Ilana Mercer's 'Return to Reason'
WND columnist discusses Middle East, media and politics with Geoff Metcalf

Posted: March 10, 2002
1:00 a.m. Eastern

Editor's Note: Ilana Mercer is a relatively new columnist for and a fascinating woman. "Talk about a wandering Jew: I'm an ex-Israeli, an ex-South African, and now an ex-Canadian, having recently become a permanent resident of the U.S.A.," she says about herself on her website. Mercer's work has appeared in the Calgary Herald, Insight Magazine, the Ottawa Citizen, the Financial Post, the Colorado Gazette, Report News Magazine, and other publications. While she has a unique perspective on the Middle East conflict, as discussed in this interview with Geoff Metcalf, Mercer tackles various subjects and current events in her weekly WND column titled "Return to Reason."

By Geoff Metcalf
Q: Before we get into the issue-oriented stuff, please explain for our readers a little bit about your background, which is certainly eclectic.

A: Indeed, yes. I was born in South Africa, and my parents decided that they didn't want to reside in a place that was extremely racist and apartheid-dominated. They decided to migrate to Israel, and that's where I grew up. I eventually returned to South Africa, and a couple of years back I immigrated to Canada with my family.

Q: Did you go to school in South Africa or Israel?

A: In Israel.

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up? Or I could ask what do you want to be when you grow up? But when you were going to school, what were you studying?

A: I studied political science in Israel, and then I studied psychology in South Africa.

Q: Psychology in South Africa sounds a bit like the "military intelligence" line.

A: Actually, it wasn't a bad course -- not in the least. I did my two degrees through the University of South Africa, which is a long-distance university free of campus politics. It was extremely rigorous.

Q: What drew you into writing? You've been writing editorials and columns for some time.

A: I've always been very opinionated and quite a cantankerous individual -- at least very politically involved. I guess when I arrived in Canada, the extent of the socialism began to impact me and I realized I was on the wrong track -- at least for being on the left side of the political scale.

Q: Once upon a time, you were one of the knuckle-dragging, totalitarian, socialist-leftists.

A: And I bow my head to that. Yes, that was very bad indeed.

Q: Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. We have talked to a lot of people who have gone through the transformation. What was your epiphany?

A: My epiphany was Canada -- the socialist morass there. ... In South Africa, the libertarian position is absolutely nonexistent. There are a few bastions here and there that speak out, but certainly the overwhelming issue in South Africa was apartheid. The power of the state there had to be fought on levels that were so inhuman that the issue of libertarianism never arose for me. Maybe it was the good life in Canada that made me aware.

Q: I have recently talked with people who still reside in South Africa, and they say it has gone from bad to worse.

A: Oh, yes, definitely. It is much worse, for whites and blacks alike.

Q: Has anyone cautioned you in some ways with your move from Canada to the United States that sadly, we are in some ways kind of like "Canada Lite" when it comes to socialism?

A: I think you are wrong there. We have to be very careful not to descend into relativism. Having experienced the wonders of WorldNetDaily, after writing six columns in the U.S. for WorldNetDaily, having been really embraced with open arms, I can tell you it's a world of difference. There is a niche for our kind of opinion in the U.S., where it is absolutely suppressed in Canada.

Q: Unfortunately, it is a bit of a double-edged sword. Your exposure to WorldNetDaily is not typical. We are the exception to the rule. Mainstream media malfeasance and complicity in touting the socialist-totalitarian line is something that is rampant in this country. Frankly, WorldNetDaily is the counterpoint to the norm. We are in the minority.

A: Absolutely, but there still is a WorldNetDaily. I had two regular slots in Canada. I was fortunate enough to have regular columns on editorial pages. Certainly, I was welcomed by my readers, but the editors who seek to maintain the monopoly of a discourse, the singular monolithic monopoly, ousted me.

