Ilana Mercer, August 20, 2003

Libertarians Who Loathe Israel” continued to generate a stream of fascinating letters throughout the week. These generally confirmed the column’s thesis. Part of the hostility so many libertarians harbor toward Israel, as historian Paul Gottfried points out, has to do with an unfortunate guilt by association: Libertarian animus against neoconservatives has translated into revulsion for Israel because so many prominent neoconservatives are pro-Israel Jews.


But the emphasis by these libertarians on myth-history and conspiracy to describe all matters Israel suggests an irrational belief system where “the Zionists” are seen as the root of all evil. A case in point is the libertarian Justin Raimondo. More about him later.


Meanwhile, one particular paragraph in “Libertarians Who Loathe Israel” caused another libertarian scribe, Sheldon Richman, considerable apoplexy, eliciting some strange interpretations. I wrote:


I understand that libertarians like Sheldon Richman (and the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review) believe, mistakenly, that all “the land” belongs to the Arabs.


To begin with, and for some unreason, Richman decided that the phrase “I understand” was an expression of uncertainty on my part: “By writing ‘I understand,’ Mercer was declaring that she had not confirmed what she was about to say,” he writes in a bizarre retort published by WorldNetDaily. I was, he asserts, unsure about his position on Israel in “Cant and the Middle East” and was hazarding a guess.


Is that the only use of the expression “I understand” Richman is willing to entertain or allow? In English (perhaps not in American English), and certainly in this paragraph, it is an expression of sarcastic condescension.


To observe such typical American literary chauvinism in a person who spends his days decrying (as he should) all other forms of American chauvinism is amusing, to say the least.


Cant and the Middle East,” however, gave me a perfectly good grasp of Richman’s position on Israel. Here’s what I “understand,” and what readers will now also “understand”:


While Richman would probably be the first to argue that a religious claim to the land of Israel is not a valid claim, he nevertheless invokes in the article a religious, ultra-orthodox, superstitious view to attenuate the Jews’ claim to the “land.” (Richman does not define “the land,” but expects his readers, myself included, to divine what he meant when he states generically that, “In candid moments, Israeli military leaders acknowledged that the land belonged to the Arabs.” WorldNetDaily gave Richman the opportunity to clarify his stand on “the land,” but rather than do so, he, yet again, opted to leave it vague, piercing the fog with no more than a non-committal: “The reader can judge for himself whether I believe that all the land belongs to the Arabs.”)


I understand—and anyone reading “Cant and the Middle East” will understand—that Sheldon Richman holds Israelis responsible for being the region’s aggressors. The Jews declared war on the Arabs, he sweepingly declares, when they established a state in their ancient homeland. If not for this so-called war by Jews on Arabs, it would have never occurred to the genial Arabs to hate Jews.


Not a word from Mr. Richman about the largely dismal fate of the Dhimmi (infidel, but mainly Jew) in the Arab world before Zionism. True, the depredation suffered by Jews in Arab countries and in Israel at the hands of Muslims was not as bad as that suffered at the hands of the crusaders, but the fallacy of Muslim fondness for Jews remains just that, a fallacy.


Richman further explains: “As my orthodox grandfather taught me, the relationship between the two communities deteriorated when Judaism was transformed (by secular Jews) into a political movement.” He is referring to Zionism: the national, cultural, spiritual and political revival of the Jewish people.


Richman’s critique of this revival comes from an ultra-religious fringe position (when it comes to Israel, Richman is seemingly fond of those), held by a small and unhealthy Jewish minority.


Again: The position of Richman, taught to him by his grandfather, namely that the transformation of Judaism into a political movement was a blight rather than a blessing, is the stance of an aberrant Judaism. It developed in the context of the persecution and trauma of the Diaspora, which allowed a coercive rabbinic establishment (still plaguing Israel) to distort the true – and nationalistic – nature of the Hebrew civilization.


The belief system Richman invokes in support of his disdain for the political expression of Hebrew civilization, namely a national revival in the land of Israel, arose when Judaism began departing from its rational roots at the end of the 15th century.


