I have always believed the true purpose of a book is not to convince individuals who agree or disagree with your argument but to advance the discourse in new directions that the author did not have time to cover or never considered, and doing it with style, class, and academic rigor. If the author is lucky, sometimes everything can be achieved. This applies to The Classical Liberal Case for Israel, a book by renowned anarcho-capitalist Walter Block and independent scholar Alan Futerman. This book was published in 2021, and in light of current world events, I feel the book’s message is more relevant than ever.
Frequently, there are severe disagreements among practitioners who espouse the same ideology. For example, the history of Marxism is plagued with conflict and infighting, and the same can be said for Libertarianism. While an anarcho-capitalist opposes the State and seeks to privatize any useful service the government presently provides, a classical liberal will uphold the Hobbesian notion that individuals created government to protect themselves from each other and minimize conflicts between individuals that would otherwise arise in a state of nature. On the other hand, the nonaggression principle and property rights are commonalities between all types of Libertarianism.
Many modern-day libertarians vehemently disagree with Block and Futerman’s libertarian case used to defend the nation of Israel because property rights can be owned only by individuals and groups, not states. Nevertheless, Block and Futerman assert that whether we compare governments, nations, or individuals, Israel has a better case for property rights than Palestine in the contested area of Israel. Block and Futerman’s primary concern is dismantling the argument of a libertarian legend, the venerable Murray Rothbard, who mentored Walter Block. I want to set the stage before I proceed to illustrate Block and Futerman’s argument. I feel some background not contained in the book is for nonreaders not well-versed in Libertarianism or the history of Israel; thus, a foreword with the information I am about to convey would have been advisable. It can be confusing for libertarians when anarcho-capitalists like Block and Futerman, whose ideology is based on individual rights and the idea that the nefarious State, the worst feature of any society in every historical and theoretic anarcho-capitalist analysis, choose to justify and defend the existence of a state and the nation of Israel with a libertarian analysis. Block and Futerman can defend Israel from a libertarian perspective because they wisely argue as classical liberals rather than anarcho-capitalists. Despite the protestations of Rothbardian-inspired anarcho-capitalists, who continue to live in Fantasyland, the world has always been and will always be comprised of states and governments. Israel is a state, and while Palestine is a nonstate region, it is a proxy for other states like Iran and has received financial support from Qatar. As I illustrated earlier, classical liberalism is a plan of political action to limit the State’s power but accept its existence and consider the State a necessary evil.
Socialism was successful in Israel’s early history. A key player in the socialization of Israel was the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labor, subscribers to the socialist dogma that capital exploits labor, and the only way this could be rectified was to grant control of the means of production to the State.
The Histadrut gained control of nearly every economic and social sector, including the kibbutzim, housing, transportation, banks, social welfare, health care, and education. Israel’s homogenous population initially drew up centralized plans to convert the desert into green pastures and build efficient state-run companies. The kibbutzim were farming communities in which people did chores in exchange for food and money for sustenance. No private property existed, and children under 10 lived together and not with their parents. Any money earned on the outside was given to the kibbutz. Socialist principles worked for a time, but in 1965, Israel suffered its first significant recession. The 1973 war and its economic impacts reinforced the feelings of many Israelis that the Labor Party’s socialist model could not handle Israel’s growing financial challenges. The 1977 elections resulted in the victory of the Likud party and its pro-free-market solid philosophy. The impact of the shift in economic policy was immediate. The Israeli economy was opened to imports, and Israel became a major player in the high-tech revolution, leading to a 600 percent increase in investment in Israel. Israel’s political parties agreed there was no turning back to the economic policies of the early years, and it was apparent that one of the world’s most successful experiments in socialism appears to have resolutely embraced capitalism. Libertarianism is on the rise in Israel, and the Kohelet Forum, the Tikvah Fund, the Israel Conservative public policy movement, the Ayn Rand Center Israel, the Mida public policy website, and the Israel Law and Liberty Forum directly or indirectly criticize liberal democratic public policy institutions and progressive government policies. As an advocate of a capitalist economic system, a classical liberal, a Milton Friedman devotee, and somewhat of a philosemite, I see this as a promising development, and so should most libertarians. As you will find out, this is hardly the case as my review unfolds.
