COVER STORY: Master Provoker Ami Horowitz

His latest video begins in San Francisco’s Castro District, where he talks with members of the LGBTQ+ community who are proudly anti-Israel. The video then cuts to footage from the West Bank, exposing the prevalent anti-gay sentiments in the area. After showing them this footage, members of the LGBTQ+ community who are depicted in the video begin to reconsider their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Videos such as this are how the politically center-right, modern Orthodox Jewish filmmaker Ami Horowitz has garnered millions of social media followers. Hailing from Los Angeles, he described himself as a “fusion of Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Moore, and Vice” in a phone interview with the Journal. Horowitz’s videos are generally aimed at exposing what he views as “the danger of the left.” “This radical notion that our liberal democracy and economic capitalism are the seeds of evil, the West has been the seeds of evil, and we have to overturn the values of the West, to me is the single most insidious and dangerous issue and the one that I spend most of my time confronting,” Horowitz said, adding that defending Israel and exposing antisemitism flow from this line of thinking. He usually doesn’t create “baldly political” videos that take the side of Republicans or Democrats, although he has a handful of videos that do. Instead, most of Horowitz’s videos are “thematic” and “evergreen” to ensure that they are still relevant years later. His videos have gained global attention, even inspiring some executive orders from then-President Donald Trump.

So how did Horowitz become a filmmaker? Horowitz told the Journal that he first became involved with media writing a weekly column in a local paper when he was in high school. After graduating college, Horowitz became involved in running political campaigns. He ran his first campaign at the age of 20; the campaign was for an upstart candidate for Maryland’s state controller office. The candidate lost, but he gave Horowitz “the sagest advice” that Horowitz has ever heard: “If you want to be in politics, I suggest that you leave politics, make money and come back when you have some cash. Because if you’re in politics from the beginning, you’re going to be living hand-to-mouth your entire life.” The candidate suggested that Horowitz become an investment banker, and so Horowitz moved to New York to became one, despite not even knowing what it meant to be an investment banker. “It was a continuation of this kind of thing — which has really been a hallmark of my career — of doing jobs and entering into industries that I absolutely have no experience, no qualifications and I have no business entering,” Horowitz said. 

Horowitz began reading The Wall Street Journal to learn more about investment banking, and started “cold-calling” various banks listed in the paper and eventually got his first investment banking job after “bulls—ting my way through various interviews.” Horowitz stayed in that line of work for more than a decade.

One Saturday night, Horowitz’s life changed forever after watching Michael Moore’s 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine.” 

But one Saturday night, after watching Michael Moore’s 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine,” Horowitz’s life changed forever. It wasn’t the first time he had seen it, but this time around Horowitz found himself “drifting off” and thinking about how the United Nations is “a massive, massive failure,” yet it is widely viewed as a “venerable institution working to make everyone’s life better.

“Most people don’t realize that most of the deaths in the world — violent deaths — happened after its creation, not before, and before included World War I and World War II,” Horowitz said of the U.N. Horowitz knew he had to get his perspective out there but wasn’t sure that anyone would care about what he has to say. At the time, he would occasionally write for National Review and The Weekly Standard, but didn’t think an article for either publication would gain a lot of traction. Horowitz also thought about writing a book, but came to the conclusion that it would be far too much work to write something that no one would read. Ultimately, the answer was right in front of him on his TV: a movie about the U.N. following Moore’s “darkly comic documentary style.” Horowitz proceeded to quit his investment banking job and made his first movie, “U.N. Me.” The 2012 film was a success, and Horowitz has continued to work as a filmmaker ever since.

“U.N. Me” took six years and millions of dollars to make — far too much time and money to spend on a single topic. This prompted Horowitz to switch to shorter videos fit for social media.

However, the experience has dissuaded Horowitz from making future full-length documentaries, as “U.N. Me” took six years and millions of dollars to make — far too much time and money to spend on a single topic. This prompted Horowitz to switch to shorter videos fit for social media. “I can have my own platform. I’m not beholden to finding a studio,” Horowitz said. Plus, shorter videos are much cheaper and provide Horowitz with more freedom to focus on myriad topics at a time. So he started experimenting with differing styles: man-on-the street, hidden cameras and even traditional documentaries. He continues to use “a mix” of all three today.

Horowitz’s first short video took place in 2014, at the “hotbed of leftism,”  UC Berkeley, where two undercover cameramen filmed him while he waved an ISIS flag chanting, “Let’s kill for ISIS” and other statements in favor of the terror organization. “I figured I was going to get beat up,” Horowitz said, and yet the only responses he got were people supporting him, with one individual that Horowitz thought looked like a professor telling him, “Way to go, man.” At first, Horowitz thought that people were dismissing him as just another crazy person at Berkeley. But then he flew the Israeli flag and started expressing his support for Israel as “a beacon of democracy” that supports “minority rights.”

