Boaz Arad is a founder of and spokesman for the Israeli Freedom Movement, and the founder and publisher of the Israeli magazine and website Anochi, which is dedicated to the advancement of Objectivism. He has served on the editorial board at the Hebrew version of Business Week, authored a weekly column in the Israeli daily Makor Rishon, and worked as a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies. His articles promoting individual liberty and economic freedom appear regularly in Israeli media. In addition to his activism, Mr. Arad works as a marketing and communications manager for international software companies. I recently spoke with him via Skype. —Craig Biddle
Craig Biddle: Thank you for joining me, Boaz—it’s great to hear your voice again!
Boaz Arad: Thank you, Craig. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.
CB: Let’s dive right into the Israeli Freedom Movement. What is this organization, and how did it begin?
BA: It’s an effort to expand political and economic freedom in Israel, much like the better goals of the Tea Party in the United States.
It began as a combination of the activism of about five guys. Each of us was already working in some capacity toward smaller government, lower taxation, and more freedom in Israel. I was already heading the promotion of Ayn Rand’s writing and philosophy in Israel, an effort I began in 1985. And I was publishing a newsletter and website (www.Anochi.com) that present some of Ayn Rand’s nonfiction writings in Hebrew, as well as commentaries and criticism on art, politics, and current events. Another one of the five is a lawyer who specializes in international tax law. Another is an engineer. But all of us were already actively advocating individual freedom and free markets.
We got together in June of 2011 in response to various political and economic events in Israel, including popular protests against the high cost of living, the high cost of dairy products, and the high cost of housing. We wanted to take advantage of the public focus on economic issues and form a body of activism to educate people about the requirements of free markets.
The Israeli version of the Occupy Wall Street movement occupied Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv with tents, demonstrations, discussions, and so on. These protests garnered a lot of media support, so we decided to get into the action and present a new perspective on the problems in question. We did essentially what Peter Schiff did when he went to Wall Street to discuss issues with the demonstrators, and what Alex Epstein did at other “Occupy” events. We began doing this kind of thing in Israel in July 2011, and we got significant media attention.
So we decided to form what we call in Hebrew “the new Liberal movement”—liberal, of course, from the root concept “liberty.” In English, we prefer to call it “the Israeli freedom movement” since the word “liberal” has been corrupted in America. We are basically a parallel to the American Tea Party movement.
CB: What’s your general positive message? What do you say in advocacy of freedom?
BA: We agree with the protestors in Israel that the cost of living is very high. But whereas others usually present more of the same illness as a medicine, we present the actual solution to the problem. They call for more government intervention, but we’re able to point out to the media and the Israeli public that whenever we see a problem in the market, behind it there is usually some kind of government intervention, regulations, or restrictions that actually caused the problem.
We offer a simple, logical solution, similar to Alexander’s cutting of the Gordian Knot. We advocate lifting and abolishing restrictions rather than the usual bureaucratic tendency to add more regulations that create more problems.
CB: How large is the movement, and who are your allies?
BA: Last time we talked, it was about five hundred people; right now we’re at about six hundred people. This increase is in just a few days. So we are growing rapidly and gaining more and more support. Wherever we present our position on specific issues, people with good sense realize that we are actually fighting for them.
As for our allies, I think that every productive Israeli citizen is our ally—or potentially so. In terms of other movements and organizations, we’re allied with the Tea Party movement in the United States and the groups that comprise it. When representatives from FreedomWorks visited Israel, we got together and discussed ways to support each other. And, since you and I spoke last week, I received an invitation from FreedomWorks to take part in a meeting with Glenn Beck and leaders in the international freedom movement this coming Friday [February 17] in Rome. So I can assume we will have many more friends and allies in a few days.
We’ve also established ad hoc cooperation with the Israeli Chamber of Commerce. For example, we are about to launch a campaign against the import tax. We’ve found that the Israeli Chamber of Commerce is really sympathetic to our cause. Right now it’s just moral support, but I think we’ll be working together in various ways in the future.
