Libertarianism, Current Events

Let’s Talk Fundamentals: Israel is Not The Problem and Israel Does Not Have The Solution

[Editor’s Note: In the interest of continuing and deepening our discussion of issues pertaining to the current conflict in Gaza, and of the implications of libertarian thought for issues of foreign policy more generally, we are running the following guest submission by Peter Lewin. Lewin is clinical professor of economics at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), School of Management. He has published in monetary economics, human capital, the economics of discrimination, organizational and managerial economics and a variety of other subjects, but is best known for his work on capital theory (Capital in Disequilibrium, 2011 [1999]).]

The recent post by John Glaser began in a manner that gave me hope. He seemed to be prepared to focus clearly on issues of foreign policy or strategic choices, without resort to the ill-informed judgments that plague discussions on the tragic conflict we are now witnessing. That hope evaporated instantly when I read his fourth paragraph. Said judgments then followed thick and fast. Too bad.

I would like to try and deal with this tangled web of legitimate concerns and ugly mischaracterizations by first stipulating some points on which we might find substantial agreement, or at least recognition that more than one opinion is legitimate given the uncertainties involved.

I imagine all libertarians agree that foreign military aid ought to be ended. This includes the annual $3 billion to Israel and the $6 billion to its enemies and neighbors, and it includes as well the $1 billion plus that makes its way to the Palestinian politicians through the permanent UN agency created for the Palestinians 65 years ago, UNRWA (about which I shall have more to say). So, yes let’s pull the money from Israel, but let’s pull it from everyone else as well, and let’s not pretend that this funding occurs in a vacuum. Mr. Glaser talks about this funding of other countries in the region in a different context, but I assume he agrees in principle.

Having said this, there is always the practical question of how you get from here to there. Are we to remain silent on how this is to be done or do we have an opinion on whose funding we should cut first? Presumably, my readers will identify a first-best solution as the cutting of all such aid at once. I agree. But this is not likely to happen. So, in its absence, is it to be taken for granted that we should support cutting Israel’s funding and not the other’s, on the premise that any cut is better than none? We should not pretend it does not make a difference. If it is true, as I firmly believe that Israel (i.e. the Israelis) faces a real existential threat, then to pull her military support without pulling those of her enemies and would-be killers, would be to risk indirectly precipitating a genocide. I would argue strongly that doing it the other way round (cutting aid to Israel’s opponents first) would more likely bring a deescalating of hostilities.

I expect we will disagree about this. But it is not a disagreement about principle, it is a disagreement about the correct strategy to take in pursuit of principle in an imperfect world. Absent the immediate cessation of foreign military aid, what half-measures should we support if any? Let’s not be self-righteous about this; this kind of choice cannot be avoided. (I put aside the observation that if the U.S. got out of the business entirely, the enemies of Israel would find other sponsors to fill the gap. It is probably true, but acting on this line of thinking that leads down the black hole of we are now in. I trust Israel will be able to fend for itself).

The second area of potential agreement in principle is the question of the tragedy itself. No one considers the terrible loss of life and injury currently suffered by innocents in Gaza as anything but awful and tragic. The question is, why it is occurring? If we grant Israel the right of self-defense, is there a better, more humane, response, especially given the practice of Hamas of putting civilians in harm’s way (there is ample evidence that this has been a deliberate strategy – though probably not in every case)? I am open to real suggestions about what Israel might do to deter the rocket attacks on its citizens. Mr. Glaser wants to minimize the importance of the rockets, but, I am not sure on what basis and what he advises as an appropriate response.

This third topic concerns the settlements. As I said earlier in a comment, the settlements are a mixed bag. Those that are part of the state-agenda, and are state financed, are simply coercive and ought to be clearly condemned. There is room for reasonable disagreement about how the state of Israel should respond to private settlements, on land bought with private money. And there is also the practical question of what to consider a settlement. Mr. Glaser throws in East Jerusalem. This is an unjustified rush to judgment. Jews have lived in East Jerusalem continuously for thousands of years.  Many were expelled in 1949. There are claims on both sides. What libertarian principle would allow us to so easily call this unjustified settlement?

I think this is about as far as we can go in a reasonable discussion without getting into the inflammatory areas of disputed facts, motives, and consequences. To appeal to fellow libertarians about the need to cut funding to Israel, because we should cut funding to everyone, is one thing. But to then proceed to gratuitously vilify Israel on the basis of incorrect and incomplete information is something else entirely.

Mr. Glaser starts his story in 1967, and seems to suggest that that the war occurred because Israel wanted the land. This is crazy. The occupation is a headache and a long-term liability. Most Israelis would trade land for a real secure peace in a heartbeat. The war was about survival and defensible borders. I expect this to be received with skepticism by some, but I urge a careful examination of the history, looking at all the arguments,  and not only those of the revisionist Israeli historians, that I personally consider to be discredited. Mr. Glaser then goes on to claim, incredibly, that it is Israel that is intransigent in not accepting offers of peace. He refers to the Arab League as having endorsed a so-called deal, and even suggests that Hamas has. Really? (here?)  Where is the actual text. Where is the textual evidence of the Arab League, Hamas, or the PLO, having recognized the State of Israel and its right to exist as a Jewish state. Why a Jewish state? Because all of the other states in the region exist as Moslem states. We may wish for separation of church and state, we may moreover wish for the abolition of all states, but this is not the context we are talking about in the choices we face to minimize violence and save lives.

