The brutality of the Hamas attack on Israel reminds us that the morality behind the Holocaust still infects our world. Hamas thugs targeted civilians who were killed by bombs or murdered face-to-face in cold blood. The killers displayed and desecrated the bodies of those murdered. Defenseless elders, children, and woman were taken hostage. A Holocaust survivor in a wheelchair was among the victims.
We can turn to Ayn Rand for insights about why such an economically successful state as Israel with an open society is so hated by its neighbors.
In 1974, Ayn Rand was asked about American Middle East policy in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War of the previous year. That was the fourth war since the modern state of Israel was established in 1948. It was the fourth time that the little country had had to fight for its existence. There have been many attacks in the half-century since then, culminated in the current Hamas attack.
While Rand did not advocate sending American troops into the conflict, she did argue that America should “Give all the help possible to Israel.” She stated specifically that “the help Israel needs is technology and military weapons—and they need them desperately. Why should we help Israel?” She explained that at that time, Israel was “fighting not just the Arabs but Soviet Russia, who is sending the Arabs armaments.”
The Soviet Union, of course, has since collapsed, though Vladimir Putin, the former KGB thug now ruling Russia, continues the former regime’s policies of repression and war . But there was more to Rand’s argument, because she asked, “Why are the Arabs against Israel?”
“The Arabs are one of the least developed cultures,” Rand argued. “They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it's the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent.”
Of course, most Arabs even then weren’t nomads. Indeed, a millennium ago Baghdad and Cairo were major urban centers. But the deeper point was that in modern times Arabs have had a pre-modern culture and world view, especially compared to the Jews who had emigrated from Europe to what was to become Israel. A large portion of those Jews were secular-leaning. They embraced the modern, scientific world view. They favored an open, tolerant society and democratic institutions. And thus, even though the founders of the modern state of Israel sought a multi-ethnic society that guaranteed the liberty of Jew and Arab alike, no matter their professed religion, the culture clash was too deep.
A major problem that Rand appreciated was envy. No doubt many Arabs watched with envy as, starting in the late 1800s, Jews came to Palestine, purchased land—usually of the worst quality because that’s all the Arab landlords would sell to them— and through their hard work and exercise of reason they made the desert bloom and they founded the modern city of Tel Aviv.
Rather than saying “We want to join your marvelous world,” most Arabs said, “We want to destroy you.”
Fifty years ago, Rand used very strong language. She said that “When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are. Israel is a mixed economy inclined toward socialism. But when it comes to the power of the mind—the development of industry in that wasted desert continent—versus savages who don't want to use their minds, then if one cares about the future of civilization, don't wait for the government to do something. Give whatever you can. This is the first time I've contributed to a public cause: helping Israel in an emergency.”
Certainly, not all Arabs are savages. Indeed, in the five decades since Rand’s remarks, Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Israel. Egypt today is struggling to become a modernist country and is an opponent of Hamas. The Abraham Accords, brokered by the United States, saw the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalize relations with Israel. The Emirate city of Dubai has adopted much of the modernist goal of material progress by embracing science and technology, creating a large, modern city. But, of course, the rise of Islamists such as ISIS can only be described as savage. And Iran is the major funder and supplier of Hamas and of the Hezbollah savages who threaten Israel on its north border. And it seeks to produce a nuclear weapon for the sole purpose of eliminating Israel.
But Rand today would no doubt be especially proud of Israel’s progress in the decades since her passing in 1982. Israel abandoned much of its socialism. And the area around Tel Aviv is referred to as “Silicon Wadi,” Hebrew for “Silicon Valley,” because it is perhaps the global hub for creating advanced technology second only to the California hub after which it is named. It is a testament to the power of free minds that Rand understood separates civilized from savage.
Objectivism holds that human life is the foundation of all values. The words most on the lips of most Jews is “L’Chaim!,” “To life!” Osama Bin-Laden has said to the civilized world that “Our youth love death as you love life.” Indeed, most people of Gaza, represented by Hamas, see as the highest aspiration for their own children as martyrdom in the process of killing other children. They are literally death worshippers. The irreconcilable conflict in values couldn’t be clearer.
All individuals of good will, especially in Israel, long for a day that the current conflict in the Middle East will be only a dim, morally ugly memory. Israel will rightly do everything to destroy Hamas once and for all. But this welcome situation of Middle East peace will only come about with the spread of the Enlightenment ideals of reason, individualism, and liberty. These are not just ideals for Israelis, Europeans, or Americans but for all individuals, all countries, and for all times.