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Controversy (1st Part)

Damage Control: Noam Chomsky and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

While the Bush administration is sinking into the Iraqi mess and supports the Israeli destruction campaign in Palestine and in Lebanon, a controversy is expanding in the United States on the exact links between the US imperialism and the zionist expansionism. Suddenly, the thought of Noam Chomsky, which was imposed, for a long time, as a reference to the US left-wing, does not function any more. It is the moment, for the journalist Jeffrey Blankfort, to question this superstar. We publish here, in three parts, his long study of the limits of Noam Chomsky’s thought.

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"In an article in the New York Times (April 19, 2003), reporter Emily Eakin tells the story of a University of Chicago confab called to assess theory’s fate. At a session attended by a bevy of humanities superstars, a student asked: What good is theory if, he said, ‘we concede in fact how much more important the actions of Noam Chomsky are in the world than all the writings of critical theorists combined.’"
(Jon Spayde, Senior Editor, Utne Reader Nov/Dec 2004).

Noam Chomsky has been the foremost critic of America’s imperial adventures for more than three decades. That is probably the only point of agreement shared by his legions of loyal supporters and his equally committed although far less numerous detractors. His domination of the field is so extraordinary and unprecedented that one would be hard-put to find a runner-up. It is a considerable achievement for someone who has been described, at times, as a "reluctant icon." [1]

Despite his low-key demeanor and monotone delivery, Chomsky has been anything but reluctant. On closer examination, however, it appears that he has gained his elevated position less from scholarship than from the sheer body of his work that includes books by the dozens—30 in the last 30 years—and speeches and interviews in the hundreds.

In the field of US-Israel-Palestine relations he has been a virtual human tsunami, washing like a huge wave over genuine scholarly works in the field that contradict his critical positions on the Middle East, namely that Israel serves a strategic asset for the US and that the Israeli lobby, primarily AIPAC, is little more than a pressure group like any other trying to affect US policy in the Middle East. For both of these positions, as I will show, he offers only the sketchiest of evidence and what undercuts his theory he eliminates altogether.

Nevertheless, he has ignited the thinking and gained himself the passionate, almost cult-like attachment of thousands of followers across the globe. At the same time it has made him the favorite hate object of those who support and justify the US global agenda and the domination of its junior partner, Israel, over the Palestinians. Who else has whole internet blogs dedicated to nothing else but attacking him?

What is less generally known is that he admits to having been a Zionist from childhood, by one of the earlier definitions of the term—in favor of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and a bi-national, not a Jewish state—and, as he wrote 30 years ago, "perhaps this personal history distorts my perspective"  [2]... . Measuring the degree to which it has done so is critical to understanding puzzling positions he has taken in response to the Israel-Palestine conflict...

Given the viciousness and the consistency with which Chomsky has been attacked by his critics on the "right," one ventures cautiously when challenging him from the "left." To expose serious errors in Chomsky’s analysis and recording of history is to court almost certain opprobrium from those who might even agree with the nature of the criticism but who have become so protective of his reputation over the years, often through personal friendships, that have they not only failed to publicly challenge substantial errors of both fact and interpretation on his part, they have dismissed attempts by others to do so as "personal" vendettas.

Chomsky himself is no more inclined to accept criticism than his supporters. As one critic put it, "His attitude to who those who disagree with him, is, by and large, one of contempt. The only reason they can’t see the simple truth of what he’s saying is that they are, in one way or another, morally deficient." [3]

Although I had previously criticized Chomsky for downplaying the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on Washington’s Middle East policies, [4]. I had hesitated to write a critique of his overall approach for the reasons noted. Nevertheless, I was convinced that while, ironically, having provided perhaps the most extensive documentation of Israeli crimes, he had, at the same time immobilized, if not sabotaged, the development of any serious effort to halt those crimes and to build an effective movement in behalf of the Palestinian cause.

An exaggeration? Hardly. A number of statements made by Chomsky have demonstrated his determination to keep Israel and Israelis from being punished or inconvenienced for the very monumental transgressions of decent human behavior that he himself has passionately documented over the years. This is one of the glaring contradictions in Chomsky’s work. He would have us believe that Israel’s occupation and harsh actions against the Palestinians, its invasions and undeclared 40 years war on Lebanon, and its arming of murderous regimes in Central America and Africa during the Cold War, has been done as a client state in the service of US interests. In Chomsky’s world view, that absolves Israel of responsibility and has become standard Chomsky doctrine.