The truth is exactly the reverse of what Mr. Glaser claims. It is the PLO and the Arab leaders that have walked away from all and any reasonable peace proposal, most notably the one at Camp David hosted by President Clinton, but others as well. Israel risked much with the Oslo Accords and paid a very heavy price in lives and casualties. Hamas has never recognized Israel at all, in any form, and its charter specifies and emphasizes commitment to the destruction of Israel as a political entity and it has never wavered from this. You can’t just ignore these things! It is also clear that you cannot trust any momentary accommodation. There is strong reason to believe that Hamas, and for that matter the PLO, will make concessions for strategic proposes that they have no intention of maintaining. Any serious proposal must ensure some credible, verifiable commitment to Israel’s security.

Mr. Glaser goes on to tackle the case of the settlements. I have already indicated where I think this may be a legitimate area of criticism against the Israeli government. But, having said this, one thing is clear to me; even if all settlement activity ceased tomorrow, this would do nothing to solve the fundamental problem. The problem long predates the settlements and will endure beyond it. It is not what Israel does that matters for the achievement of peace, it is where and what Israel is. If we are talking about the big questions here, we should be under no illusions that this conflict is about land. This is the fundamental mistake in Mr. Glaser’s whole analysis, and it is a common mistake. It was never about land. Israel is to greater Arabia as a postage stamp (or a sheet of paper) is to a football field – think about that image. Withdrawing to 1967 borders will not solve the problem.  To make that suggestion is to betray an ignorance of the history. The period between 1948 and 1967  was an unending struggle for survival, in a country less than fifty miles across in its middle, and therefore extremely vulnerable. Suggesting that the Israelis should withdraw back to that situation and trust the Arabs to honor a commitment to peace ignores the question of the burden of proof.  What evidence is there that Israel’s neighbors would honor such a commitment, given their past actions? Surely the history bears on this. No, emphatically, this is not really about land or settlements.

The rest of Mr. Glaser’s piece is about Israel’s cruelty and the “illegal” blockade (he is not able to resist an  obscene reference to the Nazis in the context of Israeli actions). Again he argues in a vacuum. I want to hear what he would have Israel do. He seems to fault them for their superior technology to neutralize the rockets, suggesting that this means they should simply tolerate the rocket barrage. He resorts to the oft-repeated notion that because the number and severity of Palestinian casualties is greater than the Israelis’, this somehow bears on the merits of the case. Israel suffered horribly before it was able to stem the tide of unending terrorist attacks on its cities. Intentions matter. Hamas deliberately targets civilians. The IDF takes risks and pays a price to try to avoid civilian casualties. As for the story about the embargo not allowing essentials, even children’s toys, through to Gaza, I have to say I am highly skeptical. The Arab press is completely unreliable and the European press is not much better when it comes to Israel. The Israeli press is often critical of its government and is much more reliable.

Mr. Glaser throws in a few comments about how anti-Arab racist Israelis are. Examine the popular press in the territories, in Egypt or anywhere in the Arab world to see the anti-Semitic cartoons and vicious anti-Jewish propaganda. In Israel’s vigorously free press there is, by contrast, ample evidence of sensitivity to Arab minority rights and concerns. On what evidence would Mr. Glaser base his claim of the dangers of anti-Arab racism? Surely it is relevant to note in this context that Israeli Arabs have more rights, freedoms and opportunities than the vast majority of Arabs do throughout the Middle East, and certainly more than any Jews living under Arab rule .

Any discussion of how to achieve peace must take account of the history and nature of the “Palestinian problem.” If one is really concerned about their suffering, it behooves one to look carefully at this. Why has this particular refugee problem, dating from 1949, persisted – especially when so many millions of other displaced persons from that era are no longer a matter of international concern? What makes the Palestinian refugee problem so different from the other refugee problems? The answer involves the political agendas of many of our corrupt allies in the region in a manner that savvy libertarians should easily be able to relate to.

The origin of this problem is the war of 1949 which followed the attempt by Britain to establish a partition of the land between Jews and Arabs (the term “Palestinian” arrived much later) – a two-state solution. The Jews accepted it and so did many of the Arabs. Absent the efforts of the nascent Muslim Brotherhood, under the Palestinian leadership of Haj Amin al Husseini, a Nazi propagandist during WWII, there arguably would have been a two-state solution (here). Everything that has followed since is the result of those fateful events, from which time the refusal to recognize the right of Israel to exist became written in stone.

In the months following the onset of the war roughly 750,000 Arab residents were displaced in one way or another. At the same time about 850,000 Jews were forcibly, often violently, expelled from the Arab countries of the region – communities that had lived there for generations. These were “absorbed” into the new state of Israel. But the displaced Arabs and their children and grandchildren were left to linger until this day. A special UN agency was created to deal with them, UNRWA, The United Nations Relief Works Agency, which today has an annual budget in excess of $1.1 billion. UNRWA must stand as the most perniciously destructive and counterproductive of the agencies of the UN. The “achievements” of the UN in the world have been rightly criticized and even vilified. But this must be the worst of them. It may be a case mostly of unintended harms, but that is no mitigation to those millions whose lives it has affected. The Arab states for their part have continued to treat the Palestinians as second class citizens and have refused to allow them to immigrate and become citizens or permanent residents.

