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The Culture War At Swarthmore By: Matthew Fitting
The Pheonix | Tuesday, November 12, 2002


Tim Wise and David Horowitz, two people at opposite ends of the political spectrum, will both be bringing their controversial views to Swarthmore in the coming weeks.

The two have actually faced off in the past, after Wise wrote an article entitled "Gore-vey," about Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who was Vice President Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 Presidential election.

Some time after it was written, Horowitz wrote to Wise: "You’re a patronizing racist who thinks American blacks are inferior and can’t live by the same standards as everyone else. What would you think of Jews who blamed every community and individual failing on 2,000 years of persecution by Christians? You would probably understand conservative arguments better if you took time to listen instead of knee-jerk name-calling." The two exchanged correspondence on the subject for several weeks.

Horowitz’s site also asks visitors to "Help David Expose the Leftist Plot to Control America’s Young Minds," announcing a continuing campaign for Horowitz that has brought him to campuses across the country. His visits often include lectures that claim campuses are dominated by leftist thinking, in both students and professors alike. Recently his lectures have focused on how the political left on college campuses is a threat to national security.

Other recent controversies Horowitz has sparked include a debate during spring 2001 over an advertisement he sent to campus newspapers across the country, in which he gave 10 reasons arguing against reparations for African-Americans, entitled "Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks — and Racist Too." The ad included arguments that Black Africans and Arabs were the ones truly responsible for slavery in America.

Wise, who is the director of the newly-formed Association for White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE) and considered an expert on American racism, will speak Nov. 20. His topic will relate to Zionism, "in order for us to think about how Jewish people everywhere are being constantly recruited to support Israel and its policies, even though that might be difficult for some us," said Amalle Dublon ’04, a member of the group Jews Against the Occupation (JATO).

JATO, along with Students Against The Occupation (SATO) and the Swarthmore Progressive Action Coalition (SPAC) are together paying for Wise’s visit, along with funding from the President’s Office.

Horowitz, an author and self-described "lifelong civil rights activist" will come to campus two weeks later, on Dec. 3. A biography available at his Web site says he "is an outspoken opponent of censorship and racial preferences, and a defender of the rights of minorities and other groups under attack — including the rights of blacks, gays, women, Jews, Muslims, Christians and white males."

"One of my missions in visiting campuses is to show conservative students that they need to fight back and not just take the abuse that is daily heaped on them," he wrote in a recent entry in his Web blog, after visiting the University of Illinois, Chicago. "The university is a hostile learning environment for conservatives. Their professors are all leftists. Conservatism is treated with derision by faculty and other university officials …. When they invite speakers, the speakers are attacked and treated with no respect."

Randy Goldstein ’05, a member of the College Republicans, said Horowitz’s $5,000 fee was paid for in part by the Young America Foundation, a group not affiliated with the college that helps sponsor conservative speakers on American campuses. The foundation contributed $1,500, the Forum for Free Speech (FFS) gave $1,000 and the President’s Office, through the Charles Boone Houston Fund, provided the remaining $2,500. That fund is reserved for bringing specifically conservative speakers to campus.

Goldstein, who described Horowitz as one of the most popular speakers on the college circuit today, said his group’s goal in bringing Horowitz was to promote an ideological diversity on campus he feels is lacking. He anticipated many students would come to the lecture with preconceptions about Horowitz, due to his high profile as a conservative, and that they would most likely disagree with what he says.

"[Swarthmore students] love to promote racial diversity, but the second you mention political diversity, anything right of communist is deemed inappropriate for campus policy," he said. "They want diversity in that everyone they know has a different color skin, but they don’t want diversity when everyone they know has a different political ideology."

Horowitz becomes involved in controversy at the campuses he visits, and a recent trip on Tuesday to the University of Illinois, Chicago was no exception.

According to The Chicago Flame, that campus newspaper, parts of Horowitz’s speech given there included a call for more conservative professors on college campuses, as well as "statements about life choices and the failures he sees in welfare programs." As he did, "the noise level began to increase as many in the audience became angry at his answers."

Goldstein said he hoped Swarthmore would offer a more polite response to Horowitz’s speech.

"This is Swarthmore, so I’m sure some people will come in with closed minds," he said. "But I tend to expect that the majority of the Swarthmore community is open to the diversity of politics, and, frankly, people have come up to me and told me how excited they are to see David Horowitz, people I know are liberals but are still excited to hear his message. They’ve heard his lectures are great." Goldstein also pointed out that Horowitz’s lectures are known for being thoroughly researched, as well as tailored specifically to the campus at which he is speaking.

While it was relatively easy for Goldstein and the College Republicans to bring Horowitz to campus. JATO, SATO and SPAC’s efforts to bring Wise ran into more difficulty, largely due to efforts from Im Tirtzu, students for a two- state solution, a Zionist student group.

For Vice President of Community and College Relations Maurice Eldridge ’61, who handles all requests to the President’s Office to receive funding for events, the two speakers represent some of the main difficulties with the administration’s process for students to request and receive funds for outside speakers.

