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A Review of Michael Neumann's

The Case Against Israel

By Mark R. Crovelli

[Editor's Note: Michael Neumann's comments on this review may be found at the end of the article. Readers are requested to remember, that despite the author's rhetoric of calling for the destruction of all states, voluntaryists seek to delegitimize the very idea of the State through education, and we advocate the non-violent withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which all State power ultimately depends.]

Michael Neumann, a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, has offered the world an absolutely indispensable book for understanding the complex and propaganda-ridden moral issues surrounding the state of Israel. The Case Against Israel (2005, Counterpunch/AK Press) presents a brutally logical argument against the Zionist program that ultimately culminated in the establishment of the "Jewish state," as well as a devastating critique of Israeli expansion and aggression in the decades since its founding. In an age when virtually anyone can be scalded with the "anti-Semite" branding iron simply for questioning acts of the Israeli government, Neumann's book offers a refreshingly honest and indeed courageous analysis of the real moral issues involved. [1]

This review will be broken into two relatively focused sections. In the first section, I recount Neumann's basic claim in Part I of the book that Israel is an "illegitimate" state--a claim that is both brilliantly argued and exceedingly convincing. In the second section I take issue with Neumann's claim that, even though the state of Israel "has no legitimate foundation," it would nevertheless be "wrong to try to destroy [illegitimate states such as Israel], not because it would be wrong if they vanished, but because the attempt would, in fact, have dreadful consequences." [2]


Unlike the majority of journalists, politicians and philosophers, Michael Neumann does not assume that the years preceding 1948 (with the exception of the Holocaust) are off-limits for moral scrutiny. On the contrary, Neumann takes the position that the founding of Israel in Palestine had (and continues to have) important moral implications for the conflict that subsequently developed between Palestinians and Israelis. Hence, Neumann's analysis begins with the question of whether the Zionists were morally justified in their quest to create a "homeland" in Palestine.

In order to answer this question, Neumann first tackles the oft-overlooked question of what the Zionists meant when they spoke of creating a "homeland" for the Jews. The answer, as Neumann piercingly observes, is that when the Zionists spoke of a "homeland" for the Jews, what they had in mind was a sovereign state for Jews; that is, a government run for and by Jews:

[The Zionists] did not come simply to find refuge from persecution. They did not come to 'redeem a people.' All this could have been accomplished elsewhere, as was pointed out at the time, and much of it was being done elsewhere by individual Jewish immigrants to America and other countries. The Zionists, and therefore all who settled under their auspices, came to found a sovereign Jewish state. [3]

This is no trivial point--especially for all the non-Jews who lived in Palestine before the founding of the so-called "Jewish state." Indeed, for non-Jews who were already living in Palestine, the implication of creating a new sovereign state run for and by Jews was that they would be subject to a government they never asked for and that would operate expressly on the behalf of people other than themselves:

[Living under Jewish sovereignty] means that Jews have a monopoly on violence in the areas they control. …A Jewish state is simply a state where Jews are firmly in control and where that much is recognized. Within its borders, Jews hold the power of life and death over Jews and non-Jews alike. That is the true meaning of the Zionist project. [4]

The morality of the founding of a "homeland" for the Jews, therefore, must be appraised in the light of the fact that this meant the creation of a state--a government--that was to be run for and by a certain ethnic group, and despite the wishes of all the people who would be subject to its power. The consequences of creating a state run for and by Jews, and that would have power over non-Jews as well, were, according to Neumann, virtually sealed. The creation of such a state could not have been viewed as anything other than a grave threat to all non-Jews already living in Palestine who would be subject to its jurisdiction. In the first place, as Neumann cogently observes, the non-Jewish population of Palestine could expect a government that would expressly not govern on their behalf:

[The Palestinians] realized that many thousands of people, with whom they had had no contact and to whom they had done no wrong, had come and were coming from thousands of miles away to establish a state of their own in as much of Palestine as they could get. …Because [the Palestinians] were not Jewish, they would not partake of sovereignty in this state: whatever its constitution, things would be arranged so that Jews had the deciding say, at the very least in all matters the Jews decided were of vital importance. Ultimately, 'the Jews' would hold the power of life or death over the Palestinians. [5]