Q: Several years ago, I was a staunch opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement. I still am. There was a guy -- I think his name was Orchard -- who was a Canadian. He was also critical of NAFTA, and they did just about everything to silence him except throw his butt in jail for articulating a position that was counter to what the government wanted.

A: Of course. But Orchid, I think, is an isolationalist and ignorant about free trade. I agree with you that one doesn't need government regulating free trade. ... A free trade agreement is anything but a function of the state. They are more regulated than anything. They introduce friction between nations. They regulate how much dumping one can do, and it is really a function of free trade. Certainly, Orchid was coming from the socialistic point of view of negating trade. But I agree with you that one should oppose these agreements, because free societies don't need the state to regulate them.

Q: I want to ask you about media, because you have a unique perspective having lived in so many very different societies. I have been involved in media in this country for a long time. I am a second-generation broadcaster who for 30 years has been messing around with this stuff in different flavors. The frustration level is, frankly, getting higher instead of lower. Please compare the American media, as you perceive it, to what you saw in South Africa, Israel and Canada.

A: Israel is a very distant memory, so I really can't comment with any authority about the media there. Certainly it is a very free society. The penchant to compare Israel with or even mention the Palestinian Authority or any Arab state in the same breath is absolutely criminal. Israel is a very free society -- there is no doubt about that. But I can't comment authoritatively on the media there. South Africa is absolutely fascistic, and I think it's maintaining that degree of control, except that the control has now moved to the ANC and the ruling party. They control the media now, and there is very little access to the truth there.

Q: I interviewed Joan Peters about a year ago, and I was surprised to find that in Europe, the European press is so for the Palestinians that they will literally intimidate and threaten journalists who attempt to articulate anything that is critical of them. You wrote for some Calgary paper, right?

A: Yes.

Q: What, if any, kind of influence would they impose on you? Were there things you couldn't write about, things you couldn't say?

A: Not really. I must admit there really wasn't anything like that. I was a scab. I stepped in during a labor dispute and was vilified by the labor hierarchy. After the labor dispute was over, which took two years, I was ousted from the paper by the leftists. Certainly, during the time I wrote there was no censorship, except that my time there was limited and it was made very clear that I wasn't entirely welcome.

Q: Among the challenges we face here in the states -- multiculturalism, radical feminism, things that you have written about -- we've had Ward Connerly here a few times and David Horowitz and others. How does Canada compare to the U.S. in these areas, or is it institutionalized there?

A: It is institutionalized. It is much worse.

Q: When I lived back east, I used to get to Montreal a good deal because I have relatives up there. I never saw it. As a tourist, as a visitor, I just never saw it.

A: The food is so good and the women are so beautiful you weren't concentrating on the trashy parts.

Q: Maybe that was it. They have some of the most magnificent restaurants and nightclubs I've ever visited, although the winters up there are beyond brutally cold.

What was your reaction to Sept. 11? A lot has been written from an American perspective about that. You weren't here when that epic tragedy happened, but certainly you had to be impacted.

A: Very emotional. It brought back a lot of the memories of living in Israel -- assaults, certainly not of that magnitude but of a similar malevolence, friends in wars, very emotional.

Q: The day after -- Sept. 12 -- I remember someone saying, "What is going to become of this country? Our freedoms and liberties are going to be restricted. Who can live in a place where you are subjected to all this security and daily threats and imminent potential danger?" And someone responded, "Hey, that's Israel."

A: Your question?

Q: That was a comment on post 9-11 reality and the fact that that is what Israel has been going through for a long time.

A: Yes, but I can't comment really on the extent of the curtailment of liberties. But I certainly can comment on Bush's dastardly road to increasing the welfare state, and he is definitely using it to increase his power, which is awful unjustified, isn't it?

Q: But it always happens. I recall writing a piece about challenges to the First Amendment. The perception is the First Amendment is carved in granite, and although the politicians might play games, they would never mess with the First Amendment. Well, the reality is, if you look at our history, every time there has been a real or perceived threat the government has used that as an opportunity to control things.