Those who rise to condemn Israel pointing to the injustice of the displacement in 1949 of the Arabs whose descendants became today’s Palestinians, should consider the balancing of evils over the years that have attended all of the many millions of refugees from that awful period in history. Absent the dependency enabling (nay producing) role of UNRWA, the refugee status of the Palestinians would not have endured. In the meantime, UNRWA has evolved into a Palestinian controlled, terrorist sponsoring, paramilitary organization that is also an all-encompassing welfare-state perpetuating refugeeism. Remember, this is an agency of the United Nations. And, as such, it receives most of its financing from the taxpayers of the United States! The foundationally pathological structure of the Palestinian situation is at the root of it. If this is not fixed, the problem quite simply will never go away and will probably get steadily worse. (here)

The ensuing fate of the Palestinians being condemned to be perpetual refugees is the predictable result of political opportunism and the racism of fundamentalists and ultra-nationalists. The Arab states have cynically used the Palestinians as pawns in their political agendas – either to divert attention from their corrupt dictatorial domestic oppression, or as a motivating factor in the Islamist agenda. Had the original 750,000 refugees been settled like the rest of the millions of refugees in various countries around the region, and the world, including Israel, the current horror would not exist. Quite simply, the Palestinian situation was not of Israel’s making and is not in Israel’s power to solve. On the other hand, a real honest to goodness desire to solve it, by the Arab states, especially the Saudis, could do so, though the longer it lingers the more difficult it becomes. State oppression in one way or another is at the root of it and real progress toward peaceful coexistence through many cultural, trade and investment initiatives has been squashed by the local leaders, with the support of their foreign sponsors.

Thus while we might oppose any government funding of settlements and any coercive displacement of Palestinians to facilitate the establishment of settlements (as I do), and while we may reasonably  debate Israeli’s defense strategies, we cannot, in good conscience, require of Israel to dismantle its embargo, dismantle its checkpoints, dismantle its fence, and generally stand down in its attempt to combat acts of terror. That makes no sense. These measures have proven incredibly effective in keeping Israel’s population safe after suffering for years a horrendous barrage of attacks directed specifically against civilians, where they live, shop, learn, and play. These measures create great hardships, but, in the final analysis, they are effectively imposed on Israel as much as they are imposed on the Palestinians, by the presence of a real, credible, significant, terrifying danger. Similarly, calls for Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, or beyond, make no sense. The same threats that exist now, existed before 1967 all the way back to 1949, except that Israel was defending less secure borders. The settlements are not the fundamental obstacle to peace. Nor is the “occupation.” The refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and actions taken in support of that, and the cynical use of the “Palestinian problem”  – these are the fundamental problems.

  • Sergio Méndez

    I think this post is reasonable, at least the most reasonable I´ve seen from pro israel side. But then, at the end it fails pretending that Israel is just a victim, that is forced by circunstances to act the way it does, and that its actions do nothing further to escalate the conflict. That, coercive displacement of palestinians to settle its land (as Lewin recognizes) does not has anything to do with the problem, that economic estagnation (in the name of secuirty) true walls and checkpoints, has nothing to do with how palestinians have reacted. Lewin rightly blames arab states oportunism in the matter, but then, he excuses Israel of any responsability, regarding its own actions. I fail to see also how can israel own terrorist actions against palestinians, state terrorist actions to be precise (masked behind the rethoric of security), are a legitimate way of fighting back palestinian own terrorists acts.

    Maybe we can all agree that Israel is not the sole actor to blame. At least I agree on that. We can agree that a solution will require a compromise to stop murderous or criminal actions on all parties involved. And when I mean ALL, I mean Arab states, the US, palestinaians, and yes, Israel.

    • I don’t excuse Israel of mistakes, strategic errors and political opportunism. These may exacerbate the situation, but they are not fundamental causes. In the big picture Israel IS a victim; and so are the Palestinians.

      • homingpigeon

        “Israel IS a victim” – no, the Jewish people as well as the Palestinians are victims of the ghastly ideology of Zionism and the fraud that occupies Palestine. Primitive tribalism should have no place in the libertarian movement.

  • Jason Lee Byas

    …Might I ask why there are scare quotes around the word “occupation” in the last paragraph?

    • Yes, is there really any reasonable way to look at this as anything other than a military occupation?

    • Strictly speaking these are disputed territories. Not all of the area referred to as “occupied” is clearly within the so-called Palestinians orbit. Still, nothing I say really hangs on this.

  • “[W]hile we may reasonably debate Israeli’s defense strategies, we cannot, in good conscience, require of Israel to dismantle its embargo, dismantle its checkpoints, dismantle its fence, and generally stand down in its attempt to combat acts of terror.”

    Even if we agree with all the article’s premises, I don’t see how anything could justify the embargo, checkpoints, and bombings. They inflict violence against peaceful individuals in a systematic way. The trade restrictions, from everything I’ve read, are surely wrong. And I would of course apply these same principles to all conflicts. These measures are violations of libertarian principle if anything is.

    • You don’t see how “anything” could justify these? What should Israel do? You need to provide more than condemnation, you need to provide a better alternative.

      • Maybe there is nothing Israel can do to stop the terrorism, but surely the occupation isn’t working and it is wrong in and of itself. For those who see the Palestinians being occupied and ask what they can do to defend themselves if we’re going to condemn Hamas’s rocket attacks I also say: Perhaps there is no way the Palestinians can stop the Israeli state from inflicting violence on them, but two wrongs don’t make a right. The occupation is itself a violation of libertarian principles—you don’t agree with that? That centrally planning trade and travel along roads is unlibertarian?

