Ariel, one of Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. (Salonmor/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ariel, one of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. (Salonmor/CC BY-SA 3.0)

I‘m ripping off the title of this post from the post “Top Ten Things That Piss Me Off About Anti Israel Libertarians” by Rafi Farber, whom I recently debated on the Tom Woods Show. Here is his top ten list and my rebuttals.

1. Anti Israel libertarians say settlements are immoral because they are not annexed by the State of Israel, even though settling land is the crux of the entire libertarian homesteading theory, and libertarians are against states annexing anything in the first place.

This is a disingenuous strawman argument. I have never heard anyone argue that Israeli settlements are immoral because Israel hasn’t annexed them. Rather, they are immoral — apart from being a violation of international law — because they are constructed with prejudice toward the equal rights of the Palestinians. They are not some outcome of individuals engaging in private exchange for mutual benefit in a free market, but a project of the state of Israel carried out under its occupation regime and all the rejection of Palestinians’ rights that regime entails, including denying Palestinians at gunpoint from being able to build homes on this same land, bulldozing Palestinians’ homes to make way for Jewish homes, etc.

2. Statist institutions and instruments like the UN and “international law,” suddenly become relevant and important regarding what these institutions say about Israel, even though they are despised and ignored and reviled in every single other case.

His purpose is to characterize libertarian critics of Israel — of which I’m the only one he actually names — as applying a double standard. I don’t know who Farber has in mind here, but this certainly doesn’t apply to me, as I in fact frequently cite international law in my analyses of US foreign policy with regard to pretty much every other area I focus my writing on.

One can argue that international law should be irrelevant to the libertarian since it is a statist construct. But, then, we are talking about the actions of states! Should libertarians hold that states ought not to be bound by the treaties to which they are party? So it would be okay for a government to, say, engage in the deliberate use of indiscriminate force and kill large numbers of civilians because, hey, the Fourth Geneva Convention is just a statist construct and so irrelevant and inapplicable? Certainly not!

Now, naturally, if a law passed by a state violates individual rights, that law is unjust and therefore null and void. But what about laws recognizing deeds like murder and theft as crimes? Should we reject such laws simply because they are the product of a state? Clearly not, since such laws in fact serve to protect individuals’ rights and are therefore just. (Which is also not to say that just laws cannot be abused by states, that states are therefore justified, that government courts are the only means to arbitrate etc.)

In this case, we are dealing specifically with the Fourth Geneva Convention, the purpose of which is to protect the rights of civilians during war or living under occupation. Now, libertarians might scoff at the idea of “laws” governing war, which is the ultimate crime. But this is no reason to reject the protections afforded to civilians under such treaties.

Moreover, libertarians understand contract law, and treaties are nothing more than contracts between governments. Israel is a party to the Geneva Conventions and therefore legally bound to respect their terms. Additionally, much of what is contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention rises to the level of “customary international law”, meaning law that may or may not have been codified in any treaty but which is still recognized as inadmissible behavior by states. The deliberate targeting of civilians during war, for example, is not only forbidden under the formal body of international law, but is also customary international law — that is, if there were no treaties forbidding such attacks, that would not make it okay for states to engage in such killing!

Farber is a religious Jew, so an example from the Old Testament might be useful. God didn’t issue the Ten Commandments until Moses’s time; yet Cain’s killing of Abel was still murder. Hence we see that there is such a thing as natural law, behaviors we must reject simply on a deductive basis as violating the equal rights of others, even if no actual law has been passed forbidding such behaviors. The Ten Commandments are to the formal body of international law what the recognition of Cain’s deed as murder is to customary international law.

Point being that Faber’s rejection of international law as it applies to the situation in Palestine is effectively a rejection of the rights of the Palestinian people living under a foreign military occupation.

3. Anti Israel libertarians rail against the “ethnic cleansing” of “Palestine” while they simultaneously egg on the actual ethnic cleansing of Judea and Samaria of Jews, because “settlements” are “illegal” according to “international law” and should all be evacuated. I wonder what John Locke would say about THAT.

Hmm… Attempting to defend the ethnic cleansing of Palestine…. I wonder what John Locke would say about THAT.

Notice how he puts “ethnic cleansing” and “Palestine” in quotation marks, implying that it wasn’t really ethnic cleansing (not an “actual” instance of such, as he states here) and the region in question wasn’t really Palestine. In fact, Farber and his coauthors explicitly make these arguments in a paper titled “The Legal Status of the State of Israel: A libertarian Approach”, asserting that Israel was established not through ethnic cleansing, but through legitimate land purchases and homesteading. That claim is false, and in fact Israel was established via the ethnic cleansing of most of the Arab population. But they go further in their paper, arguing that even if Palestine had been ethnically cleansed of Arabs, that this was just! (p. 461, fn 70)

How does this defense of ethnic cleansing reconcile with the libertarian principle of non-aggression? Well, it doesn’t. To defend ethnic cleansing is to reject this principle. Notice that by Farber’s own standard above, to try to defend ethnic cleansing is abhorrent; yet that is what he does, even while accusing others of doing the same.

