Meet the Israeli ‘Tea Party’ Promoting Free Market Ideas in Uncharted Territory

Israeli Freedom Movement's Facebook profile photo

Tea is often best served with honey, so it’s fitting that the first major legal battle Israel’s Tea-Party-equivalent has taken on is against the government’s not-so-sweet regulations on selling and cultivating honey.

Almost every aspect of the economy is highly regulated and taxed in Israel. So what’s a free market proponent to do? Members of the Israeli Freedom Movement – a group inspired by the U.S. Tea Party – decided it was time to stand up for individual rights, so they sued the government.

FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe and Israeli Freedom Movement founder Boaz Arad at Tel Aviv "Kosher Tea" event

Yes, tea party fever has made it to Israel. The movement launched this summer around the time a group of FreedomWorks activists traveled to Israel for Glenn Beck’s Restoring Courage events and made a special trip to Tel Aviv to meet with like-minded believers in individual rights. There they met Boaz Arad, a founder of the Israeli Freedom Movement, who impressed them with his knowledge of classical free-market thinkers including Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand.

In an interview with The Blaze, Arad says that since August the group has recruited more than 500 members:

“We view ourselves as allies, friends, ideological partners with the American Tea Party’s struggle. We view the American Tea Party movement as a noble movement that for the first time in the past 100 years offers an alternative to the deterioration of the world’s largest, freest superpower in the direction of socialism and statism.”

American Tea Partiers might think they have an uphill battle, but that’s nothing compared to the steep incline facing Israelis. Arad explains that taxation in Israel is so high that the average Israeli has to work 168 days each year in order to pay taxes before beginning to enjoy the fruits of his labor. His prescription may sound familiar:

“The government should do less. Reduce the regulation, reduce the barriers, reduce the difficulties that Israelis experience in order to establish a business.”

Arad and his colleagues aim to shine a spotlight on what they believe are absurd levels of paperwork and expenses required to start a business. Those regulations protect monopolies which prevent small business owners from competing on an even playing field in the marketplace. The lack of competition, steep income tax and import taxes lead to high prices for Israeli consumers, who also pay an additional 16% value added tax (VAT) on most goods and services.

For example, in Israel, importing more than 12 pounds of honey requires written permission from the Honey Council. Those wanting to cultivate their own honey are also in for some bitter news: setting up a beehive on private property entails another permit. The Honey Council lists only 25 “authorized honey marketers” in the country.

Israeli Freedom Movement's Boaz Arad and Yaron Lerman outside Israel's Supreme Court

Aiming for a precedent-setting change, the Israeli Freedom Movement petitioned the Supreme Court to ask it rule against the government policy requiring those who want to cultivate honey or import honey – in any amount – from being required to obtain a license from the Honey Council. The court agreed to hear the case, and simultaneously provided evidence of its own inefficiency: a hearing in the case is scheduled for next winter.

Arad explains that similar barriers afflict other industries. If an Israeli wants to sell milk, there’s a quota from a special committee that organizes that market. Importing any dairy products from overseas requires “an outrageous sum of money in taxation,” he says. Similar regulations affect the construction industry which is also plagued by the fact that an estimated 93% of land in Israel is owned by the government or related agencies.

In the August brain-storming session in Tel Aviv, FreedomWorks’ President and CEO Matt Kibbe told the Israeli group they shouldn’t be intimidated by the daunting task, because though the American tea party movement began small, it ended up galvanizing major change on the American political landscape and in Congress. Kibbe told them in August:

“The only thing I would suggest to everyone here is don’t think you can’t do this because for years we said this to ourselves in the United States: ‘We can’t possibly do this.’”

Arad agrees there are many issues the American and Israeli groups have in common:

“For both countries there are shared challenges in terms of how important it is to encourage recognizing the value of freedom, an appreciation for innovation and encouraging free thinking, and creating the conditions for personal and economic growth. These values are particularly important in light of the strengthening of radical forces wishing to bring the world back to the days of the Dark Ages.”