Moreover, the creation of a state run for and by Jews had the obvious implication that the Jews would eventually try to rid Palestine of non-Jews:

The Zionists had often portrayed themselves as the leaders of 'one people,' the Jews, who wanted Palestine for themselves. They might, when politically useful, provide reassurances about their intentions. But clearly, they could not very well have Palestine for themselves without ridding it of its present inhabitants. The Palestinians, therefore, had good reason to fear an ethnic conflict in which extermination became far from unimaginable. And this is in fact how sentiments have evolved.[6]

The idea that the Palestinians would eventually have to be removed from Palestine was, moreover, confirmed by many remarks made by Israel's founding generation, as well as the early establishment of a militant civilian settler movement to colonize Palestinian lands.

The Palestinians thus had good reason to fear, not the Jews per se, but the establishment of a state--an apparatus of power and coercion--that would be run for the benefit of and by Jews alone. Facing this grave threat to their freedom and property from the establishment of the Jewish state, the Palestinians were justified in attempting to resist the imposition of a foreign power over them that they neither wanted nor asked for.

As for some of the more common arguments advanced to defend the creation of the Jewish state, Neumann offers devastating rebuttals. With Rothbardian eloquence and logic, Neumann skewers the idea that the Jews had a "historical right" to Palestine: "In territorial disputes, one might expect the Greeks to fare better than the Jews, because the Greeks' rule and subsequent presence [in Palestine] were both longer and stronger. Yet if the Greeks claimed much of the Eastern Roman Empire, including Turkey, they would be suspected of insanity. And the Italians? How much of the Roman Empire is rightfully theirs? These claims, one may safely say, have been lost." [7] Neumann similarly bulldozes the idea that Jews have a biblical right to Palestine [8], the idea that the Holocaust in some way justified the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine [9], and the idea that the Jews were acting in self-defense when they founded the Jewish state. [10]

The conclusion that Neumann draws from all this is that the Zionist project to establish a Jewish sovereign state, and which did indeed culminate in the establishment of the state of Israel, was morally illegitimate:

Zionism always was, despite strategically motivated denials to the contrary and brief flirtations with other objectives, an attempt to establish Jewish sovereignty over Palestine. This project was illegitimate. Neither history nor religion, nor the suffering of Jews in the Nazi era, sufficed to justify it. It posed a mortal threat to the Palestinians, and it left no room for compromise. Given that the Palestinians had no way to overcome Zionism peacefully, it also justified some form of violent resistance. [11]

Note that Neumann is not claiming that the Jews had no right to seek refuge during or after the Holocaust, nor even that they were in the wrong to seek to live together in Palestine. On the contrary, the sole reason why Israel's founding was illegitimate, according to Neumann, was that the project was intended from the start as an attempt to assert "ethnic sovereignty" over land that was already occupied by Palestinians:

It may have been justified to try and save the lives of Jewish refugees, but that never justified the state of Israel or the intention to establish it. Had the Zionists not been Zionists, had they asked for nothing more than the right to seek refuge in a land rather than rule it, matters might have been different, but they weren't. [12]

From these observations, Neumann concludes that "Israel has no legitimate foundation." [13]


Having brilliantly and convincingly argued that the state of Israel has "no legitimate foundation," one expects Michael Neumann to wrap up Part I of the book by denouncing the very existence of this illegitimate state. Indeed, since the state of Israel was born out of the morally illicit intention to either boot out or subjugate the non-Jewish population in Palestine to an ethnically "Jewish state," the most obvious solution to the moral challenge posed by this state would be simply to get rid of it.

Neumann is not willing to go this far, however, and he dismisses the idea of getting rid of the state of Israel, (or most other "illegitimate" states, for that matter), because the consequences of attempting to get rid of it would be "dreadful." [14] It is at this point that I must object to Neumann's otherwise brilliant argument, for his argument against getting rid of the state of Israel is extremely weak, inconsistent, and ultimately undermines the rest of his superb "case against Israel."