Following through with a critique of his work seemed essential after reading an interview he had given last May to Christopher J. Lee of Safundi: the Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies and circulated on Znet [5].

Quite naturally, the discussion turned to apartheid and whether Chomsky considered the term applied to Palestinians under Israeli rule. He responded: "I don’t use it myself, to tell you the truth. Just like I don’t [often] use the term "empire", because these are just inflammatory terms... I think it’s sufficient to just describe the situation, without comparing it to other situations".

Anyone familiar with Chomsky’s work will recognize that he is no stranger to inflammatory terms and that comparing one historical situation with another has long been part of his modus operandi. His response in this instance was troubling. Many Israeli academics and journalists, such as Ilan Pappe, Tanya Reinhart and Amira Hass, have described the situation of the Palestinians as one of apartheid. Bishop Tutu has done the same and last year Ha’aretz reported that South African law professor John Dugard, the special rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in Occupied Palestine and a former member of his country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, had written in a report to the UN General Assembly that there is ""an apartheid regime" in the territories "worse than the one that existed in South Africa."" [6]

Chomsky explained his disagreement: "Apartheid was one particular system and a particularly ugly situation... It’s just to wave a red flag, when it’s perfectly well to simply describe the situation... "

His reluctance to label Israel’s control of the Palestinians as "apartheid" out of concern that it be seen as a "red flag," like describing it as "inflammatory," was a red flag itself and raised questions that should have been asked by the interviewer, such as who would be inflamed by the reference to ‘apartheid’ as a "red flag" in Israel’s case and what objections would Chomsky have to that?

A more disturbing exchange occurred later in the interview when Chomsky was asked if sanctions should be applied against Israel as they were against South Africa. He responded: "In fact, I’ve been strongly against it in the case of Israel. For a number of reasons. For one thing, even in the case of South Africa, I think sanctions are a very questionable tactic. In the case of South Africa, I think they were [ultimately] legitimate because it was clear that the large majority of the population of South Africa was in favor of it. Sanctions hurt the population. You don’t impose them unless the population is asking for them. That’s the moral issue. So, the first point in the case of Israel is that: Is the population asking for it? Well, obviously not".

Obviously not. But is it acceptable to make such a decision on the basis of what the majority of Israelis want? Israel, after all, is not a dictatorship in which the people are held in check by fear and, therefore, cannot be held responsible for their government’s actions. Israel has a largely unregulated, lively press and a "people’s army" in which all Israeli Jews, other than the ultra-orthodox, are expected to serve and that is viewed by the Israeli public with almost religious reverence. Over the years, in their own democratic fashion, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have consistently supported and participated in actions of their government against the Palestinians and Lebanese that are not only racist, but in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Chomsky made his position clear:
"So; calling for sanctions here, when the majority of the population doesn’t understand what you are doing, is tactically absurd-even if it were morally correct, which I don’t think it is. The country against which the sanctions are being imposed is not calling for it".

The interviewer, Lee, understandably puzzled by that answer, then asked him, "Palestinians aren’t calling for sanctions?". Chomsky: "Well, the sanctions wouldn’t be imposed against the Palestinians, they would be imposed against Israel." Lee: "Right... [And] Israelis aren’t calling for sanctions!".

That response also disturbed Palestinian political analyst, Omar Barghouti, who, while tactfully acknowledging Chomsky as "a distinguished supporter of the Palestinian cause," addressed the issue squarely:
"Of all the anti-boycott arguments, this one reflects either surprising naiveté or deliberate intellectual dishonesty. Are we to judge whether to apply sanctions on a colonial power based on the opinion of the majority in the oppressors community? Does the oppressed community count at all? [7]

For Chomsky, apparently not. But there were more absurdities to come:
"Furthermore, there is no need for it. We ought to call for sanctions against the United States! If the US were to stop its massive support for this, it’s over. So, you don’t have to have sanctions on Israel. It’s like putting sanctions on Poland under the Russians because of what the Poles are doing. It doesn’t make sense. Here, we’re the Russians".

