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09/02/2003 Archived Entry: ""

It is with no pleasure that I enter an ongoing fray within libertarianism....

A recent controversy demonstrates the need for people of good will to take a stand. Let me sketch the dispute.

On August 13, Ilana Mercer made an unfortunate and erroneous statement in a WorldNetDaily column entitled "Libertarians who loathe Israel." She 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." The statement was erroneous because Sheldon Richman believes no such thing, as his writings have made clear. The statement was unfortunate because it associated his name with the IHR, which is notorious for denying the Holocaust and for promoting hate-filled anti-Semitic views.

On August 18, Richman offered rebuttal in a WorldNetDaily article entitled "Disregard for the truth." The rebuttal focused on two points: 1) he has never argued that "all the land" in the Middle East belongs to the Arabs nor does the link to his work provided by Mercer support that contention; and, 2) the placement of his name next to IHR falsely implies that he is a Holocaust denier -- a particularly bitter juxtaposition given that he lost family to Nazi genocide.

Since then, Mercer has basically repeated her statements about Richman in an August 20 article. Richman responded in WND's "Letters to the Editor" section. There he stated, "Ilana Mercer's recent column, in which she maliciously persists in trying to link me with the Institute for Historical Review, states, '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.' Her presumption, in this case, is correct. I was never asked for permission to reprint my article (which had nothing to do with Israel), and I would not have granted it had I been asked."

Richman's low-profile denial will be unnoticed by most of Mercer's readers who, therefore, would remember him as an IHR "contributor." Therefore, Jacob Hornberger of Future of Freedom Foundation wrote an August 25 article entitled "Shame on WorldNetDaily." In response (08/26/03), Robert Bidinotto offered a defense of Mercer, which primarily consisted of critiquing Hornberger and a past dispute between them. But even such an off-point defense offers credibility to the statements by Mercer that caused the controversy. Indeed, Bidinotto unfortunately increases the level of accusation by adding an element that was absent in Mercer's attack: he links Richman to those who apologize for the terrorist acts of Palestinians -- specifically to the strapping of bombs onto young children.

Bidinotto ends his commentary -- which is widely read and has been more widely re-distributed by Mercer -- with the words, "If Mr. Richman needs a defender concerned with the truth, it should be someone other than Bumper Hornberger." Without accepting that Hornberger is an inadequate defender...I offer my services.

I have no axe to grind. I am on cordial terms with Mercer and I do not know Bidinotto. The Middle East is not a "flash point" issue with me, although I once addressed the subject at length in an audio-documentary (more on this later). Sheldon Richman (hereafter Sheldon) is a good friend but I would not hesitate to disagree with him on issues or theory because I know he views honest disagreements as interesting rather than offensive.

I write because it is unconscionable that Sheldon's name has been linked to Holocaust denial and that his views are distorted to make it appear that he condoned the terrorist murder of innocents.

Both Mercer and Bidinotto dismiss the linking of Sheldon's name with the Holocaust-denying and anti-semitic IHR as a matter of little consequence. Indeed, they seem to think no one will make the association that naturally would follow by having both in one sentence. Had I not known Sheldon, certainly I would have assumed it meant there was an association between the two. I do not know whether Mercer or Bidinotto would similarly dismiss the linking of their own names with the pro-pedophile NAMBLA or pro-terrorist Al-Qaeda. I suspect they would both ask for a retraction or an apology. Similarly, I believe Mercer owes Sheldon a public apology for not only associating his name with IHR in the first column but also for repeating the innuendo in the second column. She must realize that such a clearly implied accusation causes both personal grief to a man whose family was victimized in the Holocaust and possible career damage to a professional writer and editor. I cannot imagine that she wishes to cause such undeserved grief and damage.

As significantly, it is important that Sheldon's well-documented views on the Middle East not be distorted to represent him as an apologist for terrorism. This "accusation" was contributed by Bidinotto. He writes that Mercer "took on" some libertarians for their view "that Israel is the root of all evil, and that the poor, downtrodden Palestinians are merely responding defensively and justly against the Zionist oppressor." He comments, "There's a curious moral asymmetry among some self-styled lovers of Liberty and Justice, who rage against Israel for targeting the likes of Hamas terrorists in self-defense, yet who simultaneously exude boundless sympathy toward those who encourage their kids to strap on explosives and blow themselves up, along with scores of innocent noncombatants in buses, restaurants, and nightclubs....Anyway, it so happens that one of Ilana's targets was a writer and editor, Sheldon Richman."

From this passage, it is logical to assume that Sheldon is an apologist for terrorism. Indeed, it is difficult to escape that conclusion. In response, I must state that the link drawn by Bidinotto is absolutely false; indeed, it is the opposite of what is true. Sheldon has never apologized for terrorism or the death of innocents in a "good" cause; he has consistently condemned such atrocities and argued against them, not only on practical but also on moral grounds.

For decades, Sheldon has consistently advocated the non-initiation of force and decried the use of violence in society. During twenty years of friendship, I have never once heard him utter a word of excuse for the abuse or murder of any innocent human being. In reading hundreds of his articles, I have not read a single syllable that encourages "kids to strap on explosives." Quite the contrary. To suggest that he sanctions terrorism is outrageous. The fundamental principle that informs every issue Sheldon addresses is the principle, "the initiation of force is never justified."

I am intimately acquainted with Sheldon's views on the Middle East...and for a specific reason. In 1991, I was the editor of a series of audio-documentaries entitled "The World's Political Hot Spots" produced by Knowledge Products. I found it necessary to reject a script on the Middle East because the viewpoint was blatantly anti-Israel. With studio time already booked, the time crunch prompted me to take on a co-authorship role in the scripting and my first choice as a writing partner was Sheldon. I not only trusted his background knowledge of the Middle East but also his balanced perspective. The resulting 90-minute script was reviewed favorably by both rabbis and Arab scholars. I would link my reputation to a similar co-authorship without hesitation. In fact, I happily co-authored a follow-on script with him covering the Persian Gulf.

During our collaboration, Sheldon and I had several candid discussions about the Middle East that I remember well. (I remember most vividly his accounts of how his Orthodox grandfather and other family members disagreed on Zionism. Perhaps his sense of balance of such issues derives from hearing both sides from childhood.) Sheldon and discussed the cycle of violence that victimized both Arabs and Israelis, the political factors on both sides that contributed to what sometimes seems like an historical inevitability to the ongoing tragedy... We read each other's scripts; I took on primary responsibility for the first 1/2, Sheldon for the second. In short, I can claim to be an expert on Sheldon Richman's views on the Middle East.

By contrast, Mercer does not seem to have ever spoken to Sheldon on this issue and links only to one article that does not substantiate her claims about his views. Specifically, her contention that he believes all of the Middle East belongs to the Arabs.

In the Knowledge Products script, the issue of land ownership was well explored as it is one of the issues upon which understanding the conflict hinges. In the sections for which he was responsible, Sheldon spelled out the legitimate ways land was acquired by Jewish settlers as well as some illegitimate ways. He critiqued the demands of Palestinians which were justifiable along with their unconscionable acts. In short, he displayed a subtle, deep, and balanced view that makes it impossible for me believe that Mercer has ever read or heard words from Sheldon that substantiate her claim.

I do not know why Bidinotto decided to "up the ante," so to speak, on Mercer's attack and inquiring after motives is usually fruitless. Instead I will simply state that he also owes Sheldon an apology -- one that is as public as the offense.

The broad movement of libertarianism/Objectivism is very quick to malign. Perhaps that is human nature. But let's also be quick to correct any misstatements that threaten to harm the lives of fine and decent human beings.

Wendy McElroy

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