        • Yes, the occupation is definitely not a solution. Israel does not have too many good alternatives. It cannot continue to administer the territories and it cannot simply abandon them. That is why I and many others favor whatever can be done to do an end-run around the politicians to try to establish grass-roots voluntary Israeli-Palestinian organizations that could one day hopefully serve as the basis for peaceful coexistence.

          • Now that sounds promising and productive. Any reading suggestions on this? Certainly I’d like to see a peaceful solution that minimizes hardship for everyone and respects everyone’s rights and dignity.

          • Sean II

            I would hardly describe the grassroots route as promising, but it is certainly worth supporting on principle.

            The biggest obstacle to such voluntary cooperation is the one least talked about in all of these threads – namely, the reigning ideology of the Palestinian people. To put it mildly, their belief system doesn’t exactly make you want to run out and buy the world a Coke.

            Let’s remember that in the main we’re talking about a population of unusually fervent monotheists who automatically distrust anyone with a vagina or a circumcised penis, who despise homosexuals, and who cling to a thoroughly pre-modern notion of “honor” that can, in the blink of a perceived insult, turn a blossoming friendship into life-long grudge.

            On the other side of this proposed handshake, you’ve got an Israeli population that is half secular, with dramatically improving gender equality, a positive climate for gay rights, and a culture steeped in the very opposites of honor: dissent and self-deprecating humor.

            So, you know, for the time being don’t invest your money in any Israeli-Palestinian buddy cop sitcoms. It may still be a bit early for that.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Gee, for once I think you might understate your own case. One could add the acceptance of female genital mutilation, honor killings for looking twice at a boy without the father’s permission, a culture with no current or historical understanding/experience with the rule of law, etc. I don’t claim, obvously, for this to be true of all Palistinians, but it certainly is of Hamas and is an important element of the culture.

            But perhaps the biggest thing is this. Jews don’t want to convert anyone else to Judaism. In fact, we make it as hard as possible. In orthodox Judaism, the rabbi is required to try to disuade the potential convert three times before accepting him/her for training in Judaism, and then its about as easy as getting a Ph.D in physics from Cal Tech. To convert to Judaism in any of its forms the convert must sincerely want to do so. I don’t believe that Islam has a similar philosophy.

          • Sean II

            Gosh, Mark…are you suggesting that I typically overstate my case when commenting on this board? I can’t imagine why anyone would think such a thing about me.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Not in the least. Its just that your commentary is typically so objective and clinical, that I wondered what happened here. I was concerned that you might be on some sort of medication.

          • Sean II

            I think the problem is rather a lack of medication for me this weekend. Regrettably, I don’t live in either Denver or Seattle.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Can’t do much for you in Denver, but if you make to Seattle I would be glad to buy you a beer at one of our many fine watering holes.

          • Barry Stocker

            Muslims also circumcise boys. While there is some truth in what you say, your extreme error of fact confirms the feeling that you have not exercised the greatest judgement in reducing Palestinians to the unpleasant stereotype above, even if as with many stereotypes some confirming instances can be found.

          • Sean II

            Right you are about the circumcision thing, of course. That’s what I get for trying to be cute.

            Wrong you are to charge me with improperly stereotyping. The more traditional a society is, the less open it is, the less pluralistic it is, the less individualistic it is…the more accurate stereotypes are.

          • Johan Tibbelin

            Jean II…..the founder of PFLP was christian….no atheist yes but christian….if he was circumcised I don´t know ….i will ask my palestinian friend when I meet him.. You may argue that all this is just empirical details… maybe George Habash was some sort of christian muslim and maybe we will one day have Libertarian muslims…and maybe they will behave as they were libertarians and so to speak still be sunnimuslims ….and….you get it now do you……….Listen you may be right just as my grandmother was right in predicting for each election that the socialdemocratic party would win ….well they did every time for 40 years and she was wrong just once…. Her reasons was “if I say “swedes believe X about SOCIAL JUCTICE”, as long as I’ve correctly derived X from basic socialdemocratic theology, I’ve got an excellent chance to be accurate to the tune of 98%.” and she was accurate till she wasn´t…that is until it all changed…( she used the same logic but of course given that she raised ten children an left school by the age of 13 and the rest ….she couldnt have expressed her conviction in the same fashion as you did….) My grandmother did stereotype quite succesfully….actually she beloned to the same group as the group she stereotyped….but she didnt think that anything could change…remember what you argued for…namely that grassroot peaceprocess will not work because of the palestinians core beliefs….but the theory behind grasroot peace process is just to change core beliefs in a process…now you argue that those corebeliefs are so solid because of their internal properties….( properties you find in the sunna? or in the sunna as interpreted by Hamas theologians and Robert Spencer….) If that is true then palestinians can´t change but i t remains hard to understand why a lot of palestinians seem to believe in Marxism Christendom and for the majority of non academic palestinians in some sort of consumerism and goodlife….happy go lucky and of course ordinary family centred work ethic…and why do so many of them that are nicotine junkies fail to fast during ramadan….if they are so stubborn in ther sunnitic beliefs…. and why are the more afraid that some old relative or the local imam will find them smoking before sun dawn….than beeing punished by god…..? And why does some of my palestinian friend wet their pants laughing watching this scene from Curb your enthusiasm…..….
            So if you are wrong about core beliefs causal effect then you do not have an argument against grass root peace work….If that process fails …and i t can of course…then we have to search for some other explanation…for example i terms of institutions like UNWRA…Your scepticism have so far no empirical content….hangs in the air…give it up or take another shot but you have to explain the anomalies….( closed society seems to be sloppily used by you as well …don´t think palestinians are closed in at all actually ….many have only access to arabic media and arabic media are biased…but so are european media….and if the media monopoly are the reason then a grass root peace process will be a partial remedy….that is if palestinians beliefs are a function of a biased media situation…then grassrootpeace process is exactly what we need….if it depends on media it is not hardcoded because of internal properties of sunna…and how could that be possible any way…is there ideas that are such that if you believe them you cannot stop to believe them….probably not…but al proofs of islamic essential badness seem to be close to that idea strange as that idea….)

