The Israeli Libertarians

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A small
movement for freedom begins in one of the most statist countries
on the planet.

With Tea Parties
all around us, President Obama’s approval at all-time lows
and dissatisfaction with government seemingly ubiquitous, you might
wonder if this kind of discontent is happening in other countries.

In Israel,
one of the world’s longest-lasting bastions of socialism and
concentrated state power, the flower of liberty has not yet started
to bloom, but seeds are afoot. Boris Karpa, a graduate student of
history at Tel Aviv University, is spearheading a libertarian uprising.
His Israeli freedom blog is at www.libertarian.org.il.
Karpa agreed to an exclusive interview with the Weekly.

What is
the history of libertarianism in Israel?

In general,
libertarianism and market liberalism are not a big part of Israel’s
history. Aside from an abortive anti-tax party in the 1970s and
similar such marginal attempts, there’s precious few libertarian
activists in this country. There are several think tanks, however,
that do great work promoting libertarian ideas, especially libertarian
economics, through seminars, press releases and so forth. I must
especially commend the Jerusalem
Institute of Market Studies
, who focus on the promotion of Austrian
economic thought.

Why is it
do you think that Jews and libertarianism don’t get along?
I would have thought the pair would be a perfect match, with the
shared focus on law and justice and freedom. Next week is Passover,
the Jewish festival celebrating their exodus from slavery, one of
the most libertarian holidays anywhere.

I think that
the main issue is that, when you look back to the history of zionism,
it didn’t grow up in a vacuum. Zionism was inspired greatly
by the nationalist movements of Europe, and these movements were
very influenced by socialism and collectivism. So the principal
idea of classical zionism, which is what the dominant strain of
zionism was called, was that the Jewish state must be socialist
in some way. And that the capitalist, bourgeois life of European
Jews – who as you know often tended to work as attorneys and
engineers and white-collar bourgeois types – was a form of
moral corruption. Therefore, the zionists felt they had to focus
on creating something they called “The New Jew.” We’re
talking about the leading faction of zionists here, the people who
later held power in Israel for its first few decades. And so the
New Jew had to be re-accustomed to manual labor. That’s part
of why the Kibbutzim were created. The idea was to take this stereotypical
Jewish attorney and make him into a hard-working farmer – a
socialist, hard-working farmer.

That’s
disgusting. I never realized that.

And of course
they realized not everybody could be farmers. But the thing you
need to understand about early Israel is that it was led by very
statist people.

This might
be a difference between our countries. Americans are at heart very
libertarian. They deeply believe in freedom and distrust government.
Do you feel Israelis, at heart, are also freedom-loving people or
do you feel Israelis are really and truly statist, meaning your
road is much harder than ours?

I think our
job would be harder, to some extent, than yours is, because Americans
can fall back on the inspiration of people like Thomas Jefferson,
who were not libertarians, perhaps, but who were anti-statist and
understood the dangers of an out-of-control government. For us,
these founder figures we look up to are people like Ben Gurion.
But I think the average Israeli realizes at some level how high
the taxes are, how crazy the bureaucracy is, that he’s lost
freedoms and money to the ever-growing state.

But there
are far older heroes for Jews. Do you think there are libertarians
in the Old Testament? Who is the most libertarian?

Samuel, definitely
Samuel, he’s the most libertarian guy. … [I]f you recall,
originally, the Jews had no king. Their religious life was administered
by the priests who also led them in battle, and some form of wise
men they respected served as judges locally. The only police we
have in the Bible are fellows who enforced order on the temple grounds.
But at a certain point, the Jews decide that they want a king. And
if the Bible is to be believed, Samuel gives a long speech warning
them about all the evils a king can do – about the king taking
a tenth of their income in taxes and drafting their sons to ride
his chariots and his daughters to be his slavegirls. He goes on
and on in this vein. You know, when the Israeli Center for Social
and Economic Progress printed Milton Friedman’s Free
to Choose
in Hebrew, they printed Samuel’s speech on
the front page.

What is
the biggest problem in Israel? What argument for liberty resonates
the most with people?

I think the
main problem in Israel is the bureaucracy. You see, government in
Israel operates in a vastly different principle from American government.
The U.S. has several levels of legislature, and when they want to
make a new law, they pass a bill of 1,500 pages because they want
to leave as little as possible to the bureaucrats. Here we have
one legislature and some city councils that are virtually powerless.
And the legislature passes a bill of 20 pages which creates bureaucrats,
and they create regulations as they see fit. And so there’s
an enormous army of bureaucrats in every level of government making
rules and determinations and licenses, which every citizen must
contend with if they want to do something.

Well, we
also have tons of agencies, like the SEC, FDA, EPA, etc., who create
their own rules, but you’re saying there’s something even
more?

Absolutely.
Because the rules are made by appointees. For example, we have the
Beach Protection Council.

Sounds sexy.

If you want
to have a new development on a beach, then after going through all
the regular planning hoops, you must also get the council’s
approval. And because their job, as they see it, is to protect beaches
from those nasty developers. … Bottom line, the council measures
its success in how many applications it denied. … Another example:
The government made motor racing legal several years ago. But they
made it conditional on a committee making up some safety regulations
and so forth. And because the committee is still working on it,
we still can’t have motor sports in this country. Can you imagine
what would happen if Congress banned NASCAR?

This article
originally appeared in the New
Haven Advocate
.

March
24, 2010

Dr. Phil
Maymin [send him mail] is an
Assistant Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering at the Polytechnic
Institute of New York University. He is the author of Free
Your Inner Yankee

and Yankee
Wake Up
.

The
Best of Phil Maymin

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