Tirades against Noam Chomsky never cease to amaze me. And I’m not talking about the kind of criticisms of the man that come from Alan Dershowitz and other apologists for Israeli crimes; I mean from critics of Israel who support Palestinian rights.
There are a number of common gripes about Professor Chomsky. The leading one is that he is actually a Zionist and “left gatekeeper” who, despite appearances, really seeks to limit debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another, part and parcel of the first, is that he denies the power of the Israeli Lobby and wrongly believes that Israel is a strategic asset of the U.S. A third and more recent criticism is that he is opposes to a boycott against Israel and considers activists who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BSD) campaign “hypocritical”.
Such arguments, in truth, only serve to demonstrate either the ignorance of Chomsky’s actual views or the dishonesty of the writer who deliberately misrepresents them. In a recent example that typifies the latter class of articles, Jeffrey Blankfort has written a piece entitled “Chomsky and Palestine: Asset or Liability?“, in which he does an excellent job of constructing a strawman Noam Chomsky to contend with.
Blankfort begins by noting that Chomsky gained some mainstream media attention when Israel denied him entry from the Palestinian West Bank, where he was scheduled to give a lecture and meet the unelected prime minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad is “a favorite of both Washington and Israel and, it would appear, Chomsky”, writes Blankfort, the implication being that Chomsky favors Fayyad, and for the same reasons as Washington and Israel.
To support that implication, Blankfort cites Chomsky from an interview with Democracy Now! in which he stated that Fayyad “is pursuing policies, which, in my view, are quite sensible, policies of essentially developing facts on the ground.” Chomsky described the policies as “sensible and sound ones.”
Chomsky was — it should go without saying — referring to specific policies Fayyad has implemented — those of seeking to construct the infrastructure for a de facto Palestinian state now, without waiting indefinitely for Israel to shift its policy away from rejection of such a state. Blankfort thus portrays Chomsky’s support for a de facto Palestinian state as a blanket endorsement of the Palestinian Authority and all its actions.
“Unfortunately,” continues Blankfort, “Chomsky was not questioned about his support for the nation building priorities of the earlier Zionists nor if he considered the Palestine Authority’s endorsement of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, of its attempts to suppress a UN investigation of the Goldstone Report, and of the role played by its US-trained militia in protecting Israel, to be also ‘sensible and sound.'”
The intended implication, of course, is that Chomsky supports the Zionist theft of Arab land, the Israeli blockade, the blocking of the Goldstone Report, and P.A. collusion with Israel — all of which, as anyone who is familiar with Chomsky’s actual views knows — is just complete asinine nonsense.
Yet, Blankfort adds, “For those puzzled by that question, be assured that it is meant to be taken quite seriously” — something that should be quite difficult for any reader who actually has any knowledge of Chomsky’s actual views, and given Blankfort’s propensity for mischaracterizing and distorting them.
Blankfort continues, saying that “Once upon a time Prof. Chomsky was considered by many to be the most important spokesperson for the Palestinian cause.” This, however, was because of his writings and activism on other issues in which “unlike the case with Israel, he had no personal vested interest.” Chomsky “maintained that position” even though there have been Palestinian professors “who were and are more knowledgeable about the subject” and who “could speak from personal experience that does not include prior service as ‘a Zionist youth leader’ — Chomsky’s background”.
Blankfort is correct on this point. Chomsky in fact makes no attempt to conceal the fact that he was what he calls a Zionist youth leader. But the intended implication is that he supported the Zionist rejection of Palestinian rights and supports the policies of contemporary Zionism. It should go without saying — again, for anyone remotely familiar with his work — that this is more asinine nonsense and contradicted by Chomsky’s volumes of work on the subject and criticism of those same Zionist policies. As for being a self-confessed “Zionist”, Chomsky explains:
[In] the 1940s I was what was called a Zionist youth leader. But Zionism at that time included my own position, which was opposition to a Jewish state and a call for a binational settlement in the former Palestine. And I still held — one of the reasons I went to that specific kibbutz was that it was … the kibbutz organization which had indeed been opposed to a Jewish state up ’til 1948.
As I explain in “The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination“, the binational settlement was in fact the one favored and proposed by the Arab states — but rejected by the Zionist leadership and their Western benefactors. Chomsky explained further in the interview, as he has elsewhere, what he has meant when he’s referred to himself as a “Zionist”:
What I said was that I remain a Zionist in the sense of Zionism in the 1940s. Zionism has changed. That doesn’t mean my views have.
But, never mind Chomsky’s actual views. That Chomsky could remain the leading spokesperson for the Palestinian cause, Blankfort continues, is “a reflection of the political culture of the American Left which was and remains substantially if not predominantly Jewish”.
Thus it is not because his work has any merit, but only because Chomsky is really a Zionist Jew that his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been so highly regarded. Because of “deeply embedded” support for Israel and fears of anti-Semitism, criticism of Israel could only come from “someone within the tribe”, like Chomsky, “who unequivocally supported” Israel’s existence.
Blankfort himself is perfectly well aware of Chomsky’s actual views. The above quotes from Chomsky come from an interview Blankfort himself cites in his article, and which Blankfort himself participated as well, having called in to the live program. Yet he chooses to omit the fact that Chomsky was opposed to the creation of a “Jewish state” and instead supported the solution favored by the Arabs, a single binational state. Instead, Blankfort deliberately tries to create the impression that Chomsky was an ardent Zionist in the sense that the term “Zionism” has become known today; which is to say that Chomsky “unequivocally supported” the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of the rights of the majority Arab inhabitants.
Continuing, Blankfort asserts that Chomsky’s being a Zionist Jew “largely explains why Chomsky maintains his reputation despite public utterances over the past half dozen years that have done more to undermine the Palestinian cause than to help it.”