          • Johan Tibbelin

            Cool it….you are ignorant. THEY find foreskins as strange as you do( IF you do )….why would I even listen to your theories about THEIR belief system if you show such ignorance ….can I trust your judgement in these questions…well NO…So to be charitable I have to believe that you are under some emotional affect that have cognitive consequesences….In the same manner as I chose to think about other people for instance one of my friends….a palestinian…( and part of my family is muslim so I`m a little pissed of and i might add that I´m very very much pro israel so muslim predjuduces about Jews and the antisemitic beliefs they get from tv shows etc makes me really really sad….)…who is a perfectly rational thinking being, highly educated…but still looses his capacity for rational thinking when talking about his grandfathers olive trees….He doesn´t run when he occasionally sees an unscircumcised penis….he laughs …think it looks funny…because Muslim men are all circumcised….and for some reason of all my friends it´s the muslims that consumes most coke ….THEY have their own brand ….Meccacola…but of course they agree that there is only one original….Okey my point is …do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution…think about it…do you really know enough about THEIR beliefsystem to predict THEIR behaviour in a grassroot-peace process…when you yourselve know nothing about such an essential ( or not?) expression of THEIR beliefsystem as their penises…In fact if YOU would be part of such peace project YOUR beliefsystem would also be a problem…if your real belief system is what it seems to be, reading your postings about THEIR beliefsystem….( To treat belief system as a fixed program that determines future actions is I believe the exact opposite of the core of libertariansim….and needless to say ….palestinians do exactly the same mistake… so I do not predict anything about your behaviour in the future….) Beliefsystems are important of course, but why do we sometimes think that an old collectivistic belief system like the tradition of islam is so powerfull….well how powerfull would it really be in Gaza if…the old palestinian marxist ideologi had not failed or if UN and the liberal/left “beliefsystems” in europe had not “supported” the palestinian cause what ever ideology palestinians have….( as expressed e.g. in UNWRA….)

            And what about the “honorsystem”….didn´t some sicilians transform that to a something very different in the cosa nostra context in the new world inside a different economic/legal framework…is that the same beliefsystem but pacified because of new reasons to commit brutal acts of violence ….it´s not personal…its just business…If their belief in honour killing would be so deeply held wouldn´t they have failed to make it just business….or if the succeded because of their beliefsystem…doesn´t that prove that beliefsystem is really a very soft thing…it seems to be able to change in response to environment….and all that assuming you can describe IT (what is a belief system anyway….does such thing really exist at all or is it just a traditional folksy way of circular explanations and quasi science….) at all in the first place…

        • DavidBernstein

          There is no occupation of Gaza. There is a partial blockade of Gaza, necessitated because otherwise Hamas could bring in all the weapons it wanted from Iran. Hamas considers not just the West Bank, but also “Israel” to be “occupied” (and most of the West Bank is effectively under Palestinian Authority day to day control).

          • endtheoccupation

            Gaza is still under Israeli occupation according to the UN. Israel controls trade, airspace, fisheries, movement, etc, etc.The Gazans, as Israeli IDF spokesmen proudly proclaim, is on an Israeli-designed diet — not quite starving as yet, but we have compete control and time will tell. What I find most amusing about Zionists is that they actually seem to believe Israel never targets civilians. They are crushing an entire civilian population — daily, sadistically, even gleefully. And you guys willfully close your eyes. Collectivist Tribalism is a live and well among you libertarians.

          • DavidBernstein

            If the UN said two plus two was five, would you quote that as well? A partial blockade is not an “occupation”, an “occupation” requires there be “occupiers” and a place “occupied.” Egypt blockades Gaza as well, but does so far more egregiously, because unlike Israel Egypt doesn’t allow food, medicine, etc., in. And unlike Israel, the Gazans aren’t stockpiling and smuggling weapons to destroy Egypt. So wake me up when your selective indignation reaches Egypt. For that matter, wake me up when your selective indignation reaches Hamas. All of those thousands of missiles that it lobbed at Israel cost a huge amount of money. Hamas meanwhile claims that the Gaza population is suffering greatly. So maybe they could have used the money spent on arms on food, shelter, etc. for their people, and for that matter stopped targeting Israeli civilians so the patrial blockade would be lifted.

      • endalloccupations

        I was about to respond to your questions when I noticed you had deleted my post – which is fine. Why waste the time? By way of fond farewell — rooting for Goliath is as unseemly now as it was in late-thirties Poland.

        • I am not sure to whom this is directed. I do not have the ability to delete any posts on this site. I am wondering who Goliath is in this story.

    • Jim Rose

      I recently remembered a remark by Murray Rothbard about how national borders in the nation-state system are morally arbitrary. Why are the borders in 1861, 1919, 1945, 1948, 1956 or at any other time morally superior? He wrote about this in regard to the Afghan dispute and why the left is wrong on foreign policy.

