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Libertarians and Israel

6 Mar

Philosophically, libertarianism is something of a Jewish creation.  Though classical liberalism may have been created by Bastiat, Montesquieu, John Locke, Adam Smith, Madame Germaine de Stael, John Stuart Mill, de Tocqueville, Herbert Spencer – but also Baruch Spinoza and Moses Mendelsohn – the founding fathers and mothers of libertarianism are Jewish, at least incidentally: Milton Friedman, Ludwig Von Mises, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard.  Except for James Buchanan and Fredrick Hayek, the first tier of libertarian writers are all Jewish.  The second and third tiers are mainly Gentiles – Walter Williams, Mario Rizzo, Lawrence White, Peter Leeson, Sudha Shenoy, Henry Hazlitt, Jerome Tuccille, Martin Anderson, Tyler Cowan, Rose Wilder Lane, H.L. Mencken, Isabel Patterson, David Boaz, Dierdre McCloskey,  Thomas Sowell, Tom Palmer, Radley Balko, Voltarine de Cleyre, though even there a Jewish or a half-Jewish writer (David Friedman, Bryan Caplan, Jane Jacobs, Brian Doherty, Walter Block) pops up.

So it’s interesting that some libertarians and some of their critics keep trying to tie libertarianism to opposition to Israel, and in the case of their critics, anti-Semitism.  Of course, as former Rand Paul ghostwriter Jack Hunter reminds us, Congressman Ron Paul was one of the lone voices to defend Israel’s right to defend itself against an Iranian nuclear threat back in 1981.

My friend James Kirchik, a former New Republic writer, did this, in part spurred on by his discovery of the much debated “Ron Paul newsletters,” paying attention to how, when Ron Paul was a lone voice in the wilderness with few friends or followers, he was a bit promiscuous in terms of whom he would associate with.  As I’ve pointed out before I don’t think this bad judgement makes him anti-Semitic anymore than his going to a hotel room with Sacha Baron Cohen’s flamingly gay, fake Austrian TV interviewer, Bruno, makes him gay – or anti-gay.  He just has insufficient sense when it comes to hanging out with the wrong people.  It may be what motivates the anti-libertarian animus of former TNR writer Jonathan Chait, though a general obtuseness is more likely.  (Anti-Israel animus bleeding over into anti-Semitism is hardly confined to one part of the political universe; I remember being at a Human Rights Campaign fund event where a very politically active lesbian businesswoman campaigning for John Edwards told me she wished someone would just nuke Israel, since it was a tripwire for war and just complicated all of her Democratic Party political dealings.)

It’s surfaced again over at The Washington Free Beacon, which thinks Senator Rand Paul didn’t smile enough at BiBi Netanyahu’s speech, though Paul seems to have met Prime Minister Netanyahu before and shared a cordial handshake.  Over at reason, Chicago journalist Stephen Chapman says the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that Netanyahu can’t insist on a perfect disarming of the Tehran theocracy because then you will get nothing, so we must accept Obama’s mysterious black box deal.  But there are many untried Iranian policies.  What if the NSA had spent some of its resources not spying on Americans or Germans (none of which seems to prevent any murderous attacks in Europe like that at the Charlie Hebdo offices), but instead punching a hole in the cyber Iron Curtain that prevents Iranian dissidents from communicating, learning about the outside world, or having a Persian Spring?  Also, as one conservative blogger has pointed out, the criticism of Netanyahu never includes that he said anything false.

My friend, Jon Basil Utley, the publisher of The American Conservative, a paleoconservative magazine, well written and edited, with libertarian leanings, has just published a critique of the Netanyahu speech, which he has been promoting around town at conservative meetings for the past couple of days.  I’ll let you read it on your own (link at Mr. Utley’s name), but I remain unpersuaded for two major reasons and one minor one.  First, Israel is clearly more pro-liberty than any of its neighbors, and becoming more so.  Second, some of the opposition to the Netanyahu speech depends on believing that the Obama administration can be trusted in his secret dealings with Iran, a crazy and unfounded belief given everything else President Obama has done. Third, I think Governor Gary Johnson may be correct in that as we try to cut the American military empire, close bases, and shrink the defense budget, that may be easier done if we have some allies with whom we have a division of labor and exchange among defense forces in intelligence and defense provision, and Israel is such an ally.

Utley wants to paint Israel supporters as older Jews, crazed fundamentalists praying for the End Times, and greedy defense contractors.  I’m an atheist (or an apatheist) and a libertarian, even a radical libertarian. My only military employment has been working part time at a DoD library when in grad school and selling a few properties as a realtor to an Army captain. I think the anti-Israel animus is both morally wrong and even more rhetorically, strategically, and tactically wrong.

Libertarians believe in freedom of movement. Jews have just as much (indeed, at least as much) right to move to Israel – both European Jews and the overlooked Sephardic Jews (over 40% of the Israeli populace) who fled Jordan, Syria etc. where they were oppressed – as Mexicans or Irish do to move to the U.S. I’m sure in moving to Israel some Jewish Israelis violated property and other rights of some non-Jews in the area (as almost every population on earth has done, including in recent times). But that is both correctable judicially and also not as major a fact as that even if all the Jews who moved to Israel had the most pristine Lew Rockwellian politics, even if Theodore Herzl had been a Rothbardian, and early Zionists had founded Israel as an Essenic anarchocapitalist Eden, Islamic theocrats would still be trying to kill them just as they are now.  (They weren’t all friendly to their own Sephardic Jews before Zionism existed, nor were they all peaceable with Zionist immigrants before Israel was a state again.)

Israel is the only place that affords relative freedom to gays, women, Christians and other religions, and even Moslem Arabs in the Middle East. I don’t favor tax funding of foreign states, but it is the last place I would cut off. And as with the Kurds and Ukranians, I would also legalize private armament sales and donations to them.