Shmuel Ben Yizhak, the classical-liberal (Hayekian) Jewish scholar, has termed this period the “Jewish Dark Ages.” These produced “a sterile and repressive Rabbinic Judaism in total contrast with the intellectual and spiritual development during the preceding 2,700 years.”


The “Jewish Dark Ages” saw the emergence and incorporation into the faith of mystic, irrational and pagan ideas, which were decidedly non-Hebraic in origins. Around that time, we also witnessed the appearance of Lurianic Cabala (popular with Madonna and many Hollywood phonies), the false-messiah phenomenon and the Hasidim who are preoccupied with esoteric mysticism.


According to this ritualistic, anti-life tradition, espoused mainly by the ultra-orthodox, settling in Israel and speaking Hebrew is heretic. To ensure messiah comes (often referred to as the longest coming in history), the Jew had to remain weak, dispossessed and persecuted – a sickly spirit without a body.


During the Nazi Holocaust, the rabbinic establishment actively opposed the Zionists, who urged Jews to depart for Israel. Better to brave the unknown than to die like sheep, the latter said. But to many rabbis, going to the slaughter was preferable to the heresy of settling the Holy Land before messiah deigned to give the go-ahead.


Why would an otherwise-rational libertarian galvanize this aberrant, illogical and life-loathing fringe Judaism for his case against the “political movement” that is Zionism?


In a deviant, morally inverse sense, Richman has a point when he blames Zionism for the deterioration of “the relationship between the two communities.” Richman’s column, remember, appears to suggest that prior to the re-settlement of Israel, Jews and Arabs lived in tolerance together. Oddly enough, the Jews – also the real pacifists (which is how so many people evidently prefer them) at the time – did not have such a tolerable time, not by any “objective historical account.”


The brutality began not with Zionism. “Whatever reigning power after the Arab conquest, whoever the conqueror,” notes Joan Peters in “From Time Immemorial,” “the attitude of its Muslims toward unbelievers, and the infidel’s subjugation, reinforced by terrorizing, were never abandoned in the Holy Land.” Historical records attest to a life punctured with “periodic slaughter and persecution” well before Zionism.


Richman is correct – the Zionists did change the status quo in the Middle East: After centuries of doing the Christian thing and turning the other cheek, Jews began to fight back.


The Institute for Historical Review


Richman takes umbrage over my deployment in “Libertarians Who Loathe Israel” of a perfectly legitimate literary device to illustrate his extremist position on Israel. In yet another bit of textual chauvinism, he has decided that other than to “smear” him and call him a Holocaust denier, there was no reason to invoke the Institute for Historical Review. This is worse than weak. I said that Richman’s views on the “land” (not the Holocaust) conjure theirs.


The IHR is not only devoted to Holocaust revisionism, although this is their forte (why, it even tucks some legitimate stuff amidst the nutty material). Under “Conspiracy, Communism and Zionism,” there are works that comport well with the kind of singularly pro-Palestinian propaganda evinced, in my opinion, by Richman. Considering that Richman wrote that “the land belonged to the Arabs,” would he object to the “storyline” in “Conquest Through Immigration: How Zionism Turned Palestine Into a Jewish State“? Let the reader be the judge, as Richman is fond of saying.


In invoking the IHR, was I saying that Richman’s views on Israel are radical? You bet. Am I intimating that he shares these historically creative views with intellectual crackpots? Yes again. Although Richman would like to be able to decide how a writer drives home a point, invoking the IHR, which sports titles that are not inimical to Richman’s column, is perfectly legitimate.


If, however, Richman finds himself in bad company, then there’s always Yasser Arafat. He has done a lot to promote the myth that things went swimmingly (exaggeration alert for the literary hegemon among us) in Israel until Jews became committed to national self-determination in their ancient homeland. Is it my doing that Richman shares a fondness for myth-history with Arafat?


By the way, I’ve had the odd exchange with Mark Weber, director of the IHR. He is a pleasant and polite fellow, which is more than I can say about Justin Raimondo. It would no more occur to me to accuse Weber of anti-Semitism than it would cross my mind to so accuse Richman (or Raimondo), although being Jewish doesn’t inoculate one against this phenomenon.