So how does that charge hold up? Are Israel’s libertarian critics equally guilty of defending ethnic cleansing as Farber himself? Well, I obviously can’t speak for others, but in fact I personally do not argue that all Jews currently residing in illegal Israeli settlements must leave. On the contrary, I argue that they ought to be given the choice of staying or leaving, depending, of course, on the wishes of the rightful owners of settlements built on stolen private Palestinian land.

Of course, libertarians respect property rights, so if the rightful owners of this land decide that its present Jewish inhabitants, who live their by virtue of Israel’s occupation and colonization regime that denies the Palestinians’ equal rights, must go, then they must go, and to describe this as “ethnic cleansing” is simply an appeal to emotion rather than reason.

4. Libertarians hold that homesteading is the way one comes to own property, yet anti Israel libertarians like Jeremy Hammond can hold, only in the case of Israel, that it is legitimate to own UNhomesteaded land just because some statist body says that uncultivable land can be “owned”.

This one I’ve already covered in a separate post. In sum, not only does Farber falsely accuse me of applying a double standard, but this charge is hypocritical as he is the one demonstrably doing so. Click here to read how Farber applies his argument that “uncultivable” land cannot be owned only when it’s a question of Arab ownership, whereas if it’s a question of Jewish ownership, then “uncultivable” land can indeed be owned!

5. Israel is by FAR the most liberal state in the entire middle east in terms of economic and religious freedom, which means that it is the MOST libertarian state by any and EVERY measure, and yet it is the MOST hated by many libertarians.

Israel is by far the most liberal state in terms of economic freedom? Well, this assertion is simply absurd. The rights of Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal occupation regime are violated perpetually in this regard by the state of Israel. Which of the other Meddle East states he is here criticizing have implemented a policy comparable to Israel’s policy of collectively punishing the entire civilian population of Gaza with its illegal blockade? This is economic liberalism? How absurd and hypocritical!

The idea that Israel, which was founded via the ethnic cleansing of most of the Arab population from their homes and which persists to this day in its brutal occupation regime that perpetually violates the equal rights of the Palestinians, is even remotely “libertarian” in nature, even in relative terms, is ludicrous and illustrative of Farber’s own willful ignorance when it comes to defending the “Jewish state”.

6. Regarding Israel, suddenly statist political boundaries become relevant when they are reviled in any other case. The boundary between Israel and Judea and Samaria somehow is very important when libertarians, in any other case, revile the notion of political boundaries in the first place. Except with regard to Israel.

Since Farber rejects statist political boundaries, he must reject the very existence of the state of Israel. Yet here he is defending the existence of this state, with whatever political boundaries he personally believes constitute the extent of it. In fact, as alluded to here, his very purpose in rejecting what international law has to say about Israel’s political boundaries is because he views “Judea and Samaria” — that is, the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank — as rightfully belonging to the “Jewish state” of Israel.

Hence the actual double standard here is once again his own standard of rejecting political boundaries that he doesn’t like (i.e., those determined by international law) in favor of political boundaries he likes (i.e., those determined by his belief that all this land belongs to the Jews).

That hypocrisy aside, since we are dealing with a state, it makes sense to examine the matter of political boundaries. Indeed, it isn’t logically possible to discuss a state otherwise, since a state is geographically defined by its recognized borders. And as we’ve already been over, international law is hardly irrelevant to the question of political boundaries. Again, it is not as though Jews living in settlements in the West Bank acquired that land through legitimate transactions in a free market. Rather, this land was acquired under Israel’s military occupation regime with great prejudice toward the equal rights of the Palestinians. 

It is legitimate to observe that fact.

7. When the State of Israel expels Jews from their homes that were built on vacant unhomesteaded land as in the case of Gush Katif, anti Israel libertarians cheer. In any other case of statist violence such as this, libertarians jeer. In other words, ethnic cleansing of non Jews is evil, but ethnic cleansing of Jews is justice.

I would love to see Farber provide an example of a libertarian cheering the expulsion of Jews who legitimately homesteaded land from their homes. I suspect he would have a hard time doing so and that this is another strawman argument.

He mentions Gush Katif specifically, so let’s look at that. I don’t know anything about this settlement, other than that in 2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza and forced Jews living in settlements there to leave, then demolished the settlements. He is claiming that Gush Katif was legitimately homesteaded by Jews. So when was it founded? Well, according to Wikipedia: “Gush Katif began in 1968, when Yigal Allon presented an initiative for the founding of two Nahal settlements in the center of the Gaza Strip.” And according to the website, Gush Katif existed for 35 years before the 2005 expulsion.

Hence Gush Katif did not predate the Israeli occupation of Gaza, but was among the settlements established under the Israeli occupation regime and hence not legitimately homesteaded.