In my analysis of Block and Futerman’s Classical Liberal Case for Israel, I have tried to be objective but do not claim to be detached. No political philosopher can be detached; he can only pretend to be. I write this book review in some part as a political philosopher, which means as one who is seeking political orientation with his readers. Accordingly, I shall try to be explicit about my political and moral judgments. As a somewhat philosemic conservative with libertarian leanings, my worldview has primarily been shaped by William F. Buckley, who embraced anti-communism, capitalism, and cultural traditionalism. The protagonists of the book are Walter Block and Alan Futerman. While most antistatist libertarians refrain from taking sides in war and strive for neutrality, Block and Futerman stand with Israel, not only because they believe the prospect of Israel built on libertarian principles outweighs the confines of their anarcho-capitalism and the idea that statism is the root cause of every conflict ideology but also because their detractors feel the opposite, and aren’t interested in nascent Libertarianism in Israel, and have taken the side of Palestine in the war between Israel and Hamas. The argument put forth by Block and Futerman is straightforward. The Land of Israel, the most liberal State in the Middle East, was “built up and developed by Jews who were unjustifiably expelled from their homeland thousands of years ago and are now back to reclaim their lost property and add to it by building and developing otherwise virgin land.” The Lockean theory of natural rights states that the outcome should be recognized as his property whenever man acts on virgin resources or produces value by mixing labor with the resource. Thus, homesteading, production, and trade are the basis of legitimate ownership. Block and Futerman assert that some modern-day Jews are both culturally and physically descended from people who homesteaded land in Palestine (Judea) during the Roman period 2000 years ago and were murdered and expelled from their lands after rebelling against the Roman Empire. These modern Jews lay claim to these previously homesteaded lands, and evidence of that previous homesteading still exists today, according to classical liberal and libertarian law, that previously homesteaded land belongs to the Jews who initially worked that land.
Moreover, 7 to 10 percent of pre-1948 Palestine land was legitimately owned by Jews, purchased by them from willing owners, a claim that even the rabid anti-Zionists do not dispute. It follows that Jews would retain the right to set up a state on that limited territory and, if attacked, expand the territory in defensive action. Block and Futerman also assert that Israel has been in many wars since 1948, and in every instance, Palestine started the wars, but Israel emerged victorious. As a result, Israel took possession of lands once controlled by Palestine that used to be Arab territories, such as the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Judea, and Samaria.
Possession is nine-tenths of the law; thus, Israel is presumed to be the rightful owner. The burden of proof resides with Palestine to make a case for land transfer, and Block and Futerman assert that Palestinians have been ineffective in attempting to do so.
The antagonist of this book is anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard. Rothbard blames Israel for the Six-Day War and says that the entire State of Israel is illegitimate, a state built on “massive land theft and expropriations from Arabs, along with their subsequent expulsion.” Block and Futerman claim that these fundamental myths are the linchpin of anti-Zionist propaganda. Anti-Zionists assert that Israel was created based on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs via a systematic premeditated plan. For the anti-Zionists, the problem is not Israel’s size but whether Israel should exist at all. Israel’s “occupation” of Judea and Samaria, which anti-Zionists call the West Bank, is the source of war in the entire Middle East. Moreover, anti-Zionists claim that Israel is the representative of United States Imperialism in the Middle East.
Earlier, I asserted that sometimes, the latent function of reading a book is to advance the discourse into areas not covered by the author. I wondered why so many libertarians harbored anti-Israel sentiments and why Block has had so much trouble convincing fellow libertarians that they did not have to choose between Libertarianism and support for Israel.
American Holocaust denial is perhaps the most reprehensible tool of the anti-Zionists, and it grew from political circumstances unique to the United States, specifically the Old Right’s concomitant commitment to isolationism and rejection of both Roosevelt’s New Deal and America’s entry into World War II. The history of holocaust denial in the United States showed that self-proclaimed libertarians like Rothbard worked closely with antisemitic writers like Willis Carto in developing an isolationist account of World War II. America was firmly against getting involved in World War II. Roosevelt desperately wanted to save his faltering New Deal and either allowed or planned the attack on Pearl Harbor to involve the country in the European war. Nazi atrocities, revisionists claimed, were equaled by Allied atrocities. From this false equivalency, it was but a short step to the denial of the Nazi genocide. Members of this revisionist collaborative circle held the same values but in a reversed hierarchy. The anti-Semites wanted to prove Jewish lies about genocide and were willing to tolerate the presence of the anti-interventionist right to do so.
In contrast, the anti-interventionist right wanted to promote American isolationism and were willing to accept anti-Semitism to do so. In this way, the collaborative circle of writers who nurtured the American Holocaust denial played contrapuntal themes. Rather than spreading libertarian ideas throughout Europe, the collaborative circle that Murray Rothbard was a part of, formed by revisionists, anti-Semites, libertarians, and even mainstream conservatives, created a foundation for the explosion of Holocaust denial onto the world stage. I convey this story because it is happening again. Unlike Walter Block and Alan Futerman, modern-day libertarians have chosen to delegitimize Israel at the expense of promoting Libertarianism there. To get out the message that statism is the root cause behind the Israel-Hamas war, they are willing to rationalize, if not condone, the actions of Hamas. Mainstream media popularizes the idea that the resurgence of anti-Semitism is the result of right-wing extremists, neo-Nazis, and QAnon supporters who act at the behest of Donald Trump. These types, while reprehensible, are nothing more than scapegoats, patsies in the Lee Harvey Oswald tradition, wield little power in American society, and pose no organized severe threat to Israel.