First, what does Chomsky mean by saying "there is no need of it?" He was certainly aware, at the time of the interview that Israel, with its construction of a 25-foot high wall and fence, appropriately described by its critics as the "Apartheid Wall" was accelerating the confiscation of yet more Palestinian land and continuing the ethnic cleansing that began well before 1947 and there was nothing other than the weight of public opinion that might stop it.

Second, while there would be considerable support of sanctions against the US, if such were possible, would this not violate Chomsky’s own standard for applying them? Had he not moments before, said that the majority of the people must support them? He apparently has a different standard for Israelis than he does for Americans. And what the Palestinians may wish doesn’t count.

Then, having just told the interviewer that he did not like making comparisons, what can one make of his placing the relationship that existed between Poland and the former Soviet Union (Russia, in his lexicon) in the same category as that existing between Israel and the United States? He was referring to the implementation of sanctions by the Reagan administration against Poland in 1981 after the East Bloc nation had instituted martial law in response to the rise of the Solidarnosc movement. What role the Soviet Union had in that has been debated, but it should be obvious that there is no serious basis for such a comparison.

In retrospect, however, it was no surprise. In the Eighties, Chomsky placed Israel’s relationship to the US in the same category as that of El Salvador when the Reagan administration was backing its puppet government against the FMLN. Not embarrassed at having spouted such nonsense, he still repeats it. [8] Even then, he exhibited a gritty determination to deflect responsibility for Israel’s actions on to the United States. To point this out is not to defend the US or its egregious history of global criminality—which is not defensible—but to expose the deep fault lines that inhabit Chomsky’s world view.

In case I had missed something, however, I wrote him, asking if he wished to clarify what the Polish-Soviet relationship had in common with that of Israel and the US? He declined to answer that question but with reference to my asking him about his avoidance of placing blame on Israel, he responded:
"I also don’t acknowledge other efforts to blame others [presumably Israel] for what we do. Cheap, cowardly, and convenient, but I won’t take part in it. That’s precisely what’s at stake. Nothing else". [8]

"Cheap, cowardly and convenient" to blame Israel? If his primary desire is to protect Israel and Israelis from any form of inconvenience is not obvious from that private response, his public effort to sabotage the budding campus divestment program should leave no doubt where and with whom his sympathies lie.

Chomsky is against the boycotting of investments in Israel

In an exchange with Washington Post readers, Chomsky was asked by a caller:
"Why did you sign an MIT petition calling for MIT to boycott Israeli investments, and then give an interview in which you state that you opposed such investment boycotts? What was or is your position on the proposal by some MIT faculty that MIT should boycott Israeli investments? "

Chomsky replied:
"As is well known in Cambridge, of anyone involved, I was the most outspoken opponent of the petition calling for divestment, and in fact refused to sign until it was substantially changed, along lines that you can read if you are interested. The "divestment" part was reduced to three entirely meaningless words, which had nothing to do with the main thrust of the petition. I thought that the three meaningless words should also be deleted... On your last question, as noted, I was and remain strongly opposed, without exception — at least if I understand what the question means. How does one "boycott Israeli investments"?" (Emphasis added). [9]

I will assume that Chomsky understood very well what the caller meant: investing in Israeli companies and in State of Israel Bonds of which US labor union pension funds, and many states and universities have purchased hundreds of millions of dollars worth. These purchases clearly obligate those institutions to lobby Congress to insure that the Israeli economy stays afloat. This isn’t something that Chomsky talks or writes about.

The caller was referring to a speech that Chomsky had made to the Harvard Anthropology Dept. shortly after the MIT and Harvard faculties issued a joint statement on divestment. It was gleefully reported in the Harvard Crimson by pro-Israel activist, David Weinfeld, under the headline "Chomsky’s Gift":
"MIT Institute Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky recently gave the greatest Hanukkah gift of all to opponents of the divestment campaign against Israel. By signing the Harvard-MIT divestment petition several months ago—and then denouncing divestment on Nov. 25 at Harvard—Chomsky has completely undercut the petition".

At his recent talk for the Harvard anthropology department, Chomsky stated:
"I am opposed and have been opposed for many years, in fact, I’ve probably been the leading opponent for years of the campaign for divestment from Israel and of the campaign about academic boycotts."

