This week Noam Chomsky, the famed MIT linguist and radical political writer and activist, was denied entry into Israel. The Israeli Left is up in arms.
Boaz Okon, legal commentator for left-leaning Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest daily, called the barring of Chomsky “a foolish act in a…series of recent follies” that “may mark the end of Israel as a law-abiding and freedom-loving state, or at least place a large question mark over this notion.” Going on to call Chomsky a “globally recognized intellectual,” Okon claimed “it would not be exaggerated to say that the decision to silence Professor Noam Chomsky is an attempt to put an end to freedom in the State of Israel.”
For his efforts, Okon made it to the New York Times where he was quoted by its Israel correspondent Ethan Bronner. Bronner called Chomsky “an outspoken critic both of American and Israeli policy.” Bronner was also able to quote Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, that “The idea that Israel is preventing people from entering whose opinions are critical of the state is ludicrous; it is not happening. This was a mishap. A guy at the border overstepped his authority.”
In Bronner’s telling, “Mr. Regev suggested that if Professor Chomsky tried to enter again, he would succeed.”
If it wasn’t paranoid, one might suspect that even the “right-wing” Netanyahu government has a special department for tripping up people who are loyal to Israel and want to defend it. In 2008—under the left-of-center Olmert government—Israel barred two other virulent enemies, Richard Falk and Chomsky’s disciple Norman Finkelstein, from entering. Regev—in the name of his boss—should either explain that those, too, were mistakes and Israel should gladly welcome all of its worst slanderers, or not speak until he and his boss work out some sort of coherent policy.
But to get back to the Israeli Left’s reactions, Bradley Burston of the far-Left daily Haaretz also quoted Okon on the barring of Chomsky. In doing so, Burston kicked off an 1100-word diatribe against Israel as a “state headed for fascism” that uses the words fascism, fascist, and fascistic a total of twelve times, including calling Chomsky’s exclusion “fascism by rubber stamp.” Another Haaretz commentator, Gideon Levy, was more precise, asserting that “When Israel closes its gates to anyone who doesn’t fall in line with our official positions, we are quickly becoming similar to North Korea.”
But the honors went to Haaretz’s editorial on the issue, haughtily titled “Declaring War on the Intellect: Israel and Noam Chomsky.”
“By stopping the illustrious American scholar Prof. Noam Chomsky at the Allenby Bridge,” Haaretz wrote,
and barring his entry into Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the government’s outrageous treatment of those with the audacity to criticize its policies has reached new heights. Israel looks like a bully who has been insulted by a superior intellect and is now trying to fight it, arrest it and expel it.
Going on to call Chomsky “a controversial and bold intellectual” who “bluntly and acerbically attacks any government that he thinks deserves it,” Haaretz said it would be
hard to imagine any country that would not feel honored to be visited by Chomsky, apart from Israel, which has its own accounts to settle with him…. Chomsky has roundly condemned the occupation and displayed sympathy for the Palestinian struggle against it.… Israel, however, has lost its last remnants of tolerance for anyone who does not join its shrinking chorus of supporters.
So there you have it. Chomsky, according to Okon, Bronner, Regev (speaking for Netanyahu), Burston, Levy, and Haaretz is at most a “critic,” but more significantly, for some of them, an “illustrious scholar,” a “superior intellect,” and a “bold intellectual” whose presence should honor anyone including the state of Israel, which could only have barred him in an act of careless folly or fascistic madness.
Who, actually, is Noam Chomsky? This useful overview notes, among much else, his admiration and apologetics, sustained over a decade and a half, for the genocidal Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Closer to Israeli concerns, Chomsky—an American Jew who lived briefly in Israel during the 1960s and knows Hebrew—has made the following statements (again, among many others) over the years, each of them documented on this site:
* “I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust. Nor would there be anti-Semitic implications, per se, in the claim that the holocaust (whether one believes it took place or not) is being exploited, viciously so, by apologists for Israeli repression and violence.”
* “I objected to the founding of Israel as a Jewish state. I don’t think a Jewish or Christian or Islamic state is a proper concept. I would object to the United States as a Christian state.”
* “The Hebrew press is much more open than the English language press, and there’s a very obvious reason: Hebrew is a secret language, you only read it if you’re inside the tribe.”
* “Of course [suicide bombers are] terrorists and there’s been Palestinian terrorism all the way through. I have always opposed it….But it’s very small as compared with the US-backed Israeli terrorism.”
Robert Wistrich, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, notes in A Lethal Obsession, a widely praised overview of contemporary anti-Semitism published in January, that Chomsky “stooped to the level of offering support to [notorious French] Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson and defending his credentials.” Chomsky, who contributed a preface to a 1980 Holocaust-denial book by Faurisson,
told Le Monde on January 19, 1981, that he was personally “agnostic” about the Nazi massacres. He did not want people “to have religious or dogmatic positions about the existence of the Holocaust.” This, too, was grist to the mill of many Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis, who eagerly promote Chomsky’s books and speeches condemning American and Israeli imperialism on their websites. They understand that Chomsky’s backing for Faurisson and such left-wing libertarian Holocaust deniers as Pierre Guillaume has considerably bolstered the “revisionist” cause. (Wistrich, A Lethal Obsession, Random House, 2010, p. 532)
Two and a half decades later, in May 2006, Chomsky’s enthusiasm for Jew-hatred was again on display when he paid a fawning visit to Hezbollah in Lebanon and said “Hezbollah’s insistence on keeping its arms is justified.” Chomsky was also quoted (see the video) as telling his hosts that “the victory achieved by the resistance is a victory for all the peoples that fight injustice and oppression,” and had himself filmed standing beside a destroyed Israeli vehicle.
Less than two months later, when Hezbollah used its arms to mount the murderous cross-border attack against Israel that triggered the Second Lebanon War, Chomsky told a radio interviewer that he hoped Hezbollah’s actions could yield results.
Okon’s and Haaretz’s reactions, then, to Israel denying entry to Chomsky—an apologist for genocide, exponent and promoter of Holocaust denial, and terror groupie—can at best be ascribed to gross, inexcusable ignorance. Or, if it is not ignorance, one does not like to think what else could drive them to verbally pommel their government and country and extol Chomsky in this episode.
And, to repeat, the Prime Minister’s Office has acquitted itself miserably in this affair as well.