On the other hand, the real anti-Semitism and danger to Israel is the alliance between mainstream media, corporate America, academia, and activist groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. Block views the BDS movement as a recycled anti-Zionist strategy, a continuation of the Arab and anti-Jewish boycotts of the 1920s and 1930s and the subsequent Arab- League Boycott. As I pointed out in an opinion piece published by Merion West, shortly after the attack on Israel on October 7, BLM praised Hamas and stood in solidarity with its Palestinian “family,” who is currently resisting what BLM asserts is 57 years of settler colonialism and apartheid. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to end international support for Israel and what they claim is Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, Israeli apartheid, and the genocide of the Palestinians by the Nation of Israel. The ideas of BLM and BDS are embedded in our institutions and have tremendous influence. While left-wing mainstream media, academics, and journalists are getting individuals concerned with anti-Semitism to shift their focus on a group of skinheads with swastika tattoos at a random rally or an angry parent speaking out at a school board meeting, the ideas these so-called legitimate organizations promote are helping to demonize and delegitimize Israel on the world stage. You do not have to possess an advanced college degree to see precisely what is happening here; given the sentiments from institutions like Columbia and Stanford, a modern-day education may impede fully understanding what is at stake. A complete reversal of history is underway right before our eyes. As my MW colleague Henry George illustrates, there is “moral inversion.”..Palestine is reactive, and Israel is the aggressor.” The modern-day libertarians who refuse to find common ground with Block and Futerman are not much better than the clueless cretins behind BDS. They continue in the Rothbardian tradition of demonizing Israel, which has led to excusing barbarism. In their view, the focus is not on Hamas’ brutal attacks but on Israel’s disproportionate response. The moral relativism they exhibit is astounding as they throw out the libertarian baby with the bathwater.
Moreover, as far as they are concerned, there is no difference between what Israel does, like bombing cities full of civilians, and what Hamas does. The former is just legalized state terrorism, and the latter is simply a justified response by a group carried out by an enemy of the State. In Towards a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change, Murray Rothbard tried to find common ground with the Marxist-Leninists. Rothbard asserted that Marxists, like libertarians, identify certain majority classes of society as oppressed by other minority classes. Both groups implicitly adopt the Humean view of the State, namely, that its continued rule rests on majority support. Both groups also seek to “desanctify” the State. Of course, there was never an alliance because the groups could not agree on who was being exploited and who was doing the exploiting.
Marxists wished to eliminate the existing feudal “capitalist” State and replace it with a dictatorship of the proletariat. Libertarians wanted to desanctify and eliminate the entire State itself. If Rothbard could try to find common ground with Marxists, the same could happen between Walter Block, Alan Futerman, and libertarians like Saifedean Ammous and Michael Rectenwald, who disagree with his argument for Israel. Land ownership has always been a critical issue in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The specific problem of Palestinian’s private property rights is not discussed in great detail by Block and Futerman, and the argument they make for Israel can also be used by those who side with Palestine. Because private property was taken from individuals, a successful settlement must involve individuals. Thus, a classical liberal case for peace between Israel and Palestine can be made if libertarians of all types, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, can find common ground. Palestinians want Israel to acknowledge and recognize their share of guilt in creating the refugee problem and to acknowledge a political and moral, if not actual, right to return. Palestinians also want individual compensation for taken property. This compensation should not necessarily be monetary and could take the form of new land and dwellings. Finally, Palestinians want continuous territory for their own State and a return to the borders that existed before 1967. Before considering the right of Palestinians to return to their land, the Israelis have many urgent concerns. The first is an existential security issue.
The Israelis are concerned about changing the Jewish character of the State of Israel. If Palestinians reclaimed land within the borders of Israel, the enormous amount of land and people involved would substantially alter the demographics of Israel. Israel is also concerned about accepting responsibility for the refugee problem. As Block and Futerman illustrate, there are two different narratives about why the Palestinians left their homes in the 1948 and 1967 wars. To accept the Palestinian narrative would raise doubts about the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Israel admits the existence of the right of fair compensation but wants to link the right of reasonable compensation to the compensation of Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries to settle in Israel. They also want to compensate on a collective and not an individual level.
In summary, Walter Block and Alan Futerman’s book is a valuable introduction to the Israelis and the Palestinians, especially when presented with more liberal or progressive treatments. I appreciate the quantitative rigor with which the authors backed up their claims. This book helped me delve into previously unexplored areas; I am grateful. It should be required reading for college students worldwide, especially the professors and administrators.
Block and Futerman started their book with the lyrics from Bob Dylan’s song Neighborhood Bully. While Dylan is a master of the protest song, he was criticized for this particular song, which espoused his support of Israel, which does not surprise me. I want to close this review with some words from Mark Twain:
If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages, and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away. The Greek and Roman followed and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?