      Borders in Europe are so fluid that collecting the maps of Europe is a hobby.

      Palestinian Revanchism is not different from any other Revanchism: it is a recipe for endless wars over one of many grievances about nationalism.

      Revanchism is the desire to reverse territorial losses, often after a war or social movement. Irredentism is advocating the annexation of territories of another state because of common ethnicity or prior historical possession, actual or alleged

      German Revanchism and Irredentism would plunge Europe back into war as it reclaimed Eastern Prussia and the Sudetenland. The Balkans and east Europe would be plunged into war to revise the 1945 and 1919 boundaries. Irish Revanchism and Irredentism over Northern Ireland led to war from 1922 onwards.

    • Sean II

      Anthony, your view has certainly attracted a few followers here. I wonder if you would have quite so many, if everyone really understood what you are putting forward. Perhaps you’ll indulge me, and help clarify things for them, by answering a borrowed hypothetical:

      Given Kevin Smith’s famous observation that the second, unfinished Death Star was mostly inhabited by civilian contractors at the moment of its destruction, do you think it was a crime for the Rebel Alliance to blow it up?

      I think your previous comments oblige you to say “yes, it was wrong to blow up Death Star II, because no libertarian should EVER countenance the murder of innocents”.

      If you say anything other than that, I’ve got a whole series of question for you.

      • Star Wars is a movie.

        • If everyone working on the Death Star was knowingly building a weapon meant to incinerate entire planets, then they are not nearly as innocent as the children killed in Gaza. But of course there were probably prisoners on the Death Star, and yes, the rebels’ destruction of it was perhaps not 100% libertarian. But Star Wars is a movie. Wars in movies in general have a side of good guys in a way that is almost never the case in real life.

          • Sean II

            Okay, so you don’t like movies. Let’s make it 10 innocent prisoners held in the brig of a Luftwaffe air base in 1940.

            Would it be wrong, in your estimation, to bomb that base?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I guess Anthony finds it easier to state a really cool, neat-sounding idea than actually defend it.

          • Sean II

            I’m still holding out hope that he will respond. He’s reached the point where it will become necessary for him to either:

            a) Admit that his philosophy is one of total pacifism, where all force, including retaliatory force, is illegitimate if EVEN ONE innocent life is lost as a result or…

            b) Admit that we’re all just quibbling about the price.

            I’m really curious to see what he says.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Would now be the appropriate time to utter the cliche about how “hope springs eternal…”? Or, should I sing the lyrics to The Impossible Dream”?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            With Sean’s permission, I will also throw my hat into this hypothetical ring. My scenario is this. I am a black man living in the Jim Crow South. My only “crime” is the color of my skin. A large mob of KKK has come to lynch me and torch my house with my family still in it. But I have a suprise for these bastards. I have a “little friend,” in the form of a Tommy Gun with plenty of ammo.

            Sadly, several members of the KKK have brought their young children along to see the fun and to educate them in how you treat blacks who dare to live in your town (there are the ones dressed in the pillowcases instead of sheets). As the mob attacks, I have only two choices: (i) do nothing and die or (ii) open fire with my automatic weapon, saving my family but probably killing some of the little ones.

            I say, the black man in my case has a right of self-defense. He didn’t endanger these kids, and doesn’t want to harrm them. The parents must take full responsibility for what happens to them. If you disagree, please justify your position. Now, how in principle does my case differ from that of a military commander fighting a just war, who is faced with essentially the same situation? Please explain that to me.

          • “Self-defense is the most fundamental natural right we have.” No it’s not. Self-ownership is. Self-defense is a corollary right, but it does not entitle you to hurt third parties any more than any other right does.

  • Andrew

    Thank you.


    Thank you for this rational, well-informed, and thoughtful commentary.

  • good_in_theory

    Neither postage stamp nor sheet of paper on a football field are an appropriate comparison.

    Israel is about .65% of the surface area of the Arabian peninsula. That’s about the size of a large master bedroom on a football field. Of course, not all land is created equal, so one might be interested in population density. On this score, Israel and the Palestinian territories contain about 15% of the Arabian peninsula’s population (10% in Israel, 5% in the territories). That’s something like the population of Fargo vs the population of the state of North Dakota.


      Mr. Lewin said “greater Arabia,” and you elect to talk about the “Arabian peninsula.” These are not the same, and his seems clearly the more apt comparison.

      • good_in_theory

        Fine then, come up with some definition of “greater arabia” (there are multiple definitions) and operationalize it. The Arabian peninsula has the virtue of being a clearly defined geographical entity. You’ll find that the ratios work out to be on the order of a quarter or a fifth or a sixth of what I gave, depending on what one includes as “greater”. In any case, the ratio will be nowhere near the ratio implied by either “a piece of paper” or (even more absurdly), a postage stamp. One needs little more confirmation of the fact that the analogy is what Harry Frankfurter would technically define as “bullshit” than the fact that a postage stamp (~3/4 of a square inch) is about 125x as large as the surface area of a sheet of paper (93.5 square inches), and is even internally completely incoherent.

        My calculations have the odd attribute of actually being truly proportionate as defined and, at the very least, about the correct order of magnitude given the demonstration intended to be made.

