Right-wing foundation to sue Pomona, Pitzer

Many words and drawings, including three stars, are on a white wall.
Pitzer College and Pomona College received a letter from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative foundation, on Feb. 3 claiming intent to pursue a lawsuit pertaining to “college-sponsored anti-Semitism.” (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

The David Horowitz Freedom Center, a controversial right-wing foundation, is planning to sue Pitzer College and Pomona College for “college-sponsored anti-Semitism,” the center’s lawyers said in a letter to the colleges Feb. 3. 

The letter, addressed to Pitzer President Melvin Oliver and Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr, accused the colleges of violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

Title VI “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.” The letter also cites Executive Order 13899, controversially signed by President Donald Trump last December, which targets alleged anti-Semitism on college campuses.

The suit could be an early test of the new executive order.

The letter mentions a litany of alleged offenses by Pomona, Pitzer and the student group Students for Justice in Palestine, including Pitzer College Council’s vote to end the college’s study abroad program in Haifa, Israel — which Oliver vetoed — and SJP’s event last semester featuring speakers who have made controversial claims about Israel in the past — which was sponsored by several departments at Pomona, Pitzer and Scripps Colleges. 

“We write to inform you of your colleges’ liability under Title VI … arising from your institutions’ ambivalence toward — and even support and funding of — anti-Semitic hate group events and activities on your campus,” the letter states.

Both Pomona and Pitzer issued statements to TSL condemning anti-Semitism and denying the letter’s claims.

“We strongly dispute the letter’s portrayal of our campus and we are deeply committed to encouraging the open exchange of ideas with respect for all,” Pomona’s statement said. “The college upholds free speech, academic freedom and open dialogue. We aim to foster an atmosphere of respect for all members of our community and we seek a diversity of viewpoints.”

Pitzer responded similarly.

“Pitzer encourages the open exchange of ideas, protects the rights of all individuals in pursuit of their education and is committed to the exercise of inquiry, free speech and academic freedom,” the college’s statement said.

The center’s letter to the presidents requested action from the colleges by Feb. 14. Pitzer’s Oliver responded with a brief statement to the Horowitz Center’s attorneys disputing the letter’s claims, while Pomona did not respond to their request, according to David Horowitz, the center’s founder.

Individual members of SJP declined to respond to the claims in the Horowitz Center’s letter for this story.

The Horowitz Center was founded by Horowitz in 1988 and describes itself on its website as a “School for Political Warfare” that “sees its role as that of a battle tank, geared to fight a war that many still don’t recognize.”

It pursues “war” on “radical extremism,” including “leftist organizations and individuals … [and] their overarching sinister agendas.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks extremists and hate groups, classifies Horowitz and others involved with the Horowitz Center as extremists, and describes him as “a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements” since the 1980s.

“Under Horowitz’s direction, the Freedom Center has launched a network of projects giving anti-Muslim voices and radical ideologies a platform to project hate and misinformation,” the SPLC says.

Horowitz denied these charges, and called the SPLC “an utterly discredited hate group” that has “smeared me with … false and reputation-damaging lies,” in an email to TSL. He added that he is not anti-Muslim and “I have been a lifelong advocate for civil rights and have black great-grandchildren.”

Horowitz also told TSL in an email that the colleges’ responses to the center’s letter were “brief and disingenuous.” 

Although the letter says the Horowitz Center wants to protect Jewish students, some at the 5Cs don’t support its planned lawsuit.

“As a proud Jewish student, I have not felt targeted or offended by any recent speakers or events,” said Danny DeBare PO ’22, the president of JStreet U at the Claremont Colleges, a chapter of a primarily-Jewish national Israel/Palestine advocacy organization. “I believe the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s threatened lawsuit against Pitzer and Pomona has no grounds and is simply a platform to advance its Islamophobic and bigoted agenda.”

Horowitz did not comment when asked about DeBare’s comments.

This isn’t the Horowitz Center’s first clash with 5C administrations.

Horowitz Center fliers were distributed around campus at the end of the fall semester alleging that Pitzer promoted “Jew Hatred” and accusing the college of being intolerant of Jewish people and Israel, leading to a heated exchange of statements between Oliver and the center.

This article was last updated on Feb. 21 at 12:05 p.m.

Facebook Comments