Yosef Zohar
The Institute for Safety in the Criminal Justice System

Dissolute Liberalism and Responsible Liberalism – A Letter to Mario Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa. Photo: From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

To Nobel Laureate author Mario Vargas Llosa,


I heard your worldview regarding the concept of “liberalism” directly from you in August 2014, when you presented it in a lecture titled “Confessions of a Latin American Liberal” at the 5th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting for Economics held every three years in Lindau, Germany, which I attended along with 600 young researchers from around the world.

Around the time of the meeting, when more than half of my country’s residents were being bombarded by the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip, as they are today, when images of demonstrations against Israel emerge from the capitals of Europe, and when Israeli researchers are prevented from lecturing at academic conferences, I wanted to cancel my participation. Knowing that I would disappoint Nobel laureate Prof. Israel Aumann, one of my doctoral advisors, who had recommended my participation and himself lectured at the conference, prevailed over my feelings and concerns, and with a heavy heart I traveled.

Upon landing in Munich, armored vehicles accompanied the El Al plane, a reminder of the horrific 1972 Olympics, until we reached the remote section of the terminal reserved for Israelis that looked like a construction site halted mid-work. Exiting the terminal, descending into the dimly lit underground train station where my question about where the information desk was, met with only German language responses did not promise well, but the long ride with friendly Conversation Partners and expanding heart-warming scenery the closer we got to the picturesque spa town of Lindau in Bavaria, I wrongly thought I had left my anxieties behind.

At the conference, I learned a lot from the lectures dealing mainly with current economic issues – lack of growth, unemployment, inequality, etc., but more than anything I was impressed by the direct encounters with young researchers from many places around the world. Three of the economists I met come from Jewish families who emigrated in the 1990s from post-Soviet Russia following antisemitic persecution and economic crisis, finding refuge in Germany. According to one of them, Germany provides assistance to the Jewish community in Germany. Another economist I met who lives in Germany is of Yazidi origin, with his family having emigrated from Turkey. According to him, while Yazidis, who belong to the Kurdish minority, have no chance of acquiring higher education in Turkey, in Germany they enjoy equal rights and opportunities. I was impressed by him, and I was excited by his stories about the origin of his ancient people and their traditions. It became apparent that, like us, their sources are rooted in ancient Mesopotamia, and there is a significant resemblance between their ancient mythology of creation, akin to our Genesis, and some of their customs and values and ours.

So, it was revealed to me that long before any of us had heard about the persecution of Yazidis by the Islamic State ISIS, Germany took responsibility and offered them refuge. As an immigrant absorbing state, Israel is enriched by human treasures of people most of whom share a common faith and cultural affiliation. What led Germany to choose to absorb people from varying minorities with whom it does not necessarily share any common ties, and pay the price in inter-communal tensions, a result of original differences and those that arise? To me this is not self-evident and worthy of acknowledgment and appreciation.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the allied powers initiated a process called denazification, aimed at eradicating Nazism primarily in Germany and Austria. Under the established military occupation government, some 900,000 cases of involvement with the Nazis were reviewed. At the same time, the US began the Marshall Plan for Europe’s recovery, under which billions were invested in the economic rehabilitation of Western European countries. Gradually, Germany relations with Israel, established three years after the end of World War II, matured, and in 1965, when Germany was already a Western democratic state friendly towards Israel, full diplomatic relations were established. Only in 1991, with the unification of West Germany and East Germany, was it allowed to maintain an army without supervision.

On the evening of the third day I joined the group that chose to forgo the break and preferred to hear you in the town theater hall. In the front rows we identified local nobles and senior business people who support the conference. When you candidly shared the story of one of your ancestor, a man of “dissolute habits”, who one day told his wife he was going out to buy a newspaper and never returned, as the embodiment of the typical “liberal” in your family and continent of birth, Latin America, you captivated the audience and me along with it. Likewise, and like many others in the audience, I identified with statements such as, “Liberalism is tolerance and respect for the other, and especially for those who think differently from ourselves”, and your longing for freedom in the spirit of Isaiah Berlin’s definition of “negative freedom,” which to you “it is measured by the level of autonomy citizens enjoy to organize their lives and work toward their goals without unjust interference”.

David, my father-in-law, did warn me in advance regarding your positions on Israel, so I had some idea of what to expect, but when you started talking about positive trends in Latin America, about the weakening of anti-American sentiments, without expecting it, you inserted the sentence “American support for the Israeli invasion of Gaza, and the cruel massacre carried out there against civilians”, I felt like I had been slapped. No one in the hall protested, and so to the overwhelming consent of an audience to liberal statements, your outrageous declaration against Israel as if it were indisputable truth, a declaration that harbors a warning to anyone who supports Israel, was added.

At the end of the lecture you were asked about the ability of authors to be part of shaping a better world, and Stefan Zweig was mentioned by the questioner as “the forgotten Austrian author”. Afterwards, to the applause of the audience, you elegantly responded to another questioner that the demand to choose between different identities is terror and you are very happy with your Peruvian and Spanish nationality and you “feel South American, European, a man of the twenty-first century, a man of the world, that is civilization”.

