Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chomsky: Let Them Learn Swahili First

In a 14 December letter to the Australian (where else?), a James Miller of Woolloomooloo, NSW, wrote in part:

"On what basis does the University of Sydney lend institutional support to a group with a guiding objective of boycotting Jewish business and cultural institutions? In case university leaders are interested, even that virulently pro-Palestinian, Noam Chomsky... considers the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement with its boycott of Israeli universities as pure anti-Semitism, aimed at the destruction of Israel. Chomsky further characterises the BDS movement as inimical to the interests of and lacking any genuine support from the Palestinian people."

The really interesting thing here is not Miller's par-for-the-course substitution of the word Jewish for the word Israeli, but his use of Leftist icon, Noam Chomsky, as ammunition for his attack on the BDS movement. Improbable as it may seem, there is some truth in Miller's claim that Chomsky has labelled BDS as anti-Semitic. While not quite as categorical as Miller would have us believe, Chomsky has, sadly, set the table for an anti-BDS feeding frenzy by Zionist propagandists such as Miller.

This came in the context of a 2/9/10 interview with Frank Barat, during which Chomsky characterised the 2005 call for BDS by Palestinian NGOs, with its three goals of an end to the occupation, equal rights for Palestinian Israelis, and support for the Palestinian right of return as a call for the "destruction of Israel," adding "it's a gift to the Israeli and US hardliners, they know perfectly well there's not going to be an implementation of the right of return." He further claimed that the call was grossly "hypocritical" because Israeli crimes are a mere "fragment of US crimes or English crimes or those in any other country," which he assessed as "100 times worse." He then went on to say (and here is the nub of Miller's propaganda) that a 2002 call at M.I.T to divest from Israeli universities "could and was attacked as pure anti-Semitism, unfortunately with justice." Rather than elaborate on this bizarre statement, however, Chomsky went on to complain that "the issue of anti-Semitism, which around here doesn't exist," unfortunately came to overshadow the issue of the Palestinians who were being hammered badly by Sharon at the time. A more appropriate target for action, he averred , would have been the ending of US arms sales to Israel. Finally, he suggested that more needed to be done to educate the American public before the BDS "tactic" was deployed.

Not quite what Miller makes it out to be, of course, but certainly grist for his mill. So let us examine Chomsky's words more closely:

Destruction of Israel? What does Chomsky mean here? Could he have been referring to the old 'driving the Jews into the sea' line (and BTW, what victim of settler-colonialism has not fantasised about driving his oppressors into the sea or wherever at some stage?). Or to the dismantling of Israel's apartheid laws, transforming it from a Jewish state into a state for all of its people, including dispossessed Palestinian refugees? Whatever he meant, he sure handed a gift to those Israeli and US hardliners he was so concerned should not be so lucky. Talk about loose lips!

They know perfectly well there's not going to be an implementation of the right of return? Presumably, 'they' are the Israeli and US hardliners, but what a strange way of putting it. Is he really indicating that he opposes the Palestinian right of return? If so, what other parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the Palestinian right of return being simply a reflection of Article 13) would he also oppose? And if not... what the hell is he getting at? Where's the clarity here?

Israeli crimes are a mere fraction of US crimes? Maybe so. But surely this is little consolation to Palestinians who have lost everything. Can you really imagine a Palestinian reflecting thus: Oh well, Chomsky says the US has done much worse to folks on the other side of the planet so what have I really  got to complain about? Had an adjacent Palestinian groaned audibly at this point, I for one could not have faulted him/her.

Re the false allegation of anti-Semitism: while I can perhaps understand Chomsky's reluctance to giving those 'hardliners' a free kick (which, as I've already intimated is exactly what he's done in this interview), surely he can't be unaware that any criticism of Israel, no matter how meek and mild, can trigger this obscene smear? Moreover, the fact that he can say, at one and the same time, that the allegation was justified but that there's no anti-Semitism at M.I.T. suggests a concerning capacity for muddled thinking in one so lauded.

Fast forward to Chomsky's visit to Gaza in October this year, where he was interviewed by Rami Almeghari, in part on his position on BDS. Suffice it to say that only one of the above points is revisited. And guess which one. He begins by making two points: boycotts should be highly selective and should help rather than hinder those they're designed to help, in this case the Palestinian people. He then goes on to say this:

"If you call for an academic boycott of say Tel Aviv University you have to ask yourself what the consequences are of that call for the Palestinians and there's an indirect answer. When you carry out an act in the United States, you are trying to reach the American population and [make it] more supportive of Palestinian rights and [more] opposed to Israeli and US policies. So you ask yourself: what effect will an academic boycott of Tel Aviv University have on [an] American audience... [and] that depends on the amount of organization and education that has taken place in the United States. Today, if you look at [American's] understandings and beliefs, a call for an academic boycott of Tel Aviv University [would only] strengthen support for Israel and US policy because it's not understood. There is no point talking to people in Swahili if they don't understand what you're saying." (Chomsky in Gaza: academic boycott will strengthen support for Israel', Electronic Intifada, 20/10/12)

That's right, over two years after the first interview, Americans are still not ready for BDS! How long then must the Palestinians and their supporters wait for Americans to learn Swahili before they advocate a boycott of Israel's academic institutions? Like, forever?

The question arises: Just where is Chomsky coming from here? I'm inclined to agree with James Petras' assessment:

"Noam Chomsky has been called the leading US intellectual by pundits and even some sectors of the mass media. He has a large audience throughout the world, especially in academic circles, in large part because of his vocal criticism of US foreign policy and many of the injustices resulting from those policies. Chomsky has been reviled by all of the major Jewish and pro-Israel organizations and media for his criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, even as he has defended the existence of the Zionist state of Israel. Despite his respected reputation for documenting, dissecting and exposing the hypocrisy of the US and European regimes and acutely analyzing the intellectual deceptions of imperial apologists, these analytical virtues are totally absent when it comes to discussing the formulation of US foreign policy in the Middle East particularly the role of his own ethnic group, or the Jewish pro-Israel Lobby and their Zionist supporters in the government. This political blindness is not unknown or uncommon. History is replete with intellectual critics of all imperialisms except their own, staunch opponents of the abuses of power by others, but not of one's own kin and kind."  (from Noam Chomsky & the Pro-Israel Lobby: Fifteen Erroneous Theses, in The Power of Israel in the United States, 2006, pp 168-169)

Petras' essay on Chomsky should be required reading for any progressive with a serious interest in this subject.

STOP PRESS: This letter from Chomsky appeared in yesterday's Australian:

"I was surprised to read a letter to the editor of The Australian claiming that I regard the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement's tactics targeting Israel as 'pure anti-Semitism, aimed at the destruction of Israel' and that I said BDS efforts are 'inimical to the interests of and lacking any genuine support from the Palestinian people.' (Letters, 14/12). These tactics have enormous support among Palestinians, and the charge of anti-Semitism should be dismissed with disdain. When Human Rights Watch 'calls on the US and European Union member states and on businesses with operations in settlement areas to avoid supporting Israeli settlement policies that are inherently discriminatory and that violate international law', it is advocating BDS tactics, rightly, and there is no hint of anti-Semitism. I have personally been involved in such forms of opposition to the Israel occupation for years, long before there was a BDS movement. Any tactics, however legitimate, can of course be misused. But they can also be used quite properly and effectively against state crimes, and in this case regularly have been."

1 comment:

PB said...

Chomsky is a gatekeeper. He is an example of "controlled opposition" in action.

Was it Stalin or Lenin that said "the best way to control the opposition is to be the opposition"?