  • good_in_theory
  • carl56

    You seem to be justifying state terrorism as a legitimate response to resistance against unlawful occupation (repugnant from a libertarian perspective, I should think), and to believe that the predictable consequences of an action have no bearing on its moral significance. “Heck, we were aiming at a bad guy who had the temerity to resist our illegal occupation, it was not our intention to wipe out that apartment complex and turn all those families into tomato paste. No harm, no foul. Just bugsplat!” To use the same reasoning, a suicide bomber who blows up a building in which an Israeli general resides with his adorable family is not responsible for the “collateral damage” it causes. The attack is not “specifically directed against civilians, where they live, shop, learn, and play,” but at the general, where he lives (at least, according to actionable intelligence), and from which place he emerges to direct the firing of missiles into densely populated civilian areas from super-sophisticated American-supplied F-16s. As Tony Benn once said,”There is no moral difference between a Stealth Bomber and a Suicide Bomber, they both kill civilians for a political purpose.”

    “The war was about survival and defensible borders.” No, it was about appropriating resources and territorial expansion by force. It was also about proving its usefulness as a “cop on the beat” to the real Goliath, the United States. So far, the US has been an extremely reliable Don. But it would be easy to re-frame the propaganda should it ever suit the propagandists in DC. “Israeli brutality and intransigence is endangering the lives of American troops. We supply the money and the weapons. The least they could do is stop getting our boys and girls killed.” Stir twice, and repeat every time someone says Israel has the right to defend itself.

    • Carl56: Not sure if you are making serious arguments here or simply like to vent. In case you are, here are some quick reactions.

      Argument by labels. “State terrorism,” “unlawful occupation” – your proof is contained in your assumptions. You seem to think that you can talk about morality without talking about consequences – you can’t. (I know about natural rights and all that – it doesn’t work –

      Is Hamas involved in state-sponsored terrorism? What should Israeli’s do? Should they summon private militias?

      Israel is the case of neither the Stealth Bomber nor the Suicide Bomber. One can oppose American foreign policy and still understand the idea of self-defense. And yes the attack is absolutely specifically “directed against civilians, where they live, shop, learn, and play,” – that is the whole point – to disrupt the functioning of Israeli civil society. They count their successes by the number of Israelis killed regardless of who they are – actually killing civilians is preferred, it achieves the aim of producing fear/terror more surely than killing soldiers.

      “No, it was about appropriating resources and territorial expansion by force.” Can you prove this? How do you know it was not about self-defense? What evidence and reasoning are you using?

  • Don Kirk

    In contrast to the Libertarian argument, a freedomist would argue that the Israeli/Jewish and Arab/Muslim conflict is of such 1,400 year antipathy that its only pragmatic resolution is for Israelis to re-visit Herzl’s ultimate decision to locate the new Israel state smack in the middle of unremitting hate. Three generations have been born since Israel was created and the killing still goes on. Demographically, between 2097-2098–in just over another three generations and regardless of its borders– Israel again becomes majority Arab Muslim. At the beginning of the 22C, the country will no longer be called “Israel,” the flag will no longer be the Shield of David, and all of Herzl’s Zionism comes to naught.
    What do Israelis want? Move again to form a free and open Jewish democracy, perhaps along the 49th parallel in North America, or stay in the Middle East and return to dhimmitude in their ancient land? Why continue killing now, so long as the present State of Israel will not survive the end of this century?

  • anon

    There is a proposal for a solution: it is called the one state solution, wherecurrent israel, the west bank and the gaza strip would form one country with equal citizenship rights for all citizens irrespective of religion.

    Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return or be compensated, just like arab jews who were expelled from arab countries would be allowed to return or be compensated.

    Some might say that israel cannot handle a large influx of palestinian immigrants which is specious since any jew can move to israel and the qiestion is never brought up.

    I still dont understand how some libertarians claim they dont see groups only individuals except when it comes to palestinian individuals. Then they are seen as generic arabs who should pay for the crimes of other arab governments or organizations and their property rights confiscated by israel does not amount to much.

    How do the libertarians on this forum view the one state solution?


      What a great idea! A majority Muslim state would certainly respect the rights and liberties of Christians, Jews, Atheists, and all others. I suggest you try your idea out. Get yourself dressed up in the garb of a Hassidic Jew and stand on a public street in Gaza or the West Bank for (say) one hour, and then come back to us and report how things went for you. Good luck!!

      • anon

        So you’re so saying that Muslims are not capable of tolerance, liberalism or coexistence? Really? Please explain to us how much of a libertarian are you while making all sorts of demeaning generalizations about others? There’s probably as many bigots and progressives among jews or any other group as there is among muslims. And anyways if you care about the individuals and not about groups why should it matter what the persons religion is?

        • Sean II

          You’re mistaken, anon. The very notion that bigtory is a bad thing happens to be an extremely recent development in world-historical terms. Most of the people who ever walked on this planet lived their whole lives in the unshakable belief that theirs was the only fully human race, theirs was the only true religion, their the only sensible political system, theirs the only sane code of morality, theirs the only decent set of customs, etc.

          It is uniquely libertarian (or classically liberal) to even think otherwise. There are way more classically liberal Jews than there are Arabs. And yes, that means there are undoubtedly fewer Jewish bigots than Arab ones.

          Modern Jews experience bigotry as a vice, a guilty impulse, something shameful leftover from a past they are actively working to shed. For hundreds of millions of Arabs, who still live in a pre-liberal past, bigotry is simply a given, and they’re not even trying to get past it.