He argued that a call for divestment is "a very welcome gift to the most extreme supporters of US-Israeli violence... It removes from the agenda the primary issues and it allows them to turn the discussion to irrelevant issues, which are here irrelevant, anti-Semitism and academic freedom and so on and so forth." [10] (Emphasis added.)

Here you see one of the tactics that Chomsky uses to silence his few left critics; he accuses them of aiding "the most extreme supporters of US-Israeli violence."

When contacted by the Cornell Daily Sun which was preparing an article on the MIT-Harvard divestment movement, Chomsky repeated his objections, and "despite acknowledging the existence of this petition,", the reporter wrote, Chomsky said, "I’m aware of no divestment movement. I had almost nothing to do with the "movement" except to insist that it not be a divestment movement.’" [11] (Emphasis added)

A least, he cannot be accused of inconsistency. After speaking at the First Annual Maryse Mikhail Lecture at the University of Toledo, on March 4, 2001, Chomsky was asked:
"Do you think it’s is a good idea to push the idea of divestment from Israel the same way that we used to push for it in white South Africa? "

Chomsky replied:
"I regard the United States as the primary guilty party here, for the past 30 years. And for us to push for divestment from the United States doesn’t really mean anything. What we ought to do is push for changes in US policy. Now it makes good sense to press for not sending attack helicopters to Israel, for example. In fact it makes very good sense to try to get some newspaper in the United States to report the fact that it’s happening. That would be a start. And then to stop sending military weapons that are being used for repression. And you can take steps like that. But I don’t think divestment from Israel would make much sense, even if such a policy were imaginable (and it’s not).
Our primary concern, I think, should be change in fundamental US policy, which has been driving this thing for decades. And that should be within our range. That’s what we’re supposed to be able to do: change US policy. "
(Emphasis added)

Let us examine the response he gave at this event. Having stated forthrightly his opposition to pressuring Israel through divestment, he made no suggestion that his audience contact their Congressional representatives or senators regarding their support for aid to Israel. Mass appeals to Congress to stop funding, whether it was in opposition to the war in Vietnam or the Contras in Nicaragua, have been a basic element in every other nation-wide struggle against US global policy. Why not in this case? If Chomsky has ever called for any actions involving Congress, I could find no record of it.

Middle East activists, consequently, following Chomsky’s lead, have continued to allow members of Congress and liberal Democrats, in particular, avoid paying any political price for supporting legislation that has provided Israel with the billions of dollars and the weaponry it has used to suppress the Palestinians, confiscate their land and expand its illegal settlements. This is what has devastated the Palestinians, not the meaningless three score plus Security Council resolutions reprimanding Israel that the US has vetoed but which, for Chomsky, validate his position that the US is the main culprit.

What he suggested to this audience—getting a newspaper to report the helicopter "sales" to Israel should have had those not entranced by his presence shaking their heads. As for changing US policy being "within our range," if Israel is a US "strategic asset," as he maintains, how does Chomsky suggest this be done? Beyond contacting your local newspaper editor, he doesn’t.

Chomsky clears Israel of its crimes

Last year, Noah Cohen had the temerity to challenge Chomsky’s opposition to both a "single state" solution and implementing the Palestinian "right of return." Chomsky defended his "realism" and accused Cohen of being engaged in "an academic seminar among disengaged intellectuals on Mars... [and] those who take these stands" [are] "serving the cause of the extreme hawks in Israel and the US, and bringing even more harm to the suffering Palestinians." [12]

Note, again, how Chomsky accuses those who disagree with him of harming the Palestinians. This evidently includes the Palestinians themselves who refuse to surrender their "right of return." Their crime, in Chomsky’s opinion, is to oppose what he praises as the "international consensus," the support of which, for him, is "true advocacy." [13]

"The main task", he says, "is to bring the opinions and attitudes of the large majority of the US population into the arena of policy. As compared with other tasks facing activists, this is, and has long been a relatively simple one." [14] Simple?
Who, we must ask, is on Mars? Of course, as noted previously, he offers no suggestions as how to accomplish this.