In order to see why, it is important to first note that Neumann's argument does not spring from any moral opposition to the elimination of the state of Israel per se. On the contrary, he takes a rather sanguine view of Israel's disappearance or destruction:

If Israel collapsed simply because it lost external and internal support, nothing wrong would have happened. Nor would it be wrong to destroy Israel as a political entity if its continued existence would have even worse consequences… .[15]

Neumann goes on to explain that his objection to the elimination of the state of Israel is ultimately based upon the assumption that the consequences of attempting to do so would be "dreadful":

In some ways, the more cynical Zionists are right: Israel's foundations, even if every single allegation of ethnic cleansing is completely accurate, are no worse than those of most other states. Virtually no state has legitimate foundations, and in that sense virtually no state has a right to exist. In theory, therefore, everyone has a right to interfere with the existence of those states. In practice, however, such 'interference' is almost never justified…This is because the cure of destruction is in practice worse than the disease of illegitimate existence. In practice, wiping out a powerful state such as the U.S. or Israel would cause even more suffering than letting it survive. More important, attacks on these states would almost certainly be unsuccessful and merely add to the evil of illegitimate existence the much more serious evil of catastrophic warfare. So Israel, like any other illegitimate state, does for all practical purposes have the right to exist. It would be wrong to try to destroy these states, not because it would be wrong if they vanished, but because the attempt would, in fact, have dreadful consequences. [16]

Neumann's objection to the elimination of the state of Israel is thus wholly dependent upon the unproven assumption that the consequences of attempting to get rid of it would be far worse than allowing it to continue to exist. This assumption, however, is completely unjustifiable. The consequences of attempting to get rid of or actually getting rid of the state of Israel not only need not be "worse" than allowing it to continue to exist, but need not be "bad" at all.

In the first place, whether or not the consequences of attempting to get rid of the Israeli state would be "dreadful," slightly bad, or even wonderful depends upon who you ask. Sure, if you ask a would-be Israeli settler hoping to expropriate a house that is currently owned by Palestinians, he is indeed likely to deem the consequences of attempting to get rid of the Israeli state as "dreadful." He is likely to view any such attempt as a serious threat to his goal of robbing a Palestinian of his home using the Israeli military as his means. If you ask the Palestinian who is facing eviction from his ancestral home by one of the most well armed and aggressive militaries in the world whether it would be "dreadful" if people attempted to get rid of that military and the civilian government that directs it, I find it doubtful that you would get the same answer. Or, suppose you were to ask the people of Gaza in all their current wretchedness whether "wiping out a powerful state such as the U.S. or Israel would cause even more suffering than letting it survive"--does anyone really believe that they would answer affirmatively?

The second problem with claiming that the elimination of an illegitimate state such as Israel would "cause even more suffering than letting it survive" is that the claim depends upon what time period one is talking about. It is indeed true that attempts to rid the world of aggressive, murderous and illegitimate states can cause a great deal of short-term suffering--possibly even more suffering than would have been caused by allowing the illegitimate and murderous states to survive. But, what justification could there be for only considering the short-term consequences, while ignoring the possible long-term consequences of getting rid of such states? After all, the consequences of ridding the world of an illegitimate and oppressive state in the long-run could far, far outweigh the short-term suffering that some people might have to endure to throw off the yoke of an illegitimate government. Were people to succeed in destroying an illegitimate and oppressive state, who could predict how much suffering this would prevent, and for how many years--or even centuries? And this problem is compounded by the fact that, because one cannot legitimately compare one person's suffering with another person's [17], it is not possible to make objective judgments about how much suffering would be caused by either decision. One cannot say, for example, "attempting to overthrow the Israeli state would cause X amount of suffering, while letting it survive would cause Y amount of suffering" because there is no common unit of "suffering" one could use to make such a judgment. [18] All one can justifiably say in such a case is that either course of action is likely to cause some suffering, and, since we are not omniscient, we are not in a position to know which course will objectively cause more. [19]

