The disfigurement of liberalism


To the editor:

(re: “Liberalism and antisemitism,” May 25)

Barry Ziman goes to great lengths to convince his readers that he is a liberal.  Toward this end, he cites several instances throughout his career in politics in which he stood against racism and antisemitism. This is indeed most commendable. 

However, about two-thirds into his piece, he stumbles so clumsily, so mightily, that his claims to embody liberalism — his very understanding of the term — are rendered a complete absurdity.

He refers to U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres’ standing up “to defend Israel and Jews” as courageous, when it in fact represents the total opposite of courageous. All Torres is doing is knowing which side of his bread is buttered. Political courage, as Ziman must surely know, resides in defending the oppressed, the victimized, and marginalized — not the powerful. 

In callously citing Torres, he slanders the truly courageous members of congress, accusing them of using “hateful rhetoric,” while presenting not a single example of what he means.

By neglecting any mention whatsoever of the Israeli government’s history of horrific treatment of the Palestinian population — some three-quarters of a million of whom were forcefully removed from their homeland upon Israel’s founding in 1948 — Ziman demonstrates that his “liberal” creds are woefully wanting.

Mr. Ziman then engages in a level of double-talk that would be excused as shocking naïveté, were it not for his long experience in politics. Rather, it is flat-out deceitful. 

First, he accuses what he calls “many on the left” of “hatred against Israel.” Slinging around such ad hominem nonsense should be beneath anyone who claims to be a liberal. But not so for Mr. Ziman. 

Perhaps he meant to say “criticism of Israel.” In the days of murderous Jim Crow in Alabama, support for African Americans was not considered hatred against that state or its white residents, but rather against its cruel discriminatory system.

However, there is another twist here that Mr. Ziman engages in.  He criticizes those who “den(y) the visceral connection between the Jewish religion and the Jewish state.” But hold on. It is Israel that has declared itself a state for Jews. Thus it is the height of chutzpah to blame critics of Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population for conflating that criticism with antisemitism. 

The fault there is clearly with the Israeli government. Critics of Israel’s shameful policies against the Palestinians are not criticizing Judaism or Jews as such. They are criticizing Israel. 

It is the latter that has forced the connection. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways, Mr. Ziman.

In the end, Ziman gives it away.  “True liberalism,” he claims, “understands the precarious, defensive position of Israel.” Again, it is Israel alone that is responsible for whatever position it finds itself.

But as to precarious and defensive, let’s consider these questions: Who has the strongest military and only nuclear armed power in the Middle East, including the most advanced security forces, backed by 3.8 billion American dollars per year?  And whose homes in Israel/Palestine are bulldozed daily while their residents are terrorized and with no human or civil rights to sustain them?

For his final piece of deception, Ziman engages in the dangerous game of false equivalence when he references “antisemitism from the left and the right of the political spectrum.”  Of course there is antisemitism from all quarters. There always has been. But any fair-minded observer knows — and this is well-documented — that the overwhelming preponderance of antisemitism and antisemitic violence comes from the right. The most cursory research will substantiate this. To suggest otherwise — as Mr. Ziman does — makes the struggle against antisemitism more difficult because it takes our attention away from antisemitism’s true source. 

I always thought that true liberalism meant being honest in defending the rights of all. I always thought that along with fighting antisemitism and racism, liberalism also meant standing up for the weak and oppressed. 

Historically, these have been considered true Jewish values. I would suggest that Mr. Ziman rejoin that struggle.

Steve Siegelbaum

Barry Ziman, Steve Siegelbaum, liberalism, racism, antisemitism, Ritchie Torres