Let’s give credit where it’s due: As far as troll-baiting headlines go, “Renegade Jew” is pretty excellent—and yes, morally reprehensible, too.
David Horowitz’s attack on William Kristol on Breitbart.com, in a piece called “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” is a jambalaya of tedious media self-references if you excise the “renegade Jew” bit: A right-wing figure attacks a second, more prominent right-wing figure on an alt-right website—you’re asleep already, aren’t you? But when served with a pithy, two-word epithet and a frisson of the world’s oldest hatred—Jew hatred, that is—a hit piece on the editor of The Weekly Standard is enough to foment a trending topic on Twitter. It spawned an unintentionally lyrical turn of phrase that seemsdestined for ironic re-appropriation.
True confessions: I *wish* someone would call me a Renegade Jew. It sounds very Shoshannie Oakley.
— emily nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) May 16, 2016
In context, “renegade Jew” was clearly intended as a blunt ethnic slur, and had apparently little to do with the substance of Horowitz’s loopy and disorganized attacks on Kristol, who is notably anti-Trump. The story, which pilloried the “renegade” Kristol for reportedly organizing a third-party conservative challenger to Trump and Hillary Clinton, included a lengthy digression about Mike Tyson’s autobiography, and a series of bizarre asides about a phantom U.S. intervention in Egypt which did not in fact occur, at least not in real life as the majority of the non-David Horowitz community understands it.
The logic of the “renegade Jew” headline becomes clear only in the piece’s final paragraph. “I am a Jew who has never been to Israel and has never been a Zionist in the sense of believing that Jews can rid themselves of Jew hatred by having their own nation state,” Horowitz (who also wrote his own headline) felt it necessary to state. “I am also an American (and an American first), whose country is threatened with destruction by the same enemies” as Israel, he continues, specifically “Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, ISIS, and Hamas.”
To weaken the only party that stands between the Jews and their annihilation, and between America and the forces intent on destroying her, is a political miscalculation so great and a betrayal so profound as to not be easily forgiven.
I’m a Jew, Horowitz writes, but not the double-dealing, Israel-visiting, non-America firster type of Jew, a category into which some percentage of Jews—few of them Trump-supporting, one can assume—implicitly fall.
That final paragraph is an artless machine gun spray of ethno-religious insinuation, and as fundamentally uninteresting as any other bigoted wheeze. But coming from David Horowitz, “renegade Jew” is also a notable milestone in an anguished political journey, one that’s made a distinct impression on American political discourse and thus takes on a special significance in such Trumpian times as these.
Horowitz began his career as the radical leftist son of pro-Stalinist parents. He participated in the anti-war movement, helped to found In These Times, edited Ramparts magazine, and become personal friends with Huey Newtown. The murder one of Horowitz’s friends at the hands of her fellow Black Panther Party members in the mid-70s shocked Horowitz into one of the iconic ideological conversions in late-20th century American politics. Horowitz’s 1996 memoir Radical Son became a landmark chronicle of American political culture’s disillusionment with New Left utopianism, and as Akiva Gottleib noted in a remarkable 2012 profile of Horowitz for Tablet (the opening line of which is: “The first thing that David Horowitz wanted me to know was that he rarely leaves the house anymore”), Horowitz’s 2000 pamphlet “The Art of Political War” was admired by Karl Rove and endorsed by dozens of Republican state party chairmen.
In Gottlieb’s telling, Horowitz, who had gained notoriety for organizing Islamofascism Awareness Weeks on college campuses in the late 2000s, had transposed a radical leftist’s teleological urgency—he “has spent the past quarter-century in a mode of permanent apocalypse,” Gottlieb writes—onto an opposite ideology and an opposite political sensibility. Horowitz’s allies on the right had not repaid his passion for propaganda, or appreciated his bracing moral clarity. “In 2012, his books are not just ignored by The New York Times, but by The Weekly Standard and National Review,” writes Gottlieb. “There are plenty of conservatives who don’t like my manner,” Horowitz said. “It’s too aggressive, too Jewish, too leftist.”
As Gottlieb found, Horowitz’s rigid mentality coexists with a surprising appetite to confront the painful deeper meanings of his ideological journey. Gottlieb, who read several of Horowitz’s memoirs, detects a startlingly personal moral relativism in the writer’s reflection on his father’s Stalinism, and finds Horowitz lamenting his inability to give himself over to the possibilities of religious faith. Horowitz opens up to Gottlieb about the fracture, crisis, and doubt that had hounded his career, his state of intellectual being, and his entire life. Doubt is, of course, the very opposite of what Horowitz is known for peddling in his political work.
Horowitz pieced together a philosophy from the wreckage of personal disappointments and lost illusions, yet he knows that fatalism isn’t an easy sell.
“I came out of the left through a lot of pain and a sense of enormous waste,” Horowitz said. “I was an emotional powder keg. I had gotten to age 35—and I’m a very hard worker, and had written a lot—everything that I had done was a waste.”
This is the part of the story when the apostate sees the light. Horowitz isn’t sure he still does.
“Now that I’m older, I see that it’s all a waste. I gotta live with that.”
The “renegade Jew” article is a sort of sequel to this sense of waste, the “I gotta live with that” on which Gottlieb’s profile ends. Horowitz coped with the dissonance in his being by sinking deeper into looniness and agitprop. Trumpism with anti-Semitic echoes is just one logical, if unconstructive and downright poisonous end-point for this individual torment. And the torment isn’t his alone: Trump’s rise shows that the American body politic is no less anguished or self-divided.
Related: Trump Watch [Tablet series]
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.