There are also some intellectuals, journalists, and economists in academia who support what we do. So we do find islands of support in Israel, even though we are in an uphill battle.
Israelis need to be educated on the basic concepts of freedom, capitalism, and individual rights—all of which our public school system neglects to teach. So we find ourselves trying to fill these gaps.
CB: How many of those involved in the movement understand or at least are familiar with Ayn Rand’s ideas?
BA: Our first meeting with Matt Kibbe and FreedomWorks activists was conducted under a sign that read, “The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow”—which, of course, is a quote from Ayn Rand.
We have connections to many friends of Ayn Rand’s philosophy in Israel and in the States and elsewhere. And I continually advocate Ayn Rand’s ideas, even though the Israeli Freedom Movement is not an Objectivist movement per se. Everyone in the movement knows of Ayn Rand, and I’m working to help more people investigate, understand, and embrace her ideas.
CB: I know that our mutual friend, the late, great John David Lewis, visited you in Israel a couple of years ago. Tell me about his visit.
BA: Well, John was a most gracious, dear friend, and I am deeply saddened by his death. This is not only a private loss; this is a loss to the Objectivist movement and to every advocate of reason and freedom.
One thing that was obvious from the moment my family and I met John is that he had no facade. He was friendly, forthright, eager to discuss ideas, and willing to offer his help and support. He was the ideal friend, and I was lucky to meet him and be considered a friend by him.
John was infinitely curious about Israel. The moment we left the airport, he wanted to explore and visit ancient cities. We went to Caesarea, to the Dead Sea, and to Masada Jerusalem, and we enjoyed fruit drinks at a Tel Aviv street market and fast food called “LAFA” at the Carmel Mountain. Israel is filled with historical sites, and we tried to observe everything from the modern culture to ancient culture, and to meet local intellectuals and scholars and friends of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
His first visit was in June 2008, when I arranged an invitation for him to speak at Tel Aviv University. He gave a talk about the “Inner Jihad” and Islamic totalitarianism, which was quite impressive and well received.
Shortly thereafter, we arranged for him to speak at an event in December 2008, a conference of European lawmakers who came to Israel to discuss ways to fight the threat of international jihad and Islamic totalitarianism. The conference was titled “Facing Jihad,” and John was the perfect lecturer for this event. He had the pleasure of getting together with Geert Wilders, Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer, and many other activists. He also got to meet with a group of Navy SEALs who were serving in Iraq at the time and who had come specifically for the conference. He had a highly emotional meeting with them in a private room.
We also arranged for John to speak at the TAU Objectivist club about “Israel’s Moral Right to Exist.” This powerful speech can be viewed at Anochi.com [http://tinyurl.com/TAUtalk].
At the end of his visit, John said that Israel was the best place he’d ever visited—after the United States. That’s saying something about the Israeli culture to get such a compliment from John. I think that with these visits, he realized even more fully that Israel is a true and crucial ally of America.
CB: Upon returning from his visit in June 2008, John wrote a beautiful blog post for TOS Blog, titled “Israel and the Front Line of Civilization.” It concluded with this:
My trip to Israel made even more obvious to me that Israeli interests and American interests are in perfect alignment. The achievement of Israel’s goals—a permanent end to the war, and the establishment of peace under a rational government—are American interests. And the Israelis know it. Never in any country I’ve visited (I’ve been to over a dozen) have I seen so many American flags. Never have I walked into a shopping mall and seen a line of life-size mannequins of American soldiers with the host country’s flag on their shoulders. If only the American people and their politicians knew that Israel is our premier—and perhaps only—cultural and political ally in the world today. If only Americans realized the consequences of abandoning that ally.
His was one of the few voices of reason in this matter. He was a true hero.
BA: Yes, he was.
CB: My understanding is that the Israeli Freedom Movement focuses primarily on economic issues and not so much on foreign policy or national security matters.