These considerations bring us to a third problem with Neumann's claim that overthrowing or attempting to overthrow an illegitimate state would "cause even more suffering than letting it survive"; namely, that not all attempts to overthrow an illegitimate government are unsuccessful--or even violent. The outcome of an attempt to overthrow an illegitimate government depends upon many factors, but is chiefly dependent upon the ideas held by the people involved. Indeed, since "illegitimate" governments (and "legitimate" governments, too, if such a thing is indeed possible) are always composed of a minority of the population, their continued existence is wholly dependent upon the ideas held by the mass of people who fund the state; that is, the taxpayers. [20] Should the taxpayers come to believe in sufficient numbers that the state is indeed illegitimate, there would be virtually nothing that the members of the state could do to perpetuate their parasitical existence, short of killing off the very people on whom they depend for funding. At that point, the illegitimate state would very quickly wither and die of its own accord, and without the need for violence or suffering of any sort. The point here is simply that the outcome of an attempt to overthrow an illegitimate state such as Israel need not involve violence or suffering at all, (e.g., 1989, in some former Soviet republics), and this fact seriously calls into question Neumann's weak defense of Israel's "right to exist." For, if it is indeed possible to overthrow Israel without violence and suffering of any kind, then ought we not to promote precisely this outcome, since it is "not a legitimate state?"

Another problem in this same vein is that to judge a person's right to defend himself against an illegitimate government based upon the amount of suffering he might cause and his likelihood of victory would lead us to stupefyingly counterintuitive conclusions. Indeed, the main conclusion that would follow from such a proposition would be that those people who are oppressed by the most powerful illegitimate states would have less of a right to attempt to overthrow them than those people who are oppressed by relatively less powerful states. For, the more powerful and oppressive a state is, ceteris paribus, the more difficult it is to overthrow it, and the more likely that suffering and death will result from the attempt. Hence, we would be forced to conclude that the people of, say, Jordan would have a better moral claim to attempt to overthrow their illegitimate government (because the likelihood of victory against the relatively weak Jordanian government is higher and the likelihood of widespread suffering lower) than the people of, say, Palestine (because the likelihood of their victory over the vastly more powerful and aggressive Israeli state is significantly lower, and the likelihood of widespread suffering much greater). But, what kind of moral theory would we have on our hands, if it permitted or even condoned the overthrow of weak and less oppressive states, while it imbued the most oppressive and powerful states with a macabre form of legitimacy, simply because they cannot be easily overthrown, and because they threaten to inflict severe suffering on any and all who should try?

All of the preceding considerations lead us inexorably to the most important question of all; namely, why ought we to try to justify the existence of "illegitimate" states at all? Why not simply call a spade a spade, and call for the complete elimination of these murderous, thieving, and liberty-destroying institutions that we call "states?" Why not advocate anarchism, since, as Michael Neumann brilliantly observes, "virtually no state has legitimate foundations, and in that sense virtually no state has a right to exist?" There is some truth in the claim that eliminating the state of Israel alone could lead to horrendous bloodshed and possibly even widespread ethnic warfare and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East. All the more reason, then, to call for the elimination of all states in that region, and beyond. It would be hard to claim that, say, Mubarak's government, or the Saudi oligarchy, or especially Ahmajinedad's Iran has a stronger "right to exist" than the Israeli government, so why not go ahead and call for the complete elimination of all these murderous and oppressive institutions from the world?

The anarchist solution to the Israeli-Palestinian morass has been given short shrift, mainly due the repeated calls by various hypocritical governments in the Middle East that have called for "wiping the state of Israel off the map." This has given many people the impression that calling for the elimination of the Israeli state is some sort of anti-Semitic ploy to rid the Middle East of Jews. The anarchist, however, calls for the elimination of all murderous, thieving, and intolerable governments--including the so-called "Muslim" ones. His position derives from the recognition that governments qua governments are always immoral and "illegitimate," and that mankind does not need government in order to live together in peace, security and prosperity. [21]

The Israeli government is only one of a long and despicable list of "illegitimate" and murderous institutions that thrives on stolen money (i.e., "taxes"), war and domination. Good riddance to all of them.