Although he doesn’t advertise it publicly, Chomsky did sign a petition calling for the suspension of US military aid to Israel, but it has received little publicity and Sustain, the organization initiating the campaign has done little to promote it. It is not a demand that Chomsky raises in his books or interviews. When I pointed this out, he responded:
"That is totally false. I’ve always supported the call of Human Rights Watch and others to stop ‘aid’ to Israel until it meets minimal human rights conditions. I’ve also gone out of way to publicize the fact that the majority of the population is in favor of cutting all aid to Israel until it agrees to serious negotiations (with my approval)... " [15]

Given the probable nature and outcome of previous "serious negotiations", and the relative strength in the power relationship, this would present no problem for Israel as was demonstrated at Oslo and since. Chomsky’s claim to have supported Human Rights Watch’s call for stopping aid to Israel, however, was a figment of his imagination. This was confirmed by an HRW official who explained that HRW had only asked that the amount of money spent on the occupied territories be deducted from the last round of loan guarantees. [16]That is hardly the same thing. When I pointed this out to Chomsky, he replied:
"To take only one example, consider ‘HRW, Israel’s Interrogation of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories,’ p. xv, which states that US law prohibits sending any military or economic aid to Israel because of its practice of systematic torture. " [17]

To my objection that this did not exactly constitute what would be described as a "campaign", he testily responded:
"Calling actions illegal is sufficient basis for a reference to a call that the actions should be terminated. If you prefer not to join HRW and me in calling the aid illegal, implying directly that it should be terminated, that’s up to you. Not very impressive... " [18] (Emphasis added)

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether describing US aid to Israel as illegal in a single document is the same as conducting a campaign to stop it.

Two and a half years earlier, Chomsky had made his position quite clear:
"It is convenient in the US, and the West, to blame Israel and particularly Sharon, but that is unfair and hardly honest. Many of Sharon’s worst atrocities were carried out under Labor governments. Peres comes close to Sharon as a war criminal. Furthermore, the prime responsibility lies in Washington, and has for 30 years. That is true of the general diplomatic framework, and also of particular actions. Israel can act within the limits established by the master in Washington, rarely beyond. [19] " (Emphasis added)

While no doubt a statement of this sort is comforting to the eyes and ears of Israel’s supporters in "the left," it should be obvious that his waiving of the Jewish State’s responsibility to adhere to the Nuremberg principles, as well as the Geneva Conventions, clearly serves Israel’s interests. (While a strong case can certainly be made against Peres, as well, he is not in Sharon’s class in the "war criminal" competition.)

Chomsky’s rationalization of Israel’s criminal misdeeds in The Fateful Triangle should have rung alarm bells when it appeared in 1983. Written a year after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, in what would become a sacred text for Middle East activists, he actually began the book not by taking Israel to task so much as its critics:
"In the war of words that has been waged since Israel invaded Lebanon on June 6, 1982, critics of Israeli actions have frequently been accused of hypocrisy. While the reasons advanced are spurious, the charge itself has some merit. It is surely hypocritical to condemn Israel for establishing settlements in the occupied territories while we pay for establishing and expanding them. Or to condemn Israel for attacking civilian targets with cluster and phosphorous bombs "to get the maximum kill per hit." When we provide them gratis or at bargain rates, knowing that they will be used for just this purpose. Or to criticize Israel’s ‘indiscriminate’ bombardment of heavily-settled civilian areas or its other military adventures, while we not only provide the means in abundance but welcome Israel’s assistance in testing the latest weaponry under live battlefield conditions... .In general, it is pure hypocrisy to criticize the exercise of Israeli power while welcoming Israel’s contributions towards realizing the US aim of eliminating possible threats, largely indigenous, to American domination of the Middle East region". [20]

First, the PLO was seen as a threat by Israel, not by the United States in 1982, particularly since it had strictly abided by a US-brokered cease-fire with Israel for 11 months, giving it a dangerous degree of credibility in Israeli eyes. Second, whom did Chomsky mean by "we?" Perhaps, President Reagan and some members of Congress who gently expressed their concern when the number of Palestinians and Lebanese killed in the invasion and the wholesale destruction of the country could not be suppressed in the media. But he doesn’t say. It certainly wasn’t those who took to the streets across the country to protest Israel’s invasion. Both political parties had competed in their applause when Israel launched its attack, as did the AFL-CIO which took out a full page ad in the NY Times, declaring "We Are Not Neutral. We Support Israel!" paid for by an Israeli lobbyist with a Park Avenue address. The media, in the beginning, was also supportive, but it is rare to find an editorial supporting US aid to Israel. It is rarely ever mentioned and that’s the way the lobby likes it. So is Chomsky creating a straw figure? It appears so.

