30 November 2007

29 November 2007 - 60 years of self-destruction

Today I attended a talk at Harvard Law School featuring Noam Chomsky (MIT), Beshara Doumani (UC-Berkeley), and Nadim Rouhana (George Mason) on “40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA.” They could also have added “20 Years Since 1987,” to mark the anniversary of the first intifada, but evidently all that matters in Palestinian history is defeat.

The message of all three panelists was the same: the Palestinians should reject Annapolis, which only serves American and Israeli interests. There were no opposing voices, though plenty of real gems emerged from the panel. At one point Chomsky said: “If a constellation of forces arose that forced the Israelis to accept the right of return, they would use their nuclear deterrent to destroy the world.”

I had never seen Chomsky speak in person before, and I came to the conclusion that he is little more than a crude propagandist. At one point he read an opinion of the “World Court” (i.e. the International Court of Justice), telling us it was unanimous. In fact what he was reading was the dissenting opinion of the American judge in the 2003 case about Israel’s security barrier. Later, he refused to acknowledge his error.

Chomsky also claimed that international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, was clear as to the illegality of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, when in fact its application to the territories is contested. He also spoke about “Israel’s murderous invasion of Lebanon”—never mind the Hizbullah attack that started it all, or the thousands of Katyusha rockets that rained down on Israel.

In quoting from Ha’aretz, Chomsky claimed it is “Israel’s leading daily,” when in fact it has roughly one-tenth the circulation of Yediot Aharonot. He cited a U.N. resolution from 1976—I am assuming it was 31/20, since he gave no citation—and claimed that it was an Arab offer of a two-state solution. In fact the resolution demands the right of return for Palestinians and fails to mention the word “Israel.”

Not content with describing Arab recognition of Israel as “unilateral,” Chomsky deliberately avoided any acknowledgment of Palestinian terrorism, and even claimed that Iran and Hamas recognize Israel and support full normalization with it. The large audience sat there in rapt attention as he wove his ghoulish fiction about how Israel and the U.S. enforce an intolerant regime of control in the region.

Next up was Beshara Doumani, who claimed recently that “the formation of a Palestinian state . . . has become the vehicle for preempting, rather than delivering, self-determination for the Palestinian people.” (Journal of Palestinian Studies, Summer 2007). Such thinking is a gift to the Israeli far-right, and a good illustration of the self-destructive role played by some Palestinian intellectuals.

Doumani claims to speak on behalf of Palestinian refugees, often representing his views as their views, and their views as the views of Palestinians as a whole. Tonight he said that “Palestinians in the occupied territories are being force-fed a state,” and that the “needs, desires, and rights of Palestinians are being excluded from the conversation” about Palestinian statehood at Annapolis.

Not that he’s against the two-state solution, mind you: “Partition and ethnic cleansing have shaped the political map of the modern world,” after all, he claimed. No, he said—he’s indifferent to the precise form of the solution; he just cares about the “concept of the Palestinian political community,” which he says has been steadfastly rejected by “the Zionist movement,” the UK and the US.

He acknowledged that “[t]he Palestinians have tolerated successive leaderships that have made strategic blunders” – but by this he meant “acquiescence” in the various peace processes with Israel. He ranted on about the Balfour declaration and such, and added that “Palestinians have the right to use any means necessary including force” to resist Israel, though he claimed—of course—to support non-violence.

Last up was Rouhana, who claimed: “Israel as society and state is becoming ready to commit crimes against humanity on a scale that exceeds what is happening now. They are ready, prepared, and willing to do that.” He claimed that Israel has always sought an “exclusive” Jewish state, that it is perpetrating “ethnic cleansing” by subsidizing Jewish settlement in the Galilee, and planning more nefarious acts.

He acknowledged Israel’s achievements, but claimed they “could not have been done without force and violence.” Whether Zionism itself was racist was immaterial, he said: in practical terms it consisted of “fear and threat, an ideology of exclusive ethnic privilege, expressed in a racist form on the ground.” The solution? “We have to de-colonize Israel within the pre-1967 borders, and after the 1967 borders.”

The occupation would not end, he claimed, because Israel’s interpretation of the Holocaust was such that Jews either needed Palestinian recognition, or else to control all Palestinians. The upshot: “There is simply no way that Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” Maybe Palestinians could recognize the right of Israeli Jews to a state, but not Jews as such. So occupation and violence it is.

At the end of this appalling hate-fest, which packed the largest lecture hall at the Law School, the floor was opened for a few questions. One timid fellow asked about the potential of joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts such as OneVoice. Chomsky replied that the work of Machsom Watch and Anarchists Against the Wall—two tiny, marginal groups focused entirely on opposing Israeli policies—was more important.

I raised my point about the neglect of the intifada. “You failed to mention the anniversary of one of the formative moments in the history of Palestinian nationalism. Israel didn’t erase it from memory; you did, here tonight.” I added that their version of the Palestinian cause matched what George Orwell called a “negative nationalism”—one defined entirely in opposition to another nation.

“Is there any event in the past sixty years that you would identify as something the Palestinians did themselves, a moment when the Palestinians were the agents of history instead of its passive victims?” The answers I got were really poor. Chomsky just rattled on about the first intifada; Rouhana claimed the Palestinian calendar celebrated “resistance”; Doumani said my question was “disingenuous.”

