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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A mother of invention

Published: November 19, 2010
Section: Opinions

“Everybody believes in something and everybody, by virtue of the fact that they believe in something, use that something to support their own existence.” -Frank Zappa

Noam Chomsky is a true believer. His central belief is that the United States is a neo-colonialist power, seeking global domination. This is the overall context for his understanding of the world.

Last Thursday night at Brandeis, Chomsky’s 90-minute presentation failed to mention any historical or current Arab or Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist, from the war launched against Israel in 1948 to the founding of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964 (before Israel occupied territories outside the green line), from the Khartoum Resolution to attacks by Hamas and Hizbollah, from the terms of the Hamas Charter to the rants of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chomsky instead characterized the United States and Israel as rejectionists, offering a blend of fact and fiction.

Among his many claims, Chomsky noted that Israel could have made peace with Egypt in 1971. This claim appears in his speeches and written work:

“U.S. rejectionism in fact goes back … to February 1971, when President Sadat of Egypt offered Israel a full peace treaty in return for Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory, not even bringing up Palestinian national rights or the fate of the other occupied territories,” he wrote in a 2002 essay titled “Back in the USA.”

Chomsky’s assertion of Sadat’s offer stands in stark contrast to Sadat’s speech in February 1971, in which he said, “The people gave all that they had of money, work and blood for their upholding these two points, which are as follows:

“One—The necessity of restoring all territories occupied since the 1967 aggression and the inevitability of withdrawing troops from them. These territories … are, Arab Jerusalem, the West Bank of the Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the Syrian Heights and Sinai … Two—The necessity of protecting the Palestinian people’s rights not only because we cannot and it is not in our power to speak on their behalf but also because we cannot concede or give anything up in their name. We shall not be the generation that gave up on the Palestinian people’s rights …These were, and still are, our basic commitments; they will, with God’s will, remain as such.”

Chomsky alleges that the peace achieved with Egypt in 1978 was readily available in 1971 and claims that Egypt’s attack against Israel in 1973 was avoidable. He creates a false record of Israel’s rejectionism and presents it as evidence that Israel is not concerned with saving Jewish lives.

In addition to his method of creating a narrative based on selective data, Chomsky avoids confronting issues that do not conform to his narrative by contextualizing them in a manner consistent with his worldview.

For example, when asked about the role of Islamic fundamentalism as an obstacle to resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Chomsky agreed Islamic fundamentalism presents a problem, but then noted that religious fundamentalism is a problem around the world and stated that the United States is the most religiously fundamentalist country in the world. Chomsky cited Christian support for Israel as an example of religious fundamentalism in the United States and then claimed that Christian Zionists are “worse anti-Semites than the Nazis.”

In Chomsky’s narrative, a question about the role of Islamic fundamentalism turns into an indictment of fundamentalism in the United States and Christian Zionists who are anti-Semites.

Chomsky’s penchant for such dramatic aversion to dealing with Islamic fundamentalism and then blaming the United States is found in his response to 9/11, “A Quick Reaction,” in which he wrote, “The September 11 attacks were major atrocities. In terms of number of victims they do not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of thousands of people.”

Thus, Chomsky considers 9/11 an atrocity, but not as bad as an August 1998 attack carried out at night to minimize casualties (two deaths were reported).

Brandeis students searching for wisdom and understanding with respect to the obstacles to and prospects for peace may have attended last Thursday’s lecture with an expectation that they would learn more about the complexities involved. Instead, Chomsky asserted that a resolution is easy. He created a narrative to support his contention, selectively reporting history, misrepresenting the past to accord with his worldview, and willfully avoiding realities by reverting to an image of the United States as what Ayatollah Khomeini called the Great Satan. Students expecting to hear from an academic instead were subjected to the polemics of a zealot posing as a pundit.

Editor’s note: The author is the Executive Director of Hillel at Brandeis.