“The vitriol, the invective that was thrown upon me within seconds of unfurling the Israeli flag was shocking,” Horowitz said, as “people were cursing me out” and calling him a “baby killer” and a “murderer.” Some antisemitic slurs were also lobbed at him. “It was kind of like the first time where I exposed how insane the left is and, frankly, how antisemitic the left is,” Horowitz said. The video garnered 10 million views worldwide and people started to recognize him. When Horowitz visited Israel, for example, he hailed a taxi cab driver who recognized him as the man behind that Berkeley video.

Horowitz considers the Berkeley video one of the most important videos of his career. Another is his 2016 video where he is, again, on UC Berkeley’s campus and asking people what they think of voter identification laws; they all referred to such laws as racist. Horowitz pointed out that when he pressed them on why, we then “hear them spew the most racist things you can imagine: ‘Black people don’t have ID,’ ‘Black people don’t know what the DMV is,’ ‘Black people can’t get Internet.’ Just crazy racist tropes,” the filmmaker said. “And then it cuts to … me in Harlem asking Black people what they think and they go, ‘This is insane. I can’t believe people think that about us. The ignorance is overwhelming.’” The video has garnered more than 50 million views and still gathers 2-3 million views a year. Horowitz views this video as one that helped him get mainstream attention.

But perhaps Horowitz’s most impactful video was his 2016 video, “Stockholm Syndrome,” on the issue of Syrian refugees in Sweden, a country that took on the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita in Europe. Horowitz noticed a spike in rape and murder in Sweden since taking in so many refugees, and traveled to the country to explore the issue. He interviewed people on the street as well as police officers and experts. Horowitz then went to investigate what are known as “no-go zones,” which Horowitz described as being Islamic-only “enclaves.” Anyone who isn’t Islamic is told to leave, and people are attacked if they don’t. These enclaves exist only in Sweden, France and Germany, per Horowitz.

Horowitz went to a no-go zone just outside of Stockholm and, sure enough, he was immediately told to leave. 

Horowitz went to a no-go zone just outside of Stockholm and, sure enough, he was immediately told to leave. His camera crew complied, but Horowitz did not, as he was ready to ask why he had to leave. But before he could, five people then “beat the crap out of me.” “It was one of the few times I thought, ‘This is where it’s going to end. I’m going to die here,’” Horowitz said, explaining that it was a crowded area, and yet nobody interfered to break up the fight. In fact, people were pointing and laughing. Horowitz knew he had to take matters into his own hands to make it out alive, and he found an opportunity when one person came into choke him. “His neck was exposed, and I hit him as hard as I could in his neck,” Horowitz said. “I’m pretty sure that guy will never eat solid food again.” Horowitz came away from the beating with some bruising and a concussion, but no broken bones. “I got very, very lucky.”

The video drew international attention when it was released a few months later and, during a speech, Trump mentioned Horowitz’s interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Horowitz then found himself “on the front page in every newspaper on Planet Earth” the next day. “Every news outlet was discussing this video,” Horowitz said, so much so that even Jimmy Kimmel joked about it during the Oscars. Horowitz was particularly fascinated by how the media covered it, as they formed a “strawman argument” in an attempt to discredit his video. 

One such argument from The New York Times was that overall crime in Sweden was down at the time, but Horowitz never made such a claim. His claim was that rape and murder crimes had risen. They also claimed that they reached out to Horowitz for comment, but Horowitz says he never received a query from the publication. Similarly, The New York Daily News said they reached out to Horowitz, which they did at 2 a.m. EST. Their article came out four hours later. “That was when I first learned how the most ‘credible’ media institutions were not above lying to promote a political agenda,” Horowitz said.

The media also focused on the two Swedish policemen interviewed by Horowitz, both of whom had faced enough enormous controversy over their appearance in the video. The policemen claimed that Horowitz was “disingenuous” over what he was interviewing them about — which Horowitz denies — and that Horowitz never asked them about Islamic immigration. But Horowitz pointed out that the video clearly shows him asking about the issue and that both policemen directly responded to it. He posited that the policemen backed away from their statements on camera after facing enormous pressure. The video was front-and-center globally for about a week, but in Sweden the controversy over the video lasted “months” and resulted in the country changing its immigration policy. 

