David Horowitz, right wing political activist and controversial writer and speaker, returned to UCSB to deliver a talk in Isla Vista Theater Thursday night. The ambiance of this year’s proceedings, however, was comparably tamer than 2008’s raucous affair. Although a handful of campus police officers and Community Service Organizers (CSO) were on call throughout the duration of Horowitz’s visit, students queued up outside of the theater with no fanfare or protests.
The sense of relative calm was thanks in part to The UCSB Respect Coalition, which at 8 p.m. at the same time as Horowitz’s lecture, hosted the Alternative: Empowering Our Voices panel discussion. The panel welcomed an array of speakers and professors from a diverse set of religious, ethnic, and political backgrounds. The event was organized as a friendly and peaceful protest for student’s wishing to boycott the Republican-backed Horowitz talk.
Horowitz came to discuss a wide variety of hot button issues. He touched on everything from what he believes is an across-the-board, overtly liberal university education system, the importance of First Amendment rights, and his feelings on the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. Horowitz opened by discussing the difficulties he encountered while funding the event and expressing his aversion toward the university.
“Have you seen the array of police that have come out for someone to give a talk that isn’t the president or something?” asked Horowitz. “If I were a student I’d be pretty embarrassed about this.”
He commended the Campus Republicans, who helped raise funds and sponsor the event before getting down to dispelling rumors and clearing up misconceptions about his public persona. The auditorium, however, was far from a packed house, as many attendees walked out mid-speech either out of protest or apathy. Despite diving into other more hard-line issues, Horowitz’s overall message was for university educators to encourage in-class dialogues encompassing all viewpoints.
“You can’t get a good education if they’re only telling you half the story,” commented Horowitz. “You’re paying money and spending precious time at this school, and the First Amendment is the basis for all rights. Without it, you can’t defend any of your rights and you lose them all. We have to have rules that make us listen to people that we disagree with and learn to answer them with reasonable arguments.”
The tension began to rise when he brought up some of his past controversies. He is often perceived as having an anti-Muslim slant to his rhetoric, and being an outright Zionist, accusations that he regards as baseless and false. When he explained the background behind his fervent defense of Israel in regard to the nation’s long-term and tumultuous entanglement with Palestine, he remained mostly diplomatic, though making some controversial statements in the process.
“I feel totally American — I don’t have an identification with Israel; they are as foreign a country to me as any other foreign county — but Jews are the most persecuted people on the face of the Earth, and that’s just the truth,” said Horowitz. “If the Arabs disarm, there will be peace; if the Jews disarm, there will be a massacre. I’m portrayed as a big Zionist but I’ve never been to Israel. I just know when a country needs to be defended.”
Horowitz also elaborated on his views of Muslims in general versus what he referred to as “radical” Muslim organizations, saying that “Hamas is a Nazi organization and the Muslim Brotherhood is a Nazi organization.” He argued that the national Muslim Student Association (MSA) “is a creature of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
As he attempted to clear his name and dispel the “leftist” rumor mills (he referred to global warming as “silly”), Horowitz presented a strong case for Israel in the conflict with Palestine, using historical information and current news and case studies. He even went back as far as the Ottoman Empire, saying that the land divided by the British and the French into what is present day Israel was never actually Arab, but Turkish land to begin with.
While his views on Israel and his open condemnation of people like Osama bin Laden and organizations like Hamas didn’t create significant backlash in the room, his political views left a bad taste in some of the attendees’ mouths. For example, while trying to explain the importance of including both political opinions in class discussions, Horowitz proclaimed, “I think Obama is the most incompetent president to ever sit in the White House; that will offend some people.”
The Q&A session following the discussion served as a litmus test for the greater level of success of this year’s speech from his previous one. Student questions proved to be mild, many thanking him for coming to the university, and only one enraged student walked out after loudly arguing with Horowitz over Israel’s attack of the USS Liberty naval ship.