissed as a “SLAPP” suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation), given the clearly protected nature of the statements and Horowitz’s evident intent to intimidate and silence any criticism of him and his efforts to shield Israel from criticism.
V. L.A. Review of Books Must Retract Horowitz’s Statements
Horowitz’s letter falls so grossly short of your editorial standards, we are concerned that you may have published it under threat of a similarly meritless lawsuit. The L.A. Review of Books should never have published such base, Islamophobic drivel that has already caused damage, and has the potential to cause more real damage to individuals engaged in human rights advocacy.
Senior Staff Attorney