If we follow Chomsky’s "logic," it would be an injustice to bring charges of war crimes against Indonesian, El Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Haitian, or Filipino officers, soldiers, or public officials for the atrocities committed against their own countrymen and women since they were funded, armed and politically supported by the US. Perhaps, General Pinochet will claim the Chomsky Defense if he goes to trial.

He pressed the point of US responsibility for Israel’s sins again in his introduction to The New Intifada, noting that as one of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, "It is therefore Washington’s responsibility to prevent settlement and expropriation, along with collective punishment and all other measures of violence... .It follows that the United States is in express and extreme violation of its obligations as a High Contracting Party." [21]

I would agree with Chomsky, but is the US refusal to act a more "extreme violation" than the actual crimes being committed by another signatory to the Conventions, namely Israel? Chomsky would have us believe that it is.

It is a point he made clear at a talk in Oxford in May, 2004, when he brought up the killing a week earlier of the Hamas spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin by the Israeli military as he left a Mosque in Gaza. "That was reported as an Israeli assassination, but inaccurately" said Chomsky. "Sheikh Yassin was killed by a US helicopter, flown by an Israeli pilot. Israel does not produce helicopters. The US sends them with the understanding that they will be used for such purposes, not defense, as they have been, regularly."

Chomsky is correct to a point. What is missing from his analysis is any reference to the demands from Congress, orchestrated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s officially registered lobby, to make sure that the US provides those helicopters to Israel to use as its generals see fit. (In fact, there is not a single mention of AIPAC in any one of Chomsky’s many books on the Israel-Palestine conflict). What Chomsky’s British audience was left with was the conclusion that the assassination of Sheik Yassin was done with Washington’s approval.

While its repeated use of helicopters against the Palestinian resistance and civilian population has been one of the more criminal aspects of Israel’s response to the Intifada, absolving the Israelis of blame for their use has become something of a fetish for Chomsky as his introduction to The New Intifada [22] and again, in more detail in Middle East Illusions, illustrates:

"On October 1, [at the beginning of the Al-Aksa Intifada] Israeli military helicopters, or, to be more precise, US military helicopters with Israeli pilots, sharply escalated the violence, killing two Palestinians in Gaza... . The continuing provision of attack helicopters by the United States to Israel, with the knowledge that these weapons are being used against the civilian Palestinian population, and the silence of the mainstream media is just one illustration of many of how we live up to the principle that we do not believe in violence. Again, it leaves honest citizens with two tasks: the important one, do something about it; and the second one, try to find out why the policies are being pursued". (Emphasis added) [23]

What to do Chomsky again doesn’t say, but he does try to tell us why:

"On that matter, the fundamental reasons are not really controversial... It has long been understood that the gulf region has the major energy sources in the world... ". [24]

Chomsky then goes on for two pages explaining the importance of Middle East oil and the efforts by the US to control it. It is the basic explanation that he has repeated and republished, almost verbatim, over the years. What it has to do with the Palestinians who have no oil or how a truncated Palestinian state would present a threat to US regional interests is not provided, but after two pages the reader has forgotten that the question was even posed. In his explanation there is no mention of the lobby or domestic influences.

Chomsky does acknowledge that "major sectors of American corporate capitalism, including powerful elements with interests in the Middle East [the major oil companies!]" have endorsed a "two-state solution" on the basis that:
"The radical nationalist tendencies that are enflamed by the unsettled Palestinian problem would be reduced by the establishment of a Palestinian mini-state that would be contained within a Jordanian-Israeli military alliance (perhaps tacit), surviving at the pleasure of its far more powerful neighbors and subsidized by the most conservative and pro-American forces in the Arab world... .This would, in fact, be the likely outcome of a two-state settlement."
 [25]

Such an outcome would have little direct influence on regional Arab politics, except to demoralize supporters of the Palestinian struggle in the neighboring countries and around the world, a development that would clearly serve US interests. It would, however, curb Israel’s expansion, which is critical to Israel’s agenda, not Washington’s. Chomsky also fails to recognize a fundamental contradiction in his argument. If the support of Israel has been based on its role as protector of US strategic resources, namely oil, why does not that position enjoy the support of the major oil companies with interests in the region?