Eldridge said he was especially troubled over the need for some groups, as JATO, SATO and SPAC to go to several different departments for funding, what he calls a "nickel-and-dime-ing" exercise, which can waste both the students’ and departments’ time.

Dublon said JATO hoped Wise’s coming to campus would inform students about what American Jews can do about making a socially conscious investment in Israel. She made a point of saying that her view only represented herself as a Jew. JATO’s goal, to promote dialogue on issues pertinent to the Jewish community, might be different from those of SATO or SPAC.

"We need to say there is a Jewish voice against occupation, that there is a Jewish voice against human rights abuses," she said. "We need to say that this is our state."

The effort to receive funding for Wise’s visit was a complicated one for JATO, SATO and SPAC, and one that brought them into some disagreement with Im Tirtzu.

When JATO, SATO and SPAC attempted to receive funding from the religion, history and political science department to get Wise on campus, Im Tirtzu also sent letters to those departments, asking them not to sponsor Wise. Such sponsorship, according to Dina Aronzon ’05, an Im Tirztu member, would have lent Wise a credibility she did not feel he deserves.

Carol Nackenoff, political science department chair, said she did not take into account Im Tirtzu’s letter in her decision, though political science did deny the request for funds. According to Nackenoff, the decision was based entirely on her department’s limited budget to fund speakers and that what Wise will speak on is not directly related to any courses taught currently by the department.

History chair Robert Duplessis said his department’s decision to deny funding was likewise based on limited funds. ‘I don’t even remember how small ours is because I’m embarrassed by it," he said, referring to history’s budget for funding speakers. Duplessis also said the department felt Wise did not have sufficient credentials as a historian to justify funding him.

After being turned down by the departments, the three groups trying to bring Wise to campus turned to the President’s Office, specifically to Eldridge.

Im Tirtzu, Aronzon said, decided not to write a letter to Eldridge this time because it does not contest Wise’s coming to campus.

"It’s a common misconception that we wanted to stop Tim Wise from coming here," she said. "That’s not true."

She did say, however, that she found his views offensive, and that presenting him as an expert on the Middle East was misleading.

"Tim Wise is not an expert on the Middle East," she said. "He’s an expert on racism, and we’d be fine if he spoke on race."

Most offensive, she added, was his opposition to Israel as a Jewish state. His opposition to the occupation of Palestinian territories wasn’t the issue — most of Im Tirtzu, she said, is anti-occupation.

"I find him inflammatory because he’s not going to foster dialogue on this campus," she said. "What he says is hurtful."

Wise has been an activist for social justice for the past two decades, and has spoken to more than 75,000 people in 46 states, on more than 275 college campuses, and to hundreds of community groups. He has also trained journalists on how to eliminate racial bias in reporting as a visiting faculty member at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.

According to Dublon, JATO, SATO and Space chose Wise "rather than another speaker … because he’s an American Jew, because he has training, fostering dialogue." She added that he has extensive work in the American South, trying to get people to talk about issues dealing with race relations.

"He’s trained to foster dialogue. He’s trained to work in these communities … and we hope he’ll speak to a large Jewish community here that often doesn’t get spoken to, and to the community in general," Dublon said.

She also cited the disagreement between JATO and Im Tirtzu as another reason Wise should come to speak at Swarthmore.

"I think that one of the things we need to do, the Jewish community as a whole needs to do, in order to foster dialogue and in order to sort of grow as a community, is to be willing to engage each other respectfully on issues that are very high stakes for everyone," she said. "That’s something I hope Tim Wise will spark here."

JATO’s goal, and Im Tirztu’s goal as well, according to Dublon, is to foster dialogue. "My goal is always more dialogue rather than less," as well as more viewpoints, she added. "Even if their letter writing campaign wasn’t explicitly intended to keep Tim Wise from coming to campus at the point they did it, it could’ve had that effect." That would have been detrimental to both groups. "More voices, more Jewish voices, are what everyone wants."

Responding to concerns that both Horowitz and Wise could prove offensive to some campus groups, Eldridge said, "I’m not given to censorship, in my institutional response or my personal one. I’ve certainly provided funds to groups bringing people whose views don’t match mine. … I almost never say no unless I feel people are asking for excessive amounts of money."

Multicultural Dean Darryl Smaw held a similar view. "I think any speaker, whether controversial or not, can always contribute to the intellectual rigor and critical thinking of our campus community," he said. "Such individuals help us question our position on an issue, and that’s good."

He admitted the risk that a speaker might take advantage of the campus’ generally open atmosphere, and twist facts. "But I also believe that our students are able to discern when they are getting factual information from when they’re not."

Eldridge also expressed hesitation that a speaker might offer an oft-repeated, or "canned" speech, expressing a desire for speakers who won’t give "the same speech they gave up the street and across the country and on six other campuses … where’s the intellectual excitement in that?"

Eldridge admitted that in the case of Horowitz, though he granted funding, "I said … ‘This guy gives canned speeches.’"

He felt the campus should withstand any speech not in line with an open atmosphere for dialogue. "We have to keep our discourse civil and agreeable.," he said.




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