Furthermore, note who was responsible for this “ethnic cleansing”: the government of Israel. Was this just? Well, again, I can’t speak for other libertarians, but in my view, it was not. My view is the government of Israel should have simply ended its occupation and left it at that. Any Jews living in illegally constructed settlements in Gaza (as in the West Bank) should have been allowed to leave or remain, without prejudice, of course, to the property rights of any given piece of land’s rightful owner, as already discussed above with respect to the West Bank.

The bottom line is that Farber is once again guilty himself of the very thing he criticizes unidentified others of: namely, he rightly says that ethnic cleansing of Jews is unjust but argues in his paper that the ethnic cleansing of Arabs by which the “Jewish state” came into being was “justified” (“after first asking nicely [for the land], of course”).

8. Regarding Israel, libertarians suddenly become supportive of overtly socialist schemes like “the right to strike”, which Murray Rothbard accused Israel of denying to Arabs, when in every other case besides Israel, there is no right to strike, because the right to strike means the right to prevent others from voluntarily contracting to work in a job that you have already quit.

Here is what Murray Rothbard wrote: “And so, Israel now sits, occupying its swollen territory, pulverizing houses and villages containing snipers, outlawing strikes of Arabs, killing Arab youths in the name of checking terrorism.” (“War Guilt in the Middle East”, 1967) So what, specifically, is Rothbard referring to? I don’t know, and I doubt Farber does, either.

But I do know that “strike” could mean a number of different things, and that not all situations to which the word could apply would entail, e.g., acting to prevent non-strikers from also working. In fact, here’s the lead author of the paper Farber co-authored, Walter Block: “The problem is not the right to strike, but the right — by intimidation or violence — to force other people to strike, and the further right to prevent anybody from working in a shop in which a union has called a strike.” In other words, a strike could be legitimate; it’s only if the strikers aggress against others that it would violate libertarian principle.

So the question is: is Mr. Libertarian himself asserting that certain Palestinian laborers had a “right” to deny employment certain other Palestinian laborers? This is a dubious assumption indeed! Rather, Rothbard is presumably simply saying Palestinian laborers wishing to protest the occupation by not working certainly had a right not to be forced by an Israeli law to work on account of striking being deemed “illegal”.

The bottom line here is Rothbard was referring to a statist law. Note how when it comes to law that Israel is in violation of, e.g., the Fourth Geneva Convention, statist laws are deemed irrelevant; yet here Farber is responding to Rothbard’s criticism of this statist law by defending it! Once again, we see that the only one here whose arguments are inconsistent and who applies a double standard is Farber.

9. Anti Israel libertarians insist that Arabs have a right to a “state of their own” even though in every other case, libertarians hold that nobody has a right to a state at all.

Again, I would love to see Farber demonstrate that any libertarians hold such inconsistent views. But, once again, the demonstrable double standard here is Farber’s own.

Note how he is saying that the only view consistent with libertarianism is that “nobody has a right to a state at all”. And to hold that only one particular people have a “right to a ‘state of their own'” is hypocrisy.

So, with that in mind, let’s see what he has to say about the right of Jews to have their own state:

“In the article [‘War Guilt in the Middle East’], Rothbard denies Israel’s right to exist and accuses it of starting an unjust war. We, obviously, disagree.”

So there you have it. Farber maintains not only that individual Jews have a right to exercise their self-determination collectively by establishing a state, but that the state itself has a “right to exist”!

So we can turn his own argument against him rather easily. To wit: Anti-Palestinian libertarians insist that Israel has a “right to exist” even though in every other case, libertarians hold that there is no such thing as a state’s “right to exist”.

10. Anti Israel libertarians have no respect for the founders of their entire philosophy, the Jewish People, who by giving the world the story of the Exodus from Egypt, established the foundations of libertarianism itself for the entire Western World.

First of all, note how he uses the phrase “Anti Israel libertarians” euphemistically to mean “libertarians who criticize the state of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians”.

So the logic Farber employs here is: if a libertarian criticizes Israel’s criminal behavior, therefore he has no respect for the Jewish people.

Well, now, that is just nonsense. This argument is nothing more than an ad hominem grounded on a non sequitur. 

Speaking for myself, I have a great deal of respect for many Jews. I’m not religious, but for starters, Yeshua (“Jesus”) is a personal hero of mine whose teachings I try to live my life by. I also have an enormous amount of respect for people like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Ilan Pappe, Jews who are giants when it comes to scholarship and contributions on the Israel-Palestine conflict. A Jew wrote the Preface to my book Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and another Jew wrote the Introduction! My son’s name is Elijah, from the Hebrew “Eliyyahu” (as my own namesake is the prophet Yirmeyahu, aka, Jeremiah). But because I criticize Israel, therefore I have no respect for Jews? Such attempted character assassination is a radical departure from reason.

To conclude, while Farber accuses others of applying a double standard, including falsely accusing me of such, it is clear, upon reviewing his arguments, that he is himself guilty in abundance of the hypocrisy he projects onto others.

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