It is useful to go look at Chomsky’s earlier writings to see how his position has developed. This paragraph from Peace in the Middle East, published in 1974 and repackaged with additional material in 2003, is not dissimilar from the liberal mush he often criticizes:
"I do not see any way in which Americans can contribute to the active pursuit of peace. That is a matter for the people of the former Palestine themselves. But it is conceivable that Americans might make some contribution to the passive search for peace, by providing channels of communication, by broadening the scope of the discussion and exploring basic issues in ways that are not easily open to those who see their lives as immediately threatened". [26]

Readers should note amidst the vagueness of this paragraph, how Chomsky’s suggestion that "the active pursuit of peace" should be left to "people of the former Palestine" mirrors a phrase that we have heard frequently from Clinton and since from George the Second and Colin Powell, namely, "leaving the negotiations to the concerned parties".

This was published a year after the October 1973 war when the US was massively increasing both military and economic aid to Israel, a fact Chomsky emphasizes in his other writings. Raising it in this context, however, was not on his agenda at that time.

It is reasonable to conclude by now that Chomsky’s dancing around the question of US aid, his opposition to divestment and sanctions, and to holding Israel to account, can be traced more to his Zionist perspective, irrespective of how he defines it, than to his general approach to historical events . It doesn’t stop there, however. An examination of a sampling of his prodigious output on the Israel-Palestine conflict reveals critical historical omissions and blind spots, badly misinterpreted events, and a tendency to repeat his errors to the point where they have become accepted as "non-controversial facts" by successive generations of activists who repeat them like trained seals. In sum, what they have been given by Chomsky is a deeply flawed scenario that he has successfully sold and resold to them as reality.

The consequences are self-evident.

Those who have relied on Chomsky’s interpretation of the US-Israel relationship for their work in behalf of the Palestinian cause, have been functionally impotent. There is simply no evidence that any activity they have undertaken has applied any brake on the Palestinians’ ever-deteriorating situation. I include here, specifically, the anti-war and solidarity movements and their leading spokespersons who have adopted Chomsky’s formulations en toto. How much responsibility for their failure can be laid at Chomsky’s feet may be debatable, but that he has been a major factor can not be. On the other hand, for those in the movement whose primary interest has been to protect Israel from blame and sanctions, and their numbers are not small, Chomsky has been extremely helpful.

[1] Noam Chomsky interviewed by Tim Halle, 1999.

[2] Peace in the Middle East, Vintage, 1974 p. 49-51.

[3] Mick Hartley, January 10, 2004.

[4] «Occupied Territory: Congress, the Lobby and Jewish Responsibility», City Lights Review, San Francisco, 1992, The Israel Lobby and the Left: Uneasy Questions, Left Curve, Oakland, 2003.

[5] Safundi, Znet, May 10, 2004.

[6] Ha’aretz, August 24, 2004.

[7] www.jihadunspun.org, Dec. 25, 2004.

[8] Pirates and Emperors, South End Press. Cambridge, 2002.

[9] Washington Post, 26 novembre 2003.

[10] Harvard Crimson, 2 décembre 2003.

[11] Cornell Daily Sun, 12 avril 2004.

[12] Znet, July 26, 2004.

[13] Znet, August 26, 2004.

[14] Ibid.

[15] E-mail, November 26, 2004.

[16] Leila Hull, HRW, e-mail, November 27, 2004.

[17] E-mail, November 25, 2004.

[18] E-mail, novembre 26, 2004.

[19] Znet, April 2, 2002.

[20] The Fateful Triangle, South End, Boston, 1983, pp. 1-2.

[21] The New Intifada, Verso, London-New York, 2001 p. 18-19.

[22] Ibid, p. 6.

[23] Middle East Illusions, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2003, p.207.

[24] Middle East Illusions, p. 209 Fateful Triangle, pp. 17 ff.

[25] The Fateful Triangle, pp 43-44.

[26] Peace in the Middle East, p. 56.

Jeffrey Blankfort

Jeffrey Blankfort A United-States Jewish journalist. He is a co-founder of Labor Committee of the Middle East, and the former director of Middle East Labor Bulletin.

 
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