A: Indeed. And grow itself.

Q: The Alien and Sedition Act was back in the 1790s, for crying out loud. The McCarren Act, the Smith Act -- every time the government has an opportunity to grab more control, it does. The challenge is how do we stop that? They seem to be winning the battle of incrementalism, as they did in Canada.

A: Yes, and I think President Bush is doing a marvelous job of capturing American sentimentality with these facile speeches that just appeal to the need for the nanny state and for more entitlements, and he seems to be succeeding.

Q: You had a line in something I read recently that I really liked. You wrote, "Freedom had become synonymous with qualifying for some government entitlement." Bingo!

A: Yes, and that's how you faction people. You create competing interest groups for the booty.

Q: And frankly, that is what the left has been about for some time.

A: And so has the right. We no longer have a real "right." We have neo-conservatives, which certainly are not the real right. They are not members of the "old right."

Q: I remember several years ago, some callers were identifying me as "a small 'l' libertarian." I remember asking Gene Burns and other Libertarians if that was pejorative. What did they mean by that?

A: You called me a "big L" -- what does that mean?

Q: A "big L" is an acknowledged, registered Libertarian.

A: No, I'm not a party member.

Q: You are not a party member?

A: No, I'm a small "l" libertarian.

Q: Mea culpa. Did you know, when you started to develop your political philosophy, what it was? I'm sure you read Ayn Rand and stuff like that, but at what point did you realize it was time to put away the leftist radicalism of your youth? It had to be more than just exposure to Canada.

A: I realized that whenever I examined any situation, I would sit down and think what is immutably just in this context. And I would always come up with a libertarian solution. Unbeknownst to me, I knew nothing about the libertarian political philosophy. I was identified by outsiders as a libertarian, and a purist as such. What more proof can you have that this is truth when you come to it through reason?

Q: I am frequently referred to as a "conservative talk show host," which I take umbrage to, because I am an equal opportunity offender. I do have a litmus test. For me, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are what I use. If something or someone is in favor of a cause, and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and support it, they are OK. If they do anything in an attempt to undermine, abrogate or destroy it, they're bad. Unfortunately, too often in recent times in this country, it's been the Republican Party that we have seen chipping away at the essential liberties and freedoms that the republic was supposed to codify.

A: Indeed, starting with Lincoln -- the devil himself.

Q: Have you read Karen de Coster?

A: Yes.

Q: I interviewed her about a year ago, and people are still writing me snotty letters in defense of our 16th president. I even posted her column to my website. People are brought up in this country thinking of Lincoln as an icon. They don't realize what he did to undermine the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and for all the wrong reasons, too.

A: Yes, and there's a wonderful new book by Professor DiLorenzo in which he highlights the lengths to which the Lincoln scholar industry goes to repress that.

Q: In one of your recent columns, you mentioned a few things that just made my heart warm. Again, it goes to the media. You wrote that everything is black and white and how they attempt to codify things based on their own perceptions. One thing you wrote that really struck a chord, and I'll quote you here, you said, "When people do ghastly things, it is because environmental and institutional contingencies stymie them." Bullfeathers! Bad people do bad stuff all the time. What are you saying about the media and how they handle this?

A: Speaking to your black and white comment, if only they were able to see things more in terms of black and white. If anything, there is a fudging. Every story is depicted as if there were no absolute truth. And fair enough -- you have to bring both sides of the story and fill the reader or viewer in with all the details. This doesn't mean there is no absolute truth. In every single episode or depiction of Israel, there will be such moral and intellectual equivalence in the facts. They might show an Israeli woman who was attacked and shot and then a Palestinian woman who was the aggressor. They will pretend that these two women are just part of one equal conflict, continuously losing the essence of the story that Israel is defending itself and the Palestinians are the aggressors.

