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Israel’s and America’s – Fundamental Choice

By Leonard Peikoff

[1996] Over the coming months, the Clinton Administration will pressure the Israeli government to moderate its “impractical” stand toward the Arab countries. But the only practical policy in the Middle East rests upon the very opposite of moderation: the courage to act on moral principles.

This was the quality exhibited by the Israeli populace when it recently elected Benjamin Netanyahu prime minister. It is a quality our political and cultural leaders sadly lack.

The news media, for example, typically portrayed the choice faced by Israeli voters as: Shimon Peres’s “grand vision of peace” vs. the “primitivism” and “paranoia” of Mr. Netanyahu. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained the election outcome as: “Fear always trumps logic.”

Well, since logic is the method for dealing correctly with the facts of reality, let’s look at the facts.

There is indeed a primitivism in the Middle East—embodied in the Arab states. Those nations are feudal throwbacks. In contrast to the Westernized Israelis, they are tribalist clans, with no concept of individual rights. Even Arab citizens have far greater recognition of their rights when living under the rule of a (semi-)capitalist Israel than under the despotism of Arab governments.

The Arabs’ war with Israel is not a response to any alleged violation of their property rights—they themselves accept no such rights; it is, rather, a response to the Israeli values of secularism, individualism and freedom. (And, tragically, the growing political power of the religionists in Israel is pulling that country toward the very tribalist, anti-rights system that characterizes its Arab enemies.)

Israel established a nation morally. Land was not “stolen” from the nomadic tribes meandering across the terrain, any more than the early Americans stole this country from the primitive, warring Indians. Israel established a civilized, Western-style outpost in which, for the first time in that region, individual rights were recognized.

It is the Arabs’ tribalism that creates the threat to peace; it is their antagonism toward the principle of rights that makes them willing to engage in both open warfare and covert terrorism.

“Land for peace” is a repugnant formula for Israel’s self-immolation. The right of a civilized nation to self-defense against its barbarous enemies is a moral absolute. It should not be surrendered in a vain attempt to appease the initiators of war. It is a moral perversion to demand that Israel give back the very land it captured in the process of defending itself against wars launched by the Arab aggressors. A criminal has no right to protest the “injustice” of having his guns confiscated by the police—and particularly not a criminal who continues to underwrite acts of crime. And the worst of the land-for-peace policy is that it caused Israel to give the Palestinians their own domain, with the job of protecting against terrorism entrusted to the chief terrorist himself, Yasir Arafat.

Suppose that for decades we had stood our ground in the face of ceaseless wars and terrorist attacks by the Mexican government, which believed that California belonged to the Mexicans. Then suppose that we elected an administration that said: “Let’s trade land for peace. We can’t have continuous war; let’s give them San Diego and appoint a Mexican chief of police to handle terrorist attacks against us.” How long would it be before the entire state was taken over?

Now imagine that after many such concessions, a new wave of suicide bombers attacked us. Imagine further that the Mexican police chief did nothing to stop the assaults, nothing to arrest or extradite those responsible, nothing to punish those supporting them. Would it not then be logical to say, “Enough is enough!”?

Mr. Friedman’s own column gives us a vivid illustration of daily life under the “land-for-peace” policy. He writes: “I was just in Israel. Instead of staying as usual at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, I stayed at a more low-profile, out-of-the-way place, which I thought would never be a target. Instead of walking to my appointments, I avoided the center city, for fear of being on Jaffa Road when the next suicide bomb might go off. Instead of waiting calmly at traffic lights, I got nervous until the light changed and my taxi moved away from any potential bus bombs.”

If Mr. Friedman admits that he, as a visitor, felt an omnipresent fear of attack, by what corruption of thought does he suggest that Israel’s desire to eliminate the source of such fear is “illogical”? If someone holds a gun to my head, is it an illogical fear that lies beneath my decision to take action? Should I just stand there passively, hoping for some form of mystical salvation? What is more illogical than the illusion that barbarism will be defanged by sops and handshakes?

During the Israeli election campaign, one candidate paid lip service to hope and peace—by promising to perpetuate the cause of the nation’s anxiety. The other was a principled foe of that cause, terrorism, and vowed to decisively eliminate it. A rational voter would choose the latter, not because “fear” trumps “logic,” but because the fear—i.e., the comprehension of the nature of the terrorists—is the voice of logic, and it is trumping the cowardly voice of a baseless, irrational wish.

When the Israelis elected Mr. Netanyahu, they chose principle over appeasement. We can only hope that our own government will show the same intellectual courage.

Leonard Peikoff is the founder of the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand
, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

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