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Israel Horovitz: The St Andrews Connection

Israel Horovitz. Remember the name: you’ll be hearing a lot more of it.

Today The New York Times broke the silence surrounding Horovitz – a prominent American playwright, director and scriptwriter. Now, finally, the story of five decades of assault and abuse has come to light. Nine women in the U.S have come forward with allegations ranging from rape to sexual harassment. Horovitz’s son Adam, (of the Beastie Boys) states, ‘I believe the accusations against my father are true and I stand behind the women that made them.’

There’s more, of course. And there’s a Scottish connection.

In 2010 and 2012, Israel Horovitz was in residence over the summer at St Andrews University, setting up theatre workshops with creative writing students. He worked also in conjunction with the Byre Theatre and school groups.

Horovitz is well-connected and well-known in the U.S. for his work in theatre. In the 1970’s he set up the Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts and the New York Playwright’s Lab. His play ‘Line’ has been the longest running off-Broadway play ever. I met him briefly at St Andrews. I was a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the time, teaching fiction. He was charming and charismatic. In the ten minute interaction with him, he name-dropped constantly, “Warren (Beatty),Susan (Sarandon), Al (Pacino)” I remember his sudden change of tack with the question ‘Are you married? Do you have kids? Come for drinks after.’ And here I thought we were discussing literature and film. I put it down to the stereotype of the brash New Yorker. Nonetheless, I thought he seemed a ‘nice guy.’

What wasn’t widely known (this side of the Atlantic) was that in 1993 a five-month investigation by journalist Bill Marx for the Boston Phoenix uncovered systematic harassment and abuse by Horovitz towards women actors and employees. In 1993, six women came forward from Gloucester Stage but their claims against Horovitz were dismissed. Subsequently four nannies employed by Horovitz came forward and their claims were also dismissed. ‘These accusations fly around like bin lids’ said the head of the Gloucester Stage Board, who also happened to be a lawyer. He characterised the women who came forward as ‘tightly wound, if you know what I mean.’ He vouched for Horovitz being ‘a great guy.’ Horovitz denied everything.

Fast-forward to 2010/2012. One of the St Andrews students on the theatre course alleged that Horovitz had been ‘inappropriate’ with her. I found out about all this much later, after Horovitz had returned to the States. One of my fiction students who’d been in the workshop with Horovitz mentioned it to me. She was stunned. She couldn’t quite believe it. After all, Horowitz was a ‘great guy’ and a mentor to students. And, in any case, it was ‘only one woman.’ I approached my male colleague and asked him about it. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘There were allegations. And we’ll never have him here again.’

Like most universities at the time there were no proper mechanisms in place for bullying and sexual harassment at St Andrews. Horovitz subsequently threatened and harassed the student involved. In recent weeks, the allegations against Horovitz at St Andrews University have resurfaced. As a friend said recently: ‘Smoke doesn’t mean fire. No, in these cases – smoke means a frickin’ volcano!’

When will we realise that there is never only one woman when assault or harassment is reported? When will we realise that one woman is enough? That, in fact, one woman is too many?

What I do know is that Horovitz and the St Andrews allegations all came back to me post-Weinstein. I kept hoping that the student would come forward again. I didn’t know her name, I hadn’t taught her, in any case I no longer worked there or had access to records. I kept hoping that this would all come out.

When the Weinstein story broke, I decided to look into Horovitz myself. Within two minutes, online, I found the original 1993 articles by Bill Marx in the Boston Phoenix. They made for grim reading and were of ‘Weinstein’ proportions. After that I started trying to contact people and find out what had happened at the university. Naturally, some people didn’t want to go on record. Everyday, I scoured the headlines, hoping to find his name. Bill Marx then re-published his original articles online (www.artsfuse.org.) I posted an anonymous comment underneath, mentioning similar allegations at a Scottish university. Shortly after, the New York Times contacted me wanting more information. They said that the abuse and harassment by Horovitz went back decades, that it was very serious. They were on the case! Since then, I feel all my energy has been focused on this story and its repercussions. These post-Weinstein weeks have been difficult. It has been hard to focus on anything else.

As with comedian Louis CK, the subject of Horovitz’s recent plays have all dealt either directly or obliquely with sexual harassment or unequal power dynamics between men and women. A recent review of his play ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ called it ‘an old man’s wet dream.’ As Carina Chocano queried in the New York Times, in the wake of the Louis CK scandal: ‘How much could he[CK] reveal in public before being exposed? Until recently? Almost everything.’ Looking at the Horovitz oeuvre, the Woody Allen oeuvre, the Louis CK oeuvre and Weinstein’s pattern of behaviour – you could come to the same conclusion. These men hid in plain sight, profited from their unequal relations with women and used comedy, connections, lawyers, ex-Mossad agents and friends in university HR departments as cover for their own abuse.

As Chocano goes on to say: ‘Exposing others is scary because we fear our own exposure. When we say, ‘Someone did this to me’, we are asking to be looked at in a new, unpleasant, disempowered way. ‘Who will get the last word? Who will get to delegitimise whom?’

But today, The New York Times has broken the silence around Horovitz (‘Nine Women Accuse Israel Horovitz, Playwright and Mentor, of Sexual Misconduct’). There will be more revelations to come. I feel vindicated. I hope all the women who came forward, in the U.S. and in Scotland, feel this way too.

©Meaghan Delahunt 1/12/17

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