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(photo credit: Orit Arfa)
Dr. Yaron Brook, 46, speaks and carries himself like a Rand hero. His facial features are angular, his demeanor self-confident. His language is principled, logical, certain, fired by moral passion, replete with absolute terms: good and evil, right and wrong, defeat and victory. He has a slight lisp, which is easily overshadowed by the controversial and harsh words that roll off his tongue.
For the first time since he left Israel for America in 1987, Brook gave a lecture in his mother country: "Israel and the West's War with Islamic Totalitarianism: Why We are Losing." The lecture took place at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC) in Ramat HaSharon.
Born in Jerusalem and raised in Haifa, Brook met few intellectuals here who could nurture his interest in Rand's ideas, which he first developed at 16 after reading Atlas Shrugged. The novel catapulted him out of the socialist-Zionist way of thought he had inherited from his South African-Israeli parents and from Israeli education and culture.
"I resisted Atlas Shrugged when I read it, but she convinced me," he said.
After serving in the army and receiving his BA from the Technion, he took off for the US. "Israel is small, but with its socialist policy, ridiculous political system, constant external threats, I didn't think it was the place I could make the most of my life," Brook said.
He went on to receive a PhD in finance and taught finance for seven years at Santa Clara University while running his own consulting firm and a company that organized objectivist conferences. He became head of the Ayn Rand Institute in 2001.
September 11 marked a turning point for ARI, which saw itself in a unique position to defend America morally and intellectually. Brook's Israeli background, along with Israel's struggles with terror, made the Jewish state an even more popular topic on the institute's agenda. Brook has lectured at numerous US college campuses, often under tight security, appeared numerous times on Fox and CNBC, and is emerging as one of the most outspoken voices when it comes to the "War on Terror," a title, Brook says, that already dooms the West to failure.
"You don't fight a tactic," he said in his talk. "Terrorism is a tactic, and I believe we have to look at the ideological source of terrorism in order to identify the true enemy." He defines this source as Islamic totalitarianism, which he describes as an expansionist philosophy that seeks to spread Islam by the sword, but he thinks that the enemy's identity has been blurred or ignored by government leaders and the intelligentsia.
"We don't have the guts, the courage, the self-esteem to even identify who the enemy is. We couch it in terms of terrorists who happen to be Muslims who are 'hijacking a great religion.' We're afraid to say 'Islamic anything': Islamic fascism, totalitarianism, whatever you want to call it." The fear stems, he said, from the academic trend of multiculturalism, in which all cultures are morally equal, and moral relativism, in which "anything goes" in human behavior.
But, he said, the most damaging idea to the cause of the West is the opposite of Rand's virtue of selfishness: altruism, which Rand didn't define as good-hearted kindness and generosity, but as the idea that one must sacrifice his own interests for the sake of others. Altruism, said Brook, leads to pacifism because "self-defense is a very selfish act. It's a very self-interested act to defend one's own life, especially in war."
Brook argues that this form of altruism goads both America and Israel to wage "compassionate wars": for the American army to build sewers instead of ruthlessly bombing terrorist targets, and for the IDF to send food into Gaza instead of troops and tanks. With such an altruistic approach, Brook says, Israel is setting itself up for defeat.
"There's a whole generation of post-Zionist professors who've been writing for the past 20, 30 years, here in Israel, how this country was founded on original sin," Brook said in his talk. "[They say] there's no basis for this country; there's no moral reason why this country should exist. We've exploited; we've stolen; we've taken from peaceful people. It's our fault for all these problems. When that's the center of your focus, when you're filled with self-doubt, when you don't believe that your values are better than anyone else's, you cannot fight. You cannot win.
"I believe victory is possible, it just takes something we're not willing to do." That "something," he said confidently, is to wage war with little restraint and without apology against Islamic totalitarianism.
"Israel should plan and execute a systematic invasion of Gaza in which its goal is to wipe out the political and military leadership and infrastructure of Hamas, and to do so systematically and brutally. It needs to send a message to the world, to the Muslim population of the world, to Palestinians in the West Bank, that Israel will not tolerate a terrorist state at its border and would not tolerate the existence of an organization like Hamas."
What about international opinion? "The issue of Israel's survival is at stake, so the choice, I believe, is between the world loving us and we're dead or the world hating us for a while but we survive and thrive and we live. You cannot make life-or-death choices based on other people's opinions of you. You have to make choices on what you believe is necessary for your survival, your success."
"If you want to win, innocents will die. There is no way to get around it. There was no war in which innocents didn't die, and there won't be. At the end of the day, the question is whose 'innocents.' Ours or theirs? If we have pride, self-respect, we have to protect our own innocents."
HE CONCEDES the validity of Jews banding together in the face of the collective threat of anti-Semitism, but in his essay "The Rise and Decline of Israel" he argued that the Jewish state's collectivist and religious basis, socialist Zionism, has sown the seeds for its own downfall.
"Zionism fused a valid concern - self-preservation amid a storm of hostility - with a toxic premise - ethnically based collectivism and religion," he wrote.
Socialist Zionism, he said, also led to the Oslo Accords, through which Israel agreed to set up another ethnically and religiously based state along its border, despite it being headed by a proven terrorist. "Here was a man [Yasser Arafat] who represents a suffering people, an ethnic group that sought to make its claim for statehood a reality. How could Israel say no? Wasn't it similar to - and so just as legitimate as - the claim of the Jews?"
Given objectivism's capitalistic ideal of private property, he opposes government confiscation of private Arab land for Jewish settlement as much as he opposes the notion of "public land" - Arab or Jewish. Yet he regards the settlements as security - and moral - buffers; they are a test of the Palestinian's true intentions.
"If the [Palestinians] really want peace why do they want settlements dismantled?" Brook said. "Why wouldn't they say we want a Palestinian state and we want these Jews to stay here and live as full citizens of the Palestinian state? They're productive individuals, they create jobs, they bring a wealth of knowledgeâ€¦ If Palestinians are about ethnic cleansing, getting rid of Jews so that the Palestinian state is pure, then they're not ready for peace, and Israel should not make peace with them."
Given his strong opposition to evacuating settlements, one might guess that the right-wing settlers are natural allies for objectivists. Editorials of the Ayn Rand Institute have been published in such right-wing outlets as Arutz 7.
But Brook disagrees. "I think their whole basis for agreeing with me is corrupt and wrong. Most settlers agree with me for religious reasons. They believe it's some kind of Holy Land that God promised them. The rest of their analysis is derived from that premise, not from a true, rational observation of reality. I think the logic of 'God promised this and gave me this' is one that can only lead to bloodshed and war. I don't think people who have that approach can come up with solutions to deal with the threat."
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