Q: Recently, I read a story about the Saudi ambassador in the U.N., and he was pontificating ad nauseum about how the terrorism of the Palestinians is "appropriate and justified" because of the terrorism of the Israelis. And it really bugs me that anytime we see any report about the Israelis striking the Palestinians, it is always in response to some previous act of terror that was precipitated by the Palestinians.

A: Yes. But you can understand the Saudi ambassador making that error, or that propaganda. But why the media?

Q: I normally could, but given all the stroke recently about this alleged "peace plan," I was surprised that he would say what he said when he said it.

A: Very alleged. Like a public relations gimmick.

Q: The Saudi plan is a whole-cloth fiction. That dog ain't ever gonna hunt, because the one thing with the Palestinians is they have been consistently lying about everything. And if you gave them the West Bank and Gaza, I guarantee you that 20 seconds after the fact, if not before the ink is dry, they are going to be say, "Oh, and by the way, let's talk about Jerusalem, too."

A: You only have to listen to Arafat's addresses in Arabic. To those of us who have some sort of facility with the language or have a knowledge of the man and his modus operandi, he speaks a different tongue to his own people.

Q: He is absolutely two-faced. He had a piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago ...

A: He must have written it by proxy. He can't write, surely.

Q: Probably, but various media were saying that he's the great peacemaker. I've been saying for some time he's a waste of skin, an empty suit, and he lies. It's like the old story about the scorpion and the frog: You have to expect he's going to do something bad, because that's what he does. It's in his nature. It is inimitably frustrating for some of us to watch our State Department get involved with the Palestinians or Iraq or Iran and attempt to talk to them like they're sitting in some board room in Georgetown and assume they can come to some resolution, have lunch and go out and play golf. These people think different.

A: Yes, and lately we have seen a lot in the media and especially lines like "bridging the gap between civilizations." Once again, more equivalencies, as if there is them and us and they are a civilization. The columnist Joseph Sobran said, "Islam is as Islam does." That's the sum total of the civilization we are dealing with.

Q: There is a wonderful story that Col. David Hackworth told me years ago. He was working for "Newsweek" at the time, and he used to go out on patrol with the Bosnians, and then the Serbs and then the Muslims. I don't remember who he was with when this happened, and it doesn't really matter to the essence of the story. The patrol came upon a graveyard in the dark of night. They started to dig up a grave. Hack expected they had weapons cached or something. Instead, when they got to the bottom, there was a decaying casket. They popped it open and saw a decaying body. Then everyone emptied their magazines into the corpse and then they unbuttoned their pants and urinated on the bullet-ridden corpse. Hack asked, "What the hell is that all about?" To which the patrol leader said, "During the big war (World War II), he was a very bad man." I love that story because I think it crystallizes how deep seated some of this insane antipathy is and that there is no reason to it. To assume you can sit down and negotiate your way out of or around that -- I don't think it's going to happen.

A: I think Americans are sweet in that they are very naive. There is the culture of -- maybe the "Oprah culture," the therapeutic culture -- the belief that a group hug will make it all better. There are divides that are huge, and certainly I don't mean to call myself an authority because I grew up in the region, but you do learn the ways. The culture is certainly a culture of lies. I hate to say that.

Q: But it is something they admit themselves. In their writings, they say it is OK to lie to the infidel.

A: Yes.

Q: That is not only accepted, it is expected.

A: But why don't we believe them? Why don't we believe that they are liars?

Q: I believe it. What is frustrating is that people in our State Department are in such denial that they think they can actually talk their way out of this. Thirty years ago, I read a great book, "O Jerusalem" by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. And when I look at what's going on today, frankly, what is being offered to the Palestinians isn't a heck of a lot different from what they were offered in 1947. They didn't want it then and they don't want it now. They are not going to live in peace with the Israelis. So how do you overcome that? I think I know what the answer is, but I want to hear if you are going to say it.