          I am a libertarian who lives in this real, very imperfect world, not on Fantasy Island. I made an empirical observation dressed up as a thought experiment. I never said or implied that: “Muslims are not capable of tolerance, liberalism or coexistence.” In fact, I am sure that statement is false. Many Muslims are now capable of these things, and in the future hopefully many more. But here and now my thought experiment holds true. There are very few damn places in the Muslim world where you could go dressed as an orthodox Jew, or where two men could publically display affection towards each other, or publically advocate for atheism. Do you deny this fact? This is why a one-state solution is a very bad joke.

          • anon

            In your thought experiment, if the hassidic Jew gets attacked hypothetically (no civilian should be attacked and nothing would justify it) but how do you know that he’s attacked because he’s a Jew or because he’s seen as a colonizing settler. Besides there are Israelis and/or Jews who work in gaza with charity organizations and NGOs toys provide help and to document the injustices committed by Israel and they are not attacked.

            Anyways in the imperfect reality of things, some Israelis are as racist towards Palestinians as the other way around (what if a Palestinian with a checkered scarf tries to go through a checkpoint or the israelis that try to prevent marriage to arabs) and some jews are as homophobic as some muslims but how come that’s an imperfect reality you tolerate?

          • Sean II

            Anon, you’re still rather infuriatingly getting the numbers wrong. It is misleading in the extreme to say that “some Jews are racists, some Palestinians are racist” as if we had no way of guessing at the relative quantity of each.

            Anti-racism, the way you and I think of it, does not even exist as an idea among Palestinian Arabs, or any other group of middle eastern Arabs today. There are individual exceptions of course, but that’s all they are: exceptions to a very widespread rule. By contrast, in Israel there is a prominent, perhaps even a dominant strain of post-medieval secular liberalism running through the culture of the people.

            As I said before, you don’t get to have the concept of anti-racism UNTIL you’ve crossed the threshold into modernity. In Gaza, the cell phones and the rockets are modern, but the mentality certainly is not.

            Of course its shocking and ugly to hear (a tiny minority of) Israelis calling for their air force to bomb Gaza “back into the middle ages”. But the saddest part is…culturally speaking, Gaza is already there.

          • anon

            We do have a way of guessing the relative quantity of each. It just doesn’t seems to agree with your opinion of Israeli lack of racism:

          • Sean II

            I notice you can’t provide a comparison sample from the other side of the armistice line. Any idea why that might be?

            Also, it says a lot that you think racism can be measured by asking people in an opinion poll if they’d “feel uncomfortable sitting next to X on a airplane”, etc. You seem to be operating from that oh-so-1990s definition, which defines racism as a category of incorrect thought and speech, a simple matter of having or lacking the right opinions.

            If you define racism to include people’s actions and not just their words, I promise the result will blow your mind – not just in terms of the middle east conflict, but everywhere else as well.

      • homingpigeon

        Actually, Mark, thanks to the public anti-Zionist displays of the Natorei Karta people in the garb of Hasidic Jews will be quite safe. Believe me no one in the Arab world objects to garb. They object to the daily stealing of real estate. It happened yesterday, is happening today, and will happen tomorrow. Zionist denial of this fact makes them a threat to themselves and to others.

  • mlee952

    Why do you assume that the funding will not be cut simultaneously? That makes your essay a “strawman” argument. Otherwise, you start with a perfectly reasonable Libertarian – that US foreign policy is seriously flawed and should be cut. That’s a good place to stop. Instead, you want to compare Israel to Muslim countries and the essay devolves into “Who is better: Israel or Palestine?” The Libertarian answer is “It is not important – Eliminate the foreign aid.”

  • Baruch

    Good article Pete, notwithstanding my having to read it up to 3 times to digest its intensity.


    I offer the following multiple choice exam for those critical of Israel generally or with respect to the most recent hostilities in Gaza:

    Israel has an incentive to fight unjust wars of aggression because:

    (a) Most Israelis look over the border at the West Bank and Gaza and become insanely jealous of the modern, prosperous, liberal and culturally vital society that the Palistinians have built, particularly when compared to their own poor, primative, culturally backward and politically repressed society.
    (b) After having given the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt in 1979 in exchange for “peace” and unilaterally withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel has changed course and wishes to conquer new lands so that they can eventually give these back to, as they tried at Camp David in 2000.
    (c) There is something in the Jewish religion or in Jewish culture generally (since most Israelis are not terribly observant in their religion) that commands the Jews to go out and conquer a whole bunch of stuff.
    (d) The Technion, Hebrew University, and several other world-class universities are closed during certain times, and the students and faculty are bored, and start wars to fill out their schedule.
    (e) none of the above.

    Now, lets set up a similar multiple-choice question for the Palistinians and their sponsors, collaborators, benfactors in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc.

  • good_in_theory

    What might want to view any such comparison with some metric of habitability, like population density, especially within the context of the Arab world:

  • ramblingperfectionist

    Quick, where did you guys think this jumped the shark? Personally, it was “UNRWA has evolved into a Palestinian controlled, terrorist
    sponsoring, paramilitary organization that is also an all-encompassing
    welfare-state perpetuating refugeeism.” that did it for me.

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  • There are a large number of peoples who could be regarded as being under occupation: The Native Americans, the Maoris of New Zealand, the aborigines of Australia, the Copts of Egypt, the Berbers in northwest Africa. Yet, world opinion only seems to be concerned with Israel’s behavior in this regard.

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