How hypocritical, I thought to myself, to boast on German soil of the wisdom and culture of European philosophers and intellectuals like Berlin and Zweig (who committed suicide four years after fleeing to England upon Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany) without mentioning their Jewish identity, and how convenient, at that very time that ISIS is perpetrating Genocide of Yazidis and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, to present as an example of the barbarism you oppose, Israel’s self-defense against terror. As I left the hall criticizing the distorted presentation, I became aware of the influence of your inflammatory words. A colleague laughingly argued against me, “What do you want, you kill people”.

Israel withdrew from Gaza already in 2004, and it would not have had to enter it again and again if Hamas, I remind you the terror organization that seized control in Gaza while slaughtering its Fatah rivals, knew it would be unequivocally condemned for attacking civilians and fighting from within neighborhoods and hospitals. In this sense, the one-sided viewpoint on the conflict and dissolute liberalism, stance great responsibility for the recurring escalation and its difficult consequences both for residents of Israel and Gaza. And this time also for dozens of kidnapped civilians from 25 countries including the US, Germany, France, Thailand and dozens of additional murdered and missing who carries foreign nationality.

These men, women, and children were kidnapped by Hamas and forcibly taken into Gaza, where they are experiencing unthinkably horrific conditions. #BringThemHomeNow

As Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum responded in a post to the scenes of the October 7 massacre, “There are no words to explain. It is to witness the darkest evil that can exist. Hamas terrorists laugh and call home to boast how many Jews they killed “with their hands.” Asking if their parents are proud? Humans bloodied, charred, ripped apart. But it is the cries of the children that I will hear forever. I share this with you because the world needs to know what happened. And so that you can imagine it, because I hope you never have to see it”.

Hamas is ISIS to the utmost horror. The motto of Hamas is identical to the slogan of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ movement and is formulated in article eight of the Hamas Charter, “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path, and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief.” And in article thirty-two it states that “The Islamic Resistance Movement calls on Arab and Islamic nations to take up the line of serious and persevering action to prevent the success of this horrendous plan, to warn the people of the danger eminating from leaving the circle of struggle with Zionism. For today it is Palestine, and tomorrow it will be one country or another. The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they have digested the region on which they will have laid their hand, they will covet further expansion, and so on. Their scheme has been laid out in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. And their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”

In practice, it is ISIS that covets expansion to the areas of the Nile and the Euphrates and further expansion more and more, and if not for Iraq with US aid defeating them in Fallujah, Mosul and other cities, they could have fulfilled this. Western European countries are finally realizing they must deal with pockets of ISIS that seek to turn Europe into an Islamic state. Even Erdogan has politely shown the door to Hamas leaders staying in Turkey, while maintaining support for the Palestinian cause, according to two sources of Al-Monitor.

In contrast, Judaism is liberal in essence. The idea of equality between all people was born out of the “Image of God” principle in the Book of Genesis, the concept that human beings are unique in the creation since they possess intelligence and free will, and afterwards, in the Book of Leviticus it is written that “You shall have one standard of law for the stranger and citizen alike” (24:22), expressing the idea that everyone is equal before the law. These ideas were sources of inspiration for democracy and the constitutions of the free world, thus for example, it is written in the US Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

You may find it interesting that another European Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, deconstructs the word responsibility in Hebrew into its components and finds in it the words ‘being other’ and the word ‘Liberty,’ and you would agree with his words that “not human liberty but human responsibility is what gives freedom meaning.”

If only you would have appealed to us in the spirit of another Levinas quote, “Judaism means to bear responsibility for the world in its entirety, and by itself Judaism is persecuted everywhere. To be responsible for everything and everyone means to be responsible despite yourself. To be responsible despite yourself, being persecuted. Only the persecuted are responsible for everyone, including their persecutors”, and demanded ‘therefore you who pride yourself on being the only democracy in your region, it is incumbent upon you especially to lead the liberation of Gaza from Hamas-ISIS terror and its complete rehabilitation.’ Even if you would have added, ‘With all your history, you must be at the forefront of the global struggle against genocide,’ you would have won the hearts of many Israelis, you would have won my heart.


Yosef Zohar

P.S.  You are most welcome to join academics from around the world who signed the open letter calling to:

  • condemn to the utmost extent the heinous attacks by Hamas terrorists on Israel that started on 7 October 2023 and involved the killing and irreparable harm of thousands and the kidnapping of hundreds of innocent civilians, including children, women, elderly and frail;
  • demand that Hamas immediately and unconditionally release all hostages and desist from using any civilian person or infrastructure as a shield;
  • acknowledge the right of the state of Israel to defend itself — by all means necessary and permitted by international humanitarian law — against such kind of attacks; 
  • plead with the international community to provide all the humanitarian aid necessary in the region and ensure it promptly reaches the people in need;
  • implore the leaders of the other countries in the region not to escalate the situation further by supporting Hamas terrorists or participating directly in the conflict.

About the Author
Researcher and Lecturer, Department of Criminology at Western Galilee College. Managing director, The Institute for Safety in the Criminal Justice System. Research Fellow, Judicial Conflict Resolution (JCR) project at the Faculty of Law, Bar Ilan University.
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