Remember Trump’s 2019 executive order aimed at combating antisemitism on college campuses? The impetus for the executive order came from Horowitz’s 2019 video at Duke University. He was filming a conference about Israel and the Gaza Strip that was jointly held by both Duke and the University of North Carolina (UNC). “We started hearing some of the most antisemitic things you can imagine by professors, students: ‘Jews control the world,’ ‘Jews are the ones who are creating wars and are funding wars.’ The stuff you hear from 1937 Germany,” Horowitz said. “That was shocking in and of itself.” 

But even more shocking was an Israeli-Arab rapper who performed during the conference and who called himself an antisemite — to applause — and urged the crowd to “ramp up the antisemitism,” causing crowd members to shout “Yeah!” and clap. After the video came out, the Department of Education asked Horowitz for his raw footage from the conference; the department later sued Duke and UNC over the federal grant they had received for the conference. They settled out of court, but Horowitz’s understanding is that the then-Education Secretary acknowledged that her department would have lost in court because at that time Title VI of the Civil Rights Act did not cover antisemitism. 

“People for years were setting the groundwork for this,” Horowitz said, as there were efforts to lobby both the Obama and Trump administrations to add antisemitism to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, to no avail. But the video ultimately was the “trigger” for Trump to make the change, Horowitz said. “And that’s a legacy with my videos that I’m really most proud of, that now as a student, you — or anybody with standing — could sue a university for antisemitism. That’s so important to happen now because of how antisemitism has grown in our university systems over the years.”

And yet, this was not the first time one of Horowitz’s videos influenced a Trump executive order. Horowitz released a video in 2018 on how the United States had been subsidizing every Chinese package coming into the country to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars under a trade agreement between the two countries. After his video came out, Horowitz was summoned to a White House meeting where he learned that Trump was going to sign an executive order canceling the agreement with China, and ultimately Trump did, in fact, sign that executive order. 

Horowitz made his latest video, which was done in a partnership with PragerU, about how the LGBTQ+ community is treated in the West Bank because “there’s this weird support that the LGTBQ community has for the Palestinians, and it’s pretty widespread. On a surface level it’s mind-boggling to pro-Israel people for the obvious reason: Israel is so good to the gay community.” 

Horowitz believes that the pro-Israel community has taken the wrong approach by highlighting Israel’s tolerance toward the LGBTQ+ community because the anti-Israel crowd has used allegations of “pinkwashing” to suggest Israel’s policies toward the LGBTQ+ community are used to deflect from Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Horowitz took a different approach with his video by showing just how intolerant the West Bank is under the Palestinian Authority toward the LGBTQ+ community. 

The video features interviews with imams and people on the street in Ramallah suggesting that members of the LGBTQ+ community should be jailed or murdered or “anything in between,” Horowitz said. It took him a couple of years to make, requiring him to take several trips to the West Bank, as LGBTQ+ Palestinians in the West Bank were hesitant to go on the record and put their lives and the lives of their families at risk, despite assurances from Horowitz that their identities would be protected. 

There were plenty of instances in which those who agreed to be filmed later got cold feet. But he did eventually find someone who agreed and followed through on being filmed and interviewed. “It was a numbers game,” Horowitz said. The Palestinian man, who went under the alias of “Mahmoud,” described how his uncle threatened to throw him off a bridge for being gay and that a friend of his was raped by a Palestinian cop.

When Horowitz showed his video to the anti-Israel members of the LGBTQ+ community, the emotion on their faces was palpable as they acknowledged a shift in their thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When Horowitz showed his video to the anti-Israel members of the LGBTQ+ /community, the emotion on their faces was palpable as they acknowledged a shift in their thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Horowitz told the Journal he was challenged by those saying that Horowitz’s video does not exonerate, or even discuss, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. 

“That’s a good point,” Horowitz said, “but let me ask you this … you have two sides who are in fundamental disagreement on the facts. One side says, ‘You targeted a hospital’ and one side says, ‘We didn’t.’ There’s one side or the other side, you have to take a side. You have to believe one or the other. You weren’t there, you don’t really know, you’re just listening to what each side is saying. Well, which side are you going to choose: the people throwing you parades or the people throwing you off roofs?” And when asked this question in the video, people chose the former.

The mainstream media has largely ignored Horowitz’s latest video, but it has received attention in the LGBTQ+ media. It currently has more than 10 million views.

Horowitz is proud that about a third of his audience is on the center or center-left side of the political spectrum and that every country in the world — outside of Iran because of the country’s Internet restrictions, although Iranians in the country still see them through VPNs — have seen his videos. His videos have garnered 600 million views across all platforms. “And that’s just me and my small team.” Horowitz said.

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