A: I think of Arafat, as he said in one of his speeches in Johannesburg, "We're going to have Israel from the Jordanian River to the sea." He repeatedly states his objective. Now he has to negotiate something that is a little more difficult, because he has Hamas and the Islamic Renaissance he has to vie with for power.

Q: Regardless of whatever Israel or the United States tries to get Arafat to do, he can't. So why waste your time? He wanted to -- which I really don't believe he does --control Hamas, which, by the way, was created specifically because they didn't like what Yasser was and wasn't doing. He can't control Hamas. He can't control the Islamic Jihad. So why do we waste our time on Yasser Arafat?

A: Good question. I think the West has a blind spot for Yasser Arafat. As you were mentioning, the Europeans, they positively see the Palestinian cause as a sexy thing almost. They are so enamored with the revolutionary aspect of it that there is an absolute blind spot. And certainly, the Israelis have failed miserably with propaganda. That we have to all concede.

Q: It is fascinating that the poor Palestinians -- who are wandering about in the wilderness -- none of their Arab brethren in 50-something years have seen fit to say, "Hey guys, come on over here and you can have a piece of Jordan, or Iraq or Iran. That's Palestine. There ya go! That is your new homeland. We're all Arab brothers." The Arabs don't want that because the Palestinians, to them, are a scab they can keep picking at.

A: Exactly. And that is one of the best points you make. They have kept these people, these poor people, in camps for decades now. Joan Peters documents it meticulously -- every single sentence is practically footnoted in her book ["From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Israel"]. This scheme was known to the U.N. It was known to leaders to keep fomenting this problem. A parallel example is the Jews were expelled or escaped from Arab countries. Over a million Jews are left. Are they in camps? No. They have been assimilated by Israel.

Q: Let me ask you about who I have been calling the "New French" -- Saudi Arabia.

A: New French? Why that?

Q: The French, beyond being rude, are unappreciative. The U.S. has repeatedly saved their bacon, and they haven't done jack for us since the War for Independence. It seems like the Saudis, who are anxious to benefit from the U.S., are not doing a heck of a lot for us. In fact, they seem to be folding. And I'd like your opinion of the Saudis.

A: The latest developments are very interesting. I think Bush is naturally skeptical of the crown prince's proposal.

Q: We have been talking a lot about politics and international issues. Please give our readers a flavor for some of the other things you write about. You also write about popular culture, pseudo-science, pop psychology -- which you ought to know something about.

A: I tackle things like junk science. I recently wrote about the Andrea Yates case, which is front and center in the news now. I write about the drug war and labor issues. Socialized medicine is also something I have written about.

Q: Sex, drugs and rock and roll?

A: Music certainly, pop culture, sex ...

Q: What is your take on the Yates situation?

A: A good example of media bias is Wolf Blitzer's extremely foolish column recently in which he echoes one of these mantras that a woman certainly must be crazy, by definition, to kill her children. That's another fallacy that stems from shoddy thinking and is promoted in the media.

Q: Let me ask you, since you have been trained in psychology: Do they have any real shot of getting this witch off?

A: Texas law seems quite sound. It would seem that it is not enough to be mentally disturbed. One has to prove, if I am not incorrect, that the person was actually incapable of determining right from wrong. I think it is very sound.

Q: The state doesn't have to prove anything other than facts in evidence. The defense has to prove the insanity. And I know one of the hot issues is that she immediately called the police after she committed horrific crime.

A: So if we could get a jury to adhere to that quite wise law, we just might get a conviction there.

Q: What are you looking forward to in the United States that you couldn't or didn't have in Canada?

A: Oh, everything. I would not be given a podium like WorldNetDaily in Canada. I didn't have a hope in hell of ever having a regular column. I did do very prestigious jobs, but they were sporadic -- more in financial magazines like Intellectual Property, which is one of my niche areas. Certainly, having a regular podium and being able to mouth and sound off on issues weekly is marvelous, and I'm looking forward to that. The welcome from readers has been wonderful.