The group that organized this Two Hours’ Hate is HLS Justice for Palestine, also known as the JFP (or is it the PFJ? Or the JPF?) Tomorrow, ironically, JFP was to have hosted a lecture by Professor J. Lorand Matory, where he was to have explained how criticism of Israel is stifled on campus. The lecture was postponed, however. Perhaps Matory is hiding somewhere, “trembling in fear.”


At 2:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yasher koah, Joel. You spoke well and truthfully. Thank you for having the courage to enter the lion's den and defend am Israel from slander.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Chomsky - the idiot savant of the radical left. He rattles off "facts " and citations at a furious rate, usually of dubious merit. Its quite an experience. Glad you were there to report and and act as a counterweight.

At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heard Chomsky make a similar claim - that is, that "even the most extreme members of Hamas" recognize Israel - on Democracy Now.

Did anyone point out to him that, as he was delivering his speech, Hamas released an official statement demanding that the UN rescind partition, and declaring that "Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem... there is no room in it for the Jews"?

Of course, it can be hard to concentrate on the facts when you're "trembling in fear".

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

while a democratic mind and society welcomes criticism and dissent, your assessment of Chomsky is way off. i doubt whether you have the intellect, the credibility or the bravery to carry Chomsky's luggage. he is the leader of the intellectual community and premiere truth sayer. Even to the "detriment " of his own faith, country and heritage. This is TRUTH and DEMOCRACY and you are so wrapped up in your own supremacist zionism that you can't/won't see it. it's no wonder truth is unrecognizable to you.

At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot believe that these speakers would give such obviously distorted accounts without eliciting at least some groans from the audience. But, then, they were probably preaching to the converted here.

I remember hearing Chomsky speak about the Middle East when I was a student at Columbia, in the late 1970s. This is a long time ago, and maybe his style has changed since then, but I doubt it. I was expecting to hear a fiery intellectual giving a compelling, rigorous, and comprehensive analysis of the Middle East that would leave us gasping at its brilliance. What I actually heard was something really weird.

All he did was literally spout slogans, one after the other. They were left-wing versions of sound bites. Superficial, distorted, outrageous, and with no explanations or illustrations to back them up. Each statement was quickly followed up by an easy applause from the audience. One particularly off-the-wall statement (I forget what it was) even took the audience by surprise, though a fair number of the attendees were Arab. No one clapped except for this one eccentric looking woman. Everyone remained silent but polite as Chomsky droned on.

So, his delivery was machine-gun quality, going from one short statement to another with no connecting tissue. I was shocked. I still cannot believe what I heard that day. He really did sound like an idiot savant. Or, let's not mince words here, he really did sound like an idiot, period. It was nothing like what I'd expected.

Regarding the ridiculous statement about Hamas recognizing Israel, I cannot believe that Chomsky got away with that. But this reminds me of one way to counter propaganda on campus or elsewhere. You cannot totally fight broad, sweeping statements, like "Zionism was a tragedy for the Palestinians," because even fallacious ones may have a grain of truth, and they're dependent on interpretation. Of course, they should be countered with opposing interpretations. But there is also something else one can do: When it comes to factual issues that can be easily disproved, like Hamas "recognition," activists on campus and elsewhere should plaster bulletin boards with translations (and not always from MEMRI, which is mistrusted by the left) of Hamas and PA speeches. Columnists in magazines and newspapers should pound these themes. At the very least, Chomsky & Co. can be nailed on those specific, substantive points that can be easily countered without 500 pages of argument and footnotes.

I'll just end this comment with one more point. It's odd that one of the speakers called your question "disingenuous." I guess he figured you weren't on his side, so that was his way of dismissing you. Talk about the pot calling the kettle...

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"At one point Chomsky said: 'If a constellation of forces arose that forced the Israelis to accept the right of return, they would use their nuclear deterrent to destroy the world.'"

Hmm, this raises an interesting question...If you think the return of Palestinian refugees would mean the "destruction" of Israel, WOULD it be justified to use nuclear weapons?

At 5:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rastaman all you have done there is make ad hominem attacks on people.

Perhaps you would like to elaborate on what you mean by 'supremacist zionism' and the truth we do not see.

At 5:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rastaman, your definition of truth only extends to information (facts would imply that they are accurate) that fits your ideological world view. You question Joel’s intellect, but do not provide one example to back up your claim.

Do you even know what supremacist means? For if you did, you would realise that Joel is anything but that. He, on numerous occasions, critically examines the merits of numerous Zionist positions. The one-dimensional way you seen to view Chomsky, actually serves to paint you as the fanatic.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

chomsky's a liar from way back. Some folks from the older generation of scholars told me that he plagiarized much of his linguistic theories from Zellig Harris, a linguist at the Univ or Penna. back in the 1930s and 1940s.

Paul Bogdanor has a site about chomsky's lies. But a lot more needs to be done. By the way, who feeds him his mezumah, his parnusseh???

At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Rastaman:get an internal intellectual life and one not based on clinging with so much unreflective persistence to your idealized Chomsky Linus blanket, now perhaps quite worn out after years of ideological overuse and abuse!


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