The aim of this review is certainly not to skewer Michael Neumann's The Case Against Israel. On the contrary, the book is one of the few truly honest and valuable works to be published since Israel's founding. This review is only intended to take Neumann's brilliant argument to its logical conclusion, which is to call for the elimination of all states, including Israel and the United States, which would rid the world of the institutions that are responsible for the kinds of atrocities, suffering and death that Neumann so vividly and accurately chronicles with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

[Michael Neumann, author of the book under review, offered the following comments via email on December 2, 2009:

Even if you had omitted the generous praise, I would have been delighted with the review. I suppose, these days, it takes an anarchist to really understand how important, and how ominous, it is to impose a state on someone. That's too bad, because even if you believe states are necessary, you ought to understand how ultimately frightening they are. Only Hobbes really got that right.

You get me at a very busy time of year and I can't give you anything like the comments the review deserves. Forgive a few superficial points, the product of a hasty read.

I wasn't quite sure whether you took my defense of Israeli statehood beyond what it was. Though you certainly appreciated that it was limited, I'm saying the only reason not to destroy the Israeli state is that too much blood would flow. That settlers or other might feel the abolition was a disaster, would not concern me in the slightest.

As for your rebuttal, the points are well taken, but I am not convinced. In particular, even accepting that some states can go more quietly, I cannot for a moment suppose that Israel would go without either prolonged warfare that killed hundreds of thousands, or a nuclear conflagration. I concede it possible that, in the long run, the continued existence of Israel might be even worse, but long-run possibilities are very uncertain, much more so than Israel's probable reaction to a serious military assault in the immediate future. Long story short, I think that tilts the case against trying to destroy Israel.

I have always rejected anarchism, not because I'm deaf to its objections to states - not at all - but because I am too pessimistic about human conduct to believe in the prospects for non-states. This isn't an argument we can resolve. Meanwhile I can only thank you for a critique as carefully constructed and executed as I could ever ask for.]

End Notes

[1] For a devastating critique of the liberal use of the "anti-Semite" slur to undermine any criticism of Israel, see in particular, Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (Berkley: University of California Press, 2005). Finkelstein's merciless bulldozing of Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel is especially entertaining and instructive.

[2] Michael Neumann, The Case against Israel (Petrolia, Cal.: Counterpunch/AK Press, 2005)., p. 90.

[3] Ibid., p. 36. It is worth recalling in this connection the recurring demand of various Israeli administrations for the Palestinians and various Arab governments to recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" as a precondition for even talking with them.

[4] Ibid., loc. cit.

[5] Ibid., p. 42

[6] Ibid., p. 44. On the idea that the Palestinians had good reasons to fear their eventual removal from Palestine, see pp. 41-66.

[7] Ibid., p. 71. For the full refutation of the "historic right" argument, see pp. 67-76.

[8] Ibid., pp. 73-76.

[9] Ibid., pp. 76-79.

[10] Ibid., pp. 79-86.

[11] Ibid., p. 86.

[12] Ibid. p. 88.

[13] Ibid., p. 89.

[14] Ibid. p. 90.

[15] Ibid., loc. cit.

[16] Ibid., loc. cit.

[17] On this problem, see especially, Murray N. Rothbard, "Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics," in The Logic of Action One: Method, Money, and the Austrian School (London: Edward Elgar, 1997).

[18] Ibid.

[19] On yet another level, the claim that governments ought to be allowed to continue to survive "in the name of peace" (Ibid., loc cit.) is completely blind to the historical reality that the modern state is the most murderous institution ever created by man. For the modern state's death toll, (170 million people), see R. J. Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1994).

[20] Ettienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, 2nd ed. (New York: Black Rose Books, 1997).

[21] On anarchism as the only consistent and defensible ethical system, see in particular Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (New York: New York University Press, 1998)., Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property: Studies in Political Economy and Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2006)., and Anthony de Jasay, The State (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1998). For further studies on "free market anarchism," see, inter alia, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, ed., The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of Security Production (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2003)., Gustave de Molinari, The Production of Security, trans. J. Huston McCulloch, Occasional Papers Series (New York: Center for Libertarian Studies, 1977)., David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to Radical Capitalism (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1978)., Morris Tannehill, Tannehill, Linda, The Market for Liberty (San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes, 1993)., and Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New York: Macmillan, 1973).