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“The Moral Case for Supporting Israel”

  “The Moral Case for Supporting Israel”  by Yaron Brook.

The Ayn Rand Institute’s Yaron Brook has given this lecture many times all across America. After the April 17, 2002 lecture at the University of California at Los Angeles he was interviewed by a reporter from The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Her account, “Israel Morals Match Rand Ideology,” appeared in the May 10 issue and ARI’s website once linked to it approvingly.

In his lecture Mr. Brook compares the country Israel with the character Howard Roark in Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. The Jewish Journal reporter, Orit Arfa, begins her article on that note:

“Israel and Howard Roark ... may have a lot in common. Sound far-fetched? Not according to the Ayn Rand Institute, which ever since Sept. 11 has undertaken significant efforts to morally defend Israel.”
Set aside for a moment what Howard Roark might have in common with Israel. Focus on this: The U.S. gets attacked and ARI’s response is to defend ... Israel ?  There is a gap between the event and ARI’s response to it that needs filling in. The reporter quotes Mr. Brook:
“Israel represents the core values that the Institute is fighting for – freedom and individual rights. We believe that you have to care about Israel if you care about Western values.”
Certainly freedom, individual rights and Western values in your own country are worth your fighting for. In a foreign country they are worth your rooting for, perhaps even supporting. But does Israel represent freedom and individual rights? In fact Israel is very statist, far more statist than any country in Europe. One indication is that only 6.5% of the land in Israel is privately owned.

Perhaps Mr. Brook meant to make a comparison, that in some respects Israel is better than the countries directly surrounding it. But that no more makes Israel represent freedom than black by contrast makes gray white, and Israel is a very dark gray indeed. If Israel represents the core values ARI is fighting for one should think twice about supporting their fight.

The reporter again:

“Through lectures at university campuses across the United States, television and radio interviews, editorials and now a newsletter on their Web site, the Ayn Rand Institute seeks to influence public opinion, and particularly American policy, toward unequivocally siding with Israel.”
Unequivocally is the right word.  ARI, though originally set up to promote Rand’s philosophy, after 9-11 (and Mr. Brook’s appointment as executive director earlier that year) began publishing article after article in support of Israel. Here is a sample from dozens of titles:

  • We Are All Israelis Now
  • Allowing Israel to Destroy the PLO Helps Defend the U.S.
  • We Are Either With Israel, Or We Are With the Terrorists
  • Israel’s Enemies Are America’s Enemies
  • Why Israel Must Not Withdraw
  • The Palestinian Victims?
  • Israel Has a Moral Right to Its Life

    But all is not well in Israel, for the reporter continues:

    “The Institute views Israel as a battleground of ideas, where the battle is between two value systems: reason, individualism and self-interest versus mysticism, collectivism and self-sacrifice, respectively. This is not unlike the battle illustrated by the story of Roark, who was constantly [in the story] denounced by contemporary intellectuals, the media and other architects for acting in his own self-interest and according to his independent reasoning.”
    Mr. Brook began the interview by comparing Israel to Roark. Now he compares Israel to the entire Fountainhead novel, with all its characters and their clashing values. Only the better part of Israel is Roark.

    Mr. Brook explains (his grammar leaks a bit): “Average Israeli citizens are much less morally assured as they were years ago, because what they’re being taught in schools is post-modern, post-Zionist revisionist.” What that agglomeration of words means the article does not say. But knowing that ARI generally supports the Likud party, elected by Israelis year after year, helps clarify his point. The militancy of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the earlier and now current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is Mr. Brook’s idea of “reason, individualism and self-interest.” Anything opposing it is “mysticism, collectivism and self-sacrifice.”

    Ayn Rand’s words turned into cant.

    Mr. Brook believes the Likudniks are the better part of Israel, the Roark part, and all of Israel ought to be that way.

    “What Israel needs to be is Howard Roark. Roark did what he needed to do to preserve his self-integrity.”

    Mr. Brook’s comparison of Israel with Howard Roark is an outrage against The Fountainhead. Roark dealt with people productively and honestly, Israel is an ungrateful and deceitful mendicant. And though I’m no defender of the worst aspects of Palestinian culture, Israel treats Palestinians horribly. Challenged about this treatment during the question period of another talk concerning the Middle East (“The World in Crisis” at UCLA May 13, 2002, broadcast on C-Span), Mr. Brook’s only response was to shout:  “Propaganda!  Propaganda!”

    Earlier in the article we read:

    Mr. Brook “believes that the anti-Israel sentiment across the world” stems from “the ideas espoused by modern intelligentsia, who embrace, what Rand liked to call, the ethical code of ‘altruism.’ ”
    Now quoting Mr. Brook:
    “... the biggest sin of altruism is acting in self-interest. The weak and suffering, who must not have acted out of self-interest, are virtuous. Israel, by being strong and successful, must be the villain.”
    In fact Israel is neither strong nor successful, it too must be counted among the weak, the weak who sacrifice others to themselves. Israel appears strong only because an unacknowledged crutch props it up: billions of dollars each year furnished it by the United States, now totaling well over five times the cost of the Apollo space program. Nor does Israel act in its self-interest, not in Ayn Rand’s sense of the term, rather it sacrifices the U.S. to itself.

    That Israel is in any way better than the countries around it doesn’t make it better than it is. Israel can be criticized, not for being good, or even relatively good compared to some low standard of the area, but because Israel behaves badly by Western standards.

    Mr. Brook’s April 17, 2002 talk was a sly attempt to press Ayn Rand’s legendary arch-individualist into the service of a foreign country almost his exact opposite.

    A month later ARI, the C-Span television network, and AT&T hosted a five-day event dedicated to Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead. Yet what ought to have been a celebration of Ayn Rand  ARI at times turned into a forum for praising Israel.

    During a panel discussion, broadcast on television, Harry Binswanger said bluntly:

    “Israel is Howard Roark!”
    and looked at the audience as if thinking he had made a profound observation. On hearing about this a witty acquaintance commented:  I’ve met Roark, and Israel is no Roark.

    The people at ARI steal an authentic value created by Ayn Rand and twist it into supporting an agenda of their own.