“Of course there are many differences. Contrary to the U.S. that was established with a constitution defending individual freedoms that allow a free market in the framework of capitalism, Israel was established with a combination of socialism and private enterprise. In Israel’s early years, socialist elements controlled almost all its good parts. If this had continued, it would have led to the bankruptcy of the State of Israel.”

He also explains that over the past few decades, Israel has been engaged in a process of privatization, gradually reducing government involvement in certain enterprises:

“Contrary to the U.S. that needs to rediscover again its values that have been trampled, Israel needs to recognize them, to craft a constitution and advance the principles of freedom and the free market. It should be noted Israel is a small country, though what happens here has big global ramifications. Therefore, a thriving freedom movement is especially important. Additionally, the U.S. is the last big stronghold of freedom in the world, and without it, we and the free world are lost.”

One of the major impetuses in launching the Israeli group was large protests over the summer highlighting the high cost of living. The protesters demanded more government subsidies, public housing, free preschool education, what they called “social justice.” Arad says:

“The protest movement identified real problems, but it offered the same worn out socialist formulas, such as increasing the government’s role in the economy and in the lives of citizens. Because of this, setting up our movement was critically important in order to stand against this collapse which threatened our freedom in Israel and to provide an alternative which is less government and more freedom.”

In Hebrew, the group calls itself the “New Liberal Movement,” but due to the political connotations they didn’t want to include the word “liberal” in their name in English. Arad says the group intentionally chose the word leeberalee, that is, “liberal” due to the classical economic meaning of the term, he says, before the left could “hijack” the word in Hebrew.

The right-left political divide in Israel is defined by foreign and military policy, not economic affairs, so The Blaze asked Arad which party is most sympathetic to his message. The answer might surprise Americans:

“I believe that in the Likud and the right-wing parties there are islands of understanding for the principles of freedom. Unfortunately, most of the political spectrum in Israel is painted in shades of red, though on the right the red is a bit lighter.”

And that world view is reflected in the Israeli media, which is why Arad and his colleagues took notice of Glenn Beck’s broadcasts from the U.S.:

“Glenn Beck is a supporter of Israel and a loyal friend in the media – all while the Israeli media itself was negligent in its work, failing to defend the values of freedom and advancement…Beck’s visit to Israel made a very significant contribution and enabled direct contact with Matt Kibbe and leading members of the tea party movement.”

FreedomWorks’ David Spielman, who organized the Tel Aviv meeting and who first created the “Kosher Tea” groups bringing together American Jewish tea party supporters, tells The Blaze his goal was:

“reaching out to the Jewish community and engaging Jewish conservatives in America to stand up.  I also sought to create Kosher Tea as a way to defend against the claim that the Tea Party is racist and anti-Semitic.”

Spielman says, “It always seemed to me that traditional Jewish values like family and fiscal responsibility have much more in common with conservatism than most Jews realize.” He says FreedomWorks now also has contacts in Japan, Italy, Australia, Austria and the UK.

FreedomWorks’ President and CEO Matt Kibbe tells The Blaze why it’s important to communicate with those overseas:

“Freedom is not an American thing, it is a human thing, as naturally sought as food and water.  With the decentralization of information online and the ability of freedom-loving people to connect with each other, learn and organize, we think there is an unprecedented opportunity to change the conversation globally about the proper role of government in a free society.

The people we met in Israel seem keenly aware of the need for more economic prosperity from the bottom up, and how a strategy based on the principles of freedom will work for their country.”

Emphasizing the challenge Arad and his colleagues face, a law was proposed on January 1st that if passed will prevent parents from choosing a “weird” name for their child. Arutz 7 reports, “The law would forbid parents from naming their children with names that ‘hurt their welfare or their feelings.’” A “public names committee” of social workers, psychologists, and educators would be assembled to nix “unacceptable” names that – in their opinion – could cause children damage. True, who wants to be called “Apple,” but is that really the role of government? A small but potent example of the fragile individual rights the Israeli Freedom Movement is working daily to defend.

Watch highlights of the August meeting with the Israeli Freedom Movement and FreedomWorks:

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