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Professor Noam Chomsky makes waves at Brandeis ‘Israel Occupation Awareness Week’

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: Front Page

Noam Chomsky, MIT Linguistics Professor and world renowned activist, labeled the United States and Israel as “rejectionist states” that refuse to join the entire world’s opposition of Israel’s “occupied territories” in a lecture to the Brandeis Community inside Sherman Function Hall Thursday evening.

“Within the occupied territories, it [the situation] is much worse than apartheid,” he said, adding that in much of Israel there is “discrimination, but its not apartheid.”

Chomsky, an author of many books about linguistics, philosophy and foreign policy, told an audience inside the over-filled room that there are two fundamental choices in Israeli politics.

There is “the occupation or the political settlement that has been the international consensus for 35 years.” He expressed optimism that the United States and Israel may one day shift their attitudes, but cautioned that if not, the conflict will endure.

Chomsky’s talk was one of several events during Israel Occupation Awareness Week sponsored by Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Other students, including some in the Brandeis Zionist Alliance, organized tabling in the Usdan Student Center and an Israeli cultural event on Monday as part of Israel Peace Week.

“We trust that students will show respect for our guests and take to heart Tzipi Livni’s advice: criticism of Israel does not constitute a threat, unless it seeks to deny its right to exist,” Larry Sternberg, executive director of Brandeis Hillel, wrote in an e-mail to members on Sunday evening.

During his speech, at least 50 students stood up about halfway through and exited the room, many of them carrying or wearing Israeli flags. The room was filled to capacity and some students were originally not allowed inside.

“Basically we heard what you said. You put us all to sleep,” Pinchus Polack ’14 said. “We respectfully reject everything you just said.”

Renana Gal ’12, Co-President of Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine said she respected the silent protest.

“It was very respectful,” she said. “Our concerns were way greater than that.”

During a forum on campus last November with former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold and South African Justice Richard Goldstone, who wrote a U.N. report criticizing the Israeli Defense Forces for unjust and disproportional use of force during the 2009 Gaza War, several pro-Palestinian students protested when Gold spoke.

They stood up with signs taped to their backs until being told to sit down by a Brandeis professor moderating the forum.

On the Rabb steps Thursday afternoon, several students standing underneath a large banner that said “I Support Israel” asked students to sign a petition advocating forthe release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006.

“We don’t want to combat them [critics of Israel]. We don’t want to fight them,” Rafi Abramowitz ’14 said. “[But] putting up ‘I Support Israel’ shouldn’t be offensive to anybody.”

He added that the goal in the demonstration was simply to convey that there is another side to the conflict, one that fully supports Israel’s rights and citizens.

Other students read off the names of many Israeli victims of terrorist attacks as a rush of students walked down the steps from class.

Despite the opposition during the lecture Thursday, Lev Hirschhorn ’11, said that the week itself had been successful.

“The fact that we’re able to have this week at Brandeis University [shows] that times are changing,” Hirschhorn said.

Recalling his studies of the Middle East in the 1940s, Chomsky said that a “bi-nationalist solution was still possible today. Maybe someday we can get to it,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s lost.”

Referencing the U.N. Security Council and the International Court for Justice, Chomsky said that the Geneva Conventions still apply to Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“There is a short-term solution,” Chomsky said. “The thing that’s blocking it is the United States and its Israeli ally.”

Concerning Israel’s decision to reject Egypt’s proposed peace treaty in February 1971, Chomsky said that “once you’ve decided on expansion over security, it follows that you’re going to have perpetual conflict.”

Chomsky pointed out that Israel need to differentiate between self-defense and violent self-defense.

“Israel of course has a right of self-defense, but the issue is do they have a right [to use] violence as self-defense.”

Israel can defend itself from rocket attacks by reinstating a ceasefire with Hamas, Chomsky said.

When comparing the “occupied territories” to apartheid in South Africa, Chomsky said the two situations are different because in South Africa, the country “needed the black population” to stay. In Israel, however, he said many people would be satisfied if the Palestinians moved.

Chomsky also criticized academia during his talk, explaining that much of history is often written to please people.

“We write history to make what we do look wonderful,” he said. “That’s a principle of academic scholarship.”