I care not a whit who hates whom. I think it’s atrocious to attempt to coerce people into liking, hiring or renting against their will. I do care about standards of truth and honest inquiry. Weber’s promotion of myth and conspiracy under the guise of scholarship strikes me as hostile to the truth, as does Richman’s perspective on Israel.


If anything, Raimondo and Richman are being evasive in their refusal to explain the rationale behind their one-sided and singularly pro-Palestinian perspective. Their added attempt to dictate to me which pool of crackpots is a legitimate source of simile is whiny and won’t wash.


I’m glad Richman resents being mentioned in the same breath with what Raimondo calls “the nutball Institute for Hysterical Review.” Given Richman’s vocal protestations at the mere mention of the IHR in connection with his views on Israel, I am presuming that his own publication in the Journal of Historical Review, Volume 18, No. 1 (January-February, 1999), p. 36. is in all likelihood an unauthorized reprint. But I can’t be sure.


Matchmaking Raimondo Style: “Mercer, Meet David Frum”


That Raimondo intimates I’m an ideological ally of David Frum (he must mean a neoconservative) shows he says stuff for the sake of it. He never bothers to see if his fanciful fluff stands scrutiny.


Indeed, it doesn’t often happen to me, but in the case of Raimondo, I’ve mistaken style for substance. Reading through Raimondo’s fit of pique (see his “Note in the Margin” near the bottom), it is quite clear he conceals his inability to address an argument – much less to interpret text or understand an analogy – with flamboyant flair.


He certainly is unaware of what Prof. Paul Gottfried referred to as my “acidic” essay about Frum’s “bad manners.”


I appreciate Raimondo looking for an ideological home for me, but it may prove a little more exacting than his abstraction capabilities allow. Unless neoconservatives have stopped promoting porous borders and global military gallivanting; unless they’ve quit bleeding all over the floor for Martin Luther King and the religion of multiculturalism; unless they’ve pledged allegiance to States Rights’ and radical decentralization, I can’t see myself remaining more than persona non grata in that cave.


But then, most readers – except for Raimondo’s few followers who lap up his baseless bunk – already knew that.


Raimondo And The Pygmies


I compared Palestinians to Pygmy savages, Raimondo yelps, demonstrating he might have serious difficulties with one of those IQ tests that demand an ability to distill relationships between entities. Here is the relationship that got some verbal vim in “Libertarians Who Loathe Israel“:


   1. The PA has no economy.


   2. Israel has an economy.


   3. Israel has no economic need to trade with an entity with no economy.


So as not to bore my readers stiff, I said: “Israel needs the economic powerhouse that is the PA like China needs trade with a tribe of rain-forest-dwelling Pygmies.” Nowhere did I say that Palestinians are Pygmy savages.


If Raimondo had the level of abstraction required to cope with an IQ test, he would have seen the variable being operationalized is economic interdependence – the need Israel has for the PA’s economy is like the economic need China has for a tribe of Pygmies (bless their little souls and all that stuff). This doesn’t imply Palestinians are like Pygmies – or that Israel is like China.


It’s unfortunate that with a yapping poodle like Raimondo one has to expend energy on his textual difficulties. So I needn’t explain why I allegedly “likened the denial of Israeli land claims to holocaust denial.” I just didn’t! See for yourself. Also see the above reply to Richman’s textual Teutonicism (no insults to Teutons intended – it’s just my expression, for heaven’s sake).


Foreign Aid


When it comes to foreign aid, Raimondo confirms my contention that in their irrational hate for Israel, many libertarians set aside their free-market economics – he invokes the free market only when it suits his aims. As I wrote, these libertarians forget that:


Foreign aid, like welfare, exacerbates the problems it is supposed to ameliorate. As a government-to-government transfer, foreign aid serves to entrench and grow the bureaucracy and the public sector in general at the expense of the taxpayer and the private productive economy. A free-market proponent ought to know that American aid, if anything, retards Israel‘s progress … In the absence of U.S. loans and cash grants, she would be forced to economize. Capital, including the billions in private voluntary Jewish donations, will be channeled to its best use and will flow to where it is most productive.


In the absence of aid, Israel would spend less on the military, and retain only what is necessary for her safety. It is thus incorrect to categorically claim, as Raimondo does, that without American aid to Israel (why is it that people like Raimondo fail to mention American aid to Arab nations?), Israel would collapse.


