A few years ago, in the closing lecture of a Hebrew University course on
“Values in Israeli Society,” the lecturer questioned the coherence of
the values promoted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud
party. The lecturer explained that on the one hand, Netanyahu was
strongly attached to nationalistic values, which are collectivist
On the other hand, he was also a capitalist, who believed
in economic freedom, something associated with an individualistic
The professor who taught the lecture argued that this
paradox could not be solved, and therefore Netanyahu was promoting
policies which lacked coherence and direction. This was the closing
message of his course. Unfortunately, there was, for some reason, no
time left for questioning this thesis.
The fact is that
nationalism and liberalism can coexist peacefully. History actually
shows us that the places in which liberal economies flourished were
places where there also was a strong sense of nationalism.
this article, I want to argue that in the case of Jewish nationalism,
capitalism is not only coherent with a strongly Zionist worldview, but
rather is the most logical economic ideology to embrace.
Zionism is freedom
have been yearning to go back to the Land of Israel for almost 2,000
years. However, their yearning never brought about actual political
What happened in the late 19th century for Zionism to
turn into a successful established political movement?
With the start of
the Age of Enlightenment, and furthermore with the development of
liberalism, the idea of individual freedoms came to light. The argument
was made for all individuals to be able to rule their own lives
according to their own will and thus to receive personal freedoms.
the development of this liberal thought, the Jews also entered a period
of “Jewish Enlightenment,” known as the Haskala, in which they
attempted to gain personal freedoms. As all individuals were granted
liberties, the Jews also wanted to receive those rights. Yet very
quickly, it became clear that in order to get those rights they would
have to sacrifice their Jewishness. Various models were presented such
as, “Be a Jew inside your home, and a man on the street.”
they all failed, since Judaism is not a religion like Christianity that
you can confine to your personal home, but rather touches all aspects
of your life – including your national, historical and cultural
identity. It is almost impossible to be fully Jewish while keeping your
Jewishness “inside,” and many Jews were not willing to sacrifice their
Therefore, Jews, now thirsty for this freedom,
continued looking for other ways. Some considered complete assimilation.
However, Zionism quickly became one of the alternatives.
could not get their freedom in Europe, maybe it became time to go back
to their historical homeland and get freedom there? Theodor Herzl, in
his book The Jewish State, in which he outlines the initial vision of
Zionism, put it plainly: “Perhaps our ambitious young men, to whom every
road of advancement is now closed and for whom the Jewish state throws
open a bright prospect of freedom, happiness and honor, perhaps they
will see to it that this idea is spread.”
Freedom was the fuel
that was meant to push Zionism forward. Zionism was the movement for the
freedom of the Jewish people, after they failed to receive these
freedoms in Europe.
Herzl’s grandson, Stephen Theodor Norman,
described the success of this movement beautifully after visiting what
was then called Palestine: “You will be amazed at the Jewish youth in
Palestine... they have the look of freedom.”Capitalism is freedom
Not surprisingly, modern capitalism was also the product of the enlightenment movement.
Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism, was an important figure in what was called the Scottish Enlightenment.
aside the economic justifications for free markets, the moral
justification is quite straightforward. Capitalists believe in smaller
governments because they believe in freedom. Freedom stands opposed to
constraints and limitations. The bigger the government, the more
constraints there are. More regulations equal more limitations.
Therefore, a small government leads to more freedom for the individuals
living in that state.
Most capitalists agree that some government
intervention is necessary, as we are required to sacrifice some of our
freedoms in order to live in a functioning society. For example, it is
hard to find people who believe that the state should not run the
national military. However, what differentiates capitalists from others
is the value which they ascribe to freedom, as opposed to those other
values which can be advanced through government intervention.
fact, freedom is important enough to them that they are willing not to
intervene in people’s lives even if they are convinced that those people
are doing the wrong thing. As Friedrich Hayek, Nobel laureate in the
field of economics, said: “Our faith in freedom does not rest on the
foreseeable results in particular circumstances. Freedom granted only
when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not
Milton Friedman, another Nobel laureate in the field of
economics and one of the most talented spokesmen for capitalism, also
explained this clearly: “A major source of objection to a free economy
is precisely that it... gives people what they want instead of what a
particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments
against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
Capitalism, in other words, is a movement for the freedom of the individuals.People yearn for freedom
often engage in impressive analysis of great depth, in which they
classify different trends according to sophisticated concepts such as
“individualism” and “collectivism.” After studying these concepts so
deeply and analyzing society within this framework, it is hard for them
to free themselves of this way of thinking – and to see that other
people do not look at the world through their eyes, but rather through
Therefore, when Israel’s ruling party, the Likud,
speaks both for nationalistic-Zionist values and for capitalist values,
they see it as a contradiction which is impossible to truly solve. They
are unable to look at the values behind those concepts.
In fact, the truth is very simple.
People like freedom. People want freedom.
including Likud members, also want freedom. They want freedom for their
nation and they want freedom for themselves as individuals.
such, they believe strongly in Jewish Nationalism and in Zionism, the
national movement for the liberation of the Jewish people. And as such,
they also believe in the strength of capitalism and free markets to
bring economic freedom to them as individuals.
This is no
contradiction. Quite the opposite: If one of the core values of Zionism
is freedom for Jews, then the most Zionist thing one can do is to
encourage free-market economics in the Jewish state, so that its
citizens will have a maximum of freedom! Yes, one of those movements is
collectivist and brings freedom to the nation. The other is
individualistic and brings freedom to the individual.
Yes, sometimes, on very specific issues, there is tension between both sets of values.
the common denominator is stronger than anything which differentiates
between them. This common denominator is, as expressed in our national
anthem: “The hope of 2,000 years, to be a free people in our land, the
land of Zion and Jerusalem.”The writer is an attorney who graduated from McGill University Law
School and Hebrew University’s honors graduate program in public policy.
He is currently working as a research fellow at the Kohelet Policy
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