BA: That’s right. Basically, on the political map of Israel, you have right and left in issues of politics and international politics, but you have only left and left in issues of economics. This is why we thought it most urgent to fill that void.
CB: Would you elaborate on the kinds of activism the Freedom Movement has engaged in to date, and any changes you’ve brought about?
BA: We started with debates. We ran a debate with one of the leaders of the demonstrations in Tel Aviv. Later, we reconstructed the debate in a TV studio of one of the major economic newspapers in Israel. They’re running it on their website still.
We’ve also engaged in legal activism. For instance, we submitted a case to the Israeli high court asking for the court to take action to protect property rights and the freedom to conduct business in Israel—and to revoke some of the antibusiness policies, especially in the field of agriculture.
We are about to launch a new campaign against tariffs and import taxes that supposedly protect the local industry, and just today we are preparing for a demonstration that we’ll conduct tomorrow morning in the event that a possible strike breaks out. There’s also discussion of a possible strike that would cover all the public sectors, which we’re keeping our eyes on. And we’re advocating for the deconstruction of the largest worker’s union in Israel, which is violating the rights of citizens and business owners in myriad ways, for instance, by outlawing individual contract workers in the public sector.
At this point, our major success is just to get onto the field and be heard. People now know that we exist. From TV stations to newspapers, people are looking to what we are saying. For instance, I managed to get to the largest TV channel in Israel and speak out against the latest worker’s union strike.
I’ve also been acting directly with policy makers in Israel. I’ve written policy papers and met the policy makers, and I’ve helped avert the passage of a few bad laws. For instance one policy paper was about the ineffectiveness of green energy. I managed to slip it into a government meeting headed by Netanyahu. In this meeting they were scheduled to approve increased subsidies for installation of solar panels. The paper showed that what they were about to do was to raise the price of energy, to tax the so-called poor people—who don’t have larger roofs for solar panels—and to use their electricity expense increases to fund these subsidies for the richer people who have larger roofs on which to install the panels. This decision was stalled; they decided to put it aside, at least for the time being.
I was not at the meeting, and don’t know what was discussed in it. But I think it’s likely that my paper, which we submitted to one of the ministers, who then took it to the prime minister, had something to do with the outcome.
All in all, we’re making some headway.
CB: What plans do you have for the future? What do you see the Israeli Freedom Movement doing in the months and years to come?
BA: Well, we need to focus on educating people about the fundamentals of freedom. Even if we win a small battle in a certain field of the economy, we will not win the war unless we help people understand the principle of individual rights and the morality that supports it, the morality of self-interest. Israelis are steeped in the morality of self-sacrifice, so this is the crux of the situation.
We need good speakers, educational events, the translation of materials into Hebrew and Arabic, and also the dissemination of our materials through the media and through websites, magazines, and so on. One exciting project is an educational program we’re developing for Israeli youth that is based on Objectivist ideas.
After reading the recent and excellent TOS interview with Cynthia Farahat about which I wrote on my Facebook wall: “An amazing interview with a true freedom fighter from Egypt . . . Not the miserable impostors they are serving us while advancing the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamo-fascists”—I contacted Ms. Farahat, and hopefully we will cooperate in the Arabic translations of key essays and books. Perhaps we will even be able to translate some of Ayn Rand’s works.
CB: Where can people keep up with what you’re doing? And how can interested parties get involved and help?
BA: For English speakers who don’t speak Hebrew, they can follow our Twitter account (@Israel_TEA, and my @Anochi). This is the easiest way to follow us.
We also run a formal website. We have a small English section, which we’d like to improve and expand with more material in English. We also have a Facebook page and an open group on Facebook in order to have discussions.
CB: Thank you for your time, Boaz, and best success to you and this vital movement.
BA: Thank you very much, Craig, and thanks for the chance to lay these issues in front of what I would say is the most important audience in the world, the readers of The Objective Standard.