Although this is an academic point, Raimondo wouldn’t – or couldn’t – counter. Instead, his gabble posits that without foreign aid Israel would collapse because it would maintain the same level of militarization no matter the costs. According to Raimondo, even without aid, Israel would sooner spend herself into oblivion than become militarily more focused and efficient, i.e., rather than act rationally, Israel would always act irrationally.


So much for argument. Clearly, Raimondo’s intractable positions on Israel arise in the context of extreme ideation.


The Fence


Once again, hyperventilating prose masks wild and woolly inferences in Raimondo’s “Wall” analysis. Raimondo (again, see his “Note in the Margin” near the bottom of his column) takes my claim that there is nothing wrong with erecting a defensive fence to be an endorsement of land appropriation by the Israelis during the construction of the fence. An innocent failure to address an issue, Raimondo takes as an endorsement of an injustice.


I was very plainly defending the idea of a mechanical barrier. To the extent that property has unjustly been incorporated en route, this must be remedied. If the Israelis don’t fix the property injustices Raimondo alleges, then I share his outrage. So long as property is not appropriated without consent and just compensation, there is nothing immoral about a well-enforced border, both during peacetime and in war.


Raimondo had waxed wobbly about the interdependence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, an interdependence that’ll leap over walls and conquer all. This effervescence, I pointed out, is a romanticized version of the free market.


When I stated that just as “the United States can do without the hordes of Mexicans streaming across the borders, so too can Israel do without Palestinian cheap labor if the dangers of an open border exceed the benefits,” I was not drawing an analogy between the Mexican-U.S. and the Israeli-PA political situations. I was stating what I believe to be the truth about the dilemma of free trade vs. unfettered movement of people across borders which so fractures the libertarian community.


That “open borders are not a prerequisite for free trade” is true, in my opinion, across situations. Yet the cunning Raimondo insisted that I was drawing an incorrect analogy between the two situations and jumped up and down crying foul: “Mercer’s U.S.-Mexico analogy would work only if America was at war with Mexico,” he crowed. The man is shoddy: He finds it easier to distort his opponent’s arguments and very hard to confront them.


Again, my explanation holds across the board: 1) “People can trade goods very well without trading places.” 2) Opportunity costs: When the cost of open borders exceeds their benefits, then it is irrational to keep them open.


Raimondo roars about Israeli planners deliberately cutting off Palestinian lands from their owners and, in effect, expropriating them. This is precisely the nature of his thinking: Mired in conspiracy and hyper-emotionalism (the anarcho-capitalist and editor of Rational Review, Thomas L. Knapp, calls the whole “support the intifada” thing juvenile leftism of the 1960’s “Che worship” variety), Raimondo sees the fence as an intentional ploy by the so-called “imperialist” Israelis to expropriate land – a “monstrous symbol of a nation’s arrogance.” This is the abiding theme in his writing.


It is both possible and very probable that the fence is a desperate attempt to prevent homicide operations against civilians and to effect a period of cool between two badly bruised groups. It is both psychologically and practically a good idea given the pain on both sides.


Of course, if you adopt Raimondo’s script and impute only deviance to Israel and rail about Sharon being a “horrendous toad” or, in Richman’s mode, talk about Sharon being a man of “unfathomable brutality” – unlike Yasser Arafat, of course – you will be hard pressed to explain the acceptance of a two-state solution by Israel, the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and the commitment to dismantling illegal settlements (Ariel Sharon is good for it: He removed settlers from the Sinai in 1978, in preparation for peace with Egypt).


In sum, I “understand” Richman’s lack of appreciation for my mentioning the IHR in connection with his positions on Israel and “the land.” I’m not sure Richman appreciates my lack of understanding as to how a usually lucid and fine writer like himself can share the rabid Raimondo position on Israel and “the land.”


Speaking of whom, readers should attempt to look beyond Raimondo’s undeniable facility with words and examine his slipshod arguments. Raimondo, as I’ve shown, can’t think himself down a striptease pole.



August 20, 2003

CATEGORIES: Economy, Foreign Aid, Israel, Libertarianism, Palestinians, Zionism

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