Letter to University Administration on the Hateful Horowitz Center Leaflets

Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago demands that the University administration take action to condemn the David Horowitz Freedom Center and remove its materials from campus.

Content warning: The following letter mentions leaflets containing antisemitic imagery and anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic rhetoric.

To the University of Chicago administration,

On Monday, the David Horowitz Freedom Center plastered more than 5,000 leaflets on and around campus demonizing Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students. These leaflets directly violate the University’s policy on posting on campus. In its text, the center accuses the Muslim Students Association, a recognized student organization (RSO), of being created by the Muslim Brotherhood (an Egyptian Islamist group) and Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago (SJP), an RSO that receives its financing exclusively from Annual Allocations and Undergraduate Student Government funds, of being funded by Hamas. The flyer slanders former Center for Middle Eastern Studies chair Rashid Khalidi as an “anti-semitic speaker” and characterizes specific University-sponsored talks that were not affiliated with SJP or any student groups as calling for genocide against Jews and spreading antisemitic lies. The articles include direct quotes from speakers at these events, suggesting that Horowitz Center affiliates were present and secretly recording. Most alarmingly, the back page of the leaflets, referencing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, features two large swastikas and a photo of U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) juxtaposed against one of Adolf Hitler, with the headline “BDS: Finishing the work that Hitler started.”

As we hope you are aware, this is not the first time that the Horowitz Center has targeted the University of Chicago, its students, and its faculty with false accusations of terrorist affiliation and Nazism in order to muzzle and disparage pro-Palestinian activism and scholarship. In fall quarter 2016 and again in spring 2017, the center posted several unauthorized flyers around campus with Islamophobic and antisemitic imagery, accusing—by name—a group of SJP students and faculty (including tenured English professor W. J. T. Mitchell) of being terrorists and terrorist supporters. The posters included racist caricatures of students and professors and falsely claimed that SJP chapters across American college campuses are funded by Islamist groups. The University response was clearly inadequate, as evidenced by the fact that the center has continued its so-called “stealth campaign.” After additional flyers were posted in September 2017, Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen wrote in an email to the University community, “We have witnessed a campus poster campaign from an outside organization that targets individual University students and faculty based on their involvement with social movements.” By leaving both the Horowitz Center and the political cause it targeted unnamed, the University’s response emboldened the group to move forward with its targeted harassment and hate speech.

According to the website listed on the leaflet, copies have been “made available in classroom buildings, dining facilities, student centers, and in distribution locations for The Chicago Maroon.” It is incumbent on the administration to condemn and remove these defamatory printings not only because they accuse the University of Chicago of being among the “Top Ten Jew-Hating Colleges and Universities” in America and of fostering terrorist-affiliated groups. For Muslim and Palestinian students, the Horowitz Center’s vilification of student life poses a direct threat to community safety. And for Jewish students, the center’s use of Nazi iconography is traumatizing, and its conflation of fighting antisemitism with furthering Islamophobic hatred shameful.

It is clear that the David Horowitz Freedom Center is a source of harm to our campus community. It is also clear that its work aims to censor and misrepresent our academic production and to create an environment of surveillance and fear surrounding scholarship about Palestine. The time for equivocal action and ambiguous censure is long gone. In 2016, Rasmussen wrote that “while the University fully supports the expression of diverse points of view, the tactics at issue here are antithetical to values and expectations of critical inquiry and debate.” These latest leaflets go further than opposing our values: By accusing the University itself of promoting “Jew Hatred and the Hamas Agenda,” they go so far as to incite hostility and hate against and within our community. They inhibit our capacity to work and study, to commune, to feel safe.

This is not a matter of political discourse, and it is by no means within the scope of the Kalven Report. It is, in fact, the Horowitz Center that endangers “the conditions for existence and effectiveness.” These inflammatory leaflets immediately and deliberately jeopardize the safety, security, and integrity of our community, and they must be responded to with the gravity and decisiveness they deserve.

We, Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago and our allies, call on the University administration to speak out against the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s deplorable campaign, in no such vague terms as before. We also call on the administration to work to prevent the center from undertaking operations like these in the future and to implement a policy against any and all hate speech posting, especially from sources not affiliated with the University. If the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s malicious activity is met again with impunity, then the center’s members and other hateful groups will be at liberty to infiltrate our campus again, posting whatever ludicrous and racist accusations they so choose.

#HorowitzCenterOffUofC #NoHateSpeechOnCampus

Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago is UChicago's chapter of a nationwide network of students committed to promoting justice, human rights, equality, liberty, and self-determination for the Palestinian people.