UPDATED

Noam Chomsky was recently denied entry into Judea and Samaria – AKA the “West Bank” if you’re a fan of Jordan’s attempt to usurp the territory – on a trip where he was supposed to give a talk at Bir Zeit University. I believe this is the university that once hosted a gallery depicting Israel body parts flying through the air in commemoration of the Sbarro Pizzeria suicide bombing by a Palestinian who felt like murdering a bunch of families eating a meal.

The Israelis, for some odd reason, decided to give the media and the Left another reason to bash Israel, so they denied Chomsky entry while letting his fellow travelers, human rights activists – whatever the hell that means, but that’s how they’ve been described by some media outlets – through. Chomsky was held back and then denied entry.

Today, among interviews that he’s given, he gave one to NPR which I happened to hear. In it, he made a number of statements, but two that struck me as particularly false.

The first is that to deny a speaker to a university entry is the mark of a totalitarian state.

Now, according to “Plato’s Totalitarianism” in the Oxford Press publication “Plato 2: Ethics, Politics, Religion, and the Soul,” Totalitarianism can be defined thus:

Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a political system where the state, usually under the control of a single political person, faction, or class, recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.[2] Totalitarianism is generally characterised by the coincidence of authoritarianism (where ordinary citizens have no significant share in state decision-making) and ideology (a pervasive scheme of values promulgated by institutional means to direct the most significant aspects of public and private life)

That came from Wikipedia. The dictionary defines totalitarianism as

“a system of highly centralized government in which one political party or group takes control and grants neither recognition nor tolerance to other political groups. 2. autocracy in one of its several varieties. 3. the character or traits of an autocratic or authoritarian individual, party, government, or state

Over the years, Chomsky has been suggesting that we, in the US and parts of the West, are essentially living like members of a herd manipulated by the media which is functioning to blind us to the truth and essentially replacing the violent suasion which enabled totalitarian regimes to hold power . The media does this by holding us in thrall to various lies about our society and our country (hence “manufacturing consent”). Then our leaders, which appear to be differentiated by elections but are really all the same automatons serving corporate interests, continue to manipulate us and the world to further the goals of, I don’t know, let’s assume the wealthy. I’m sure some Chomsky fan can fine-tune this description and I welcome the adjustment.

In any case, he is suggesting that because he has been barred from speaking to the Palestinians at Bir Zeit, Israel is attempting to control information that is reaching people and therefore it is taking steps resembling a totalitarian state that would seek to control any public information that might undermine the regime or its goals.

Um, poppycock!

Really, that is so absurd considering the endless number of Israeli critics from within the country who speak openly against Israel and its actions, that his assertion borders on the malicious. It is simply a ridiculous fabrication. Between Ha’aretz, B’Tselem, the Arab parties, Adallah, Meretz, Peace Now, Women in Black, endless leftist professors at Israeli universities being vocal with their views, Israeli Arabs pushing for a boycott against Israel, leftist Israelis pushing for a boycott against Israel, Ultra-Orthodox Jews undermining the state’s religious legitimacy and Modern Orthodox complaining that those who are running the state oppose the true Zionists who live as settlers in Judea and Samaria, the notion that somehow Israel is a totalitarian state may impress ignorant listeners on NPR but in actuality could be considered propaganda that is far worse than the supposed propaganda and unified manipulation of truth of which he is accusing Israel.

The second falsehood was to accuse Israel of being like early 1960s South Africa in that as it was devolving into a pariah state, it was making public mistakes that resemble those Israel is making today by preventing people like him from coming to speak at Bir Zeit. Yeah, more poppycock. Israel was just accepted into the OECD, its filmmakers just won two key prizes at a documentary film festival in Toronto, which follows the Israeli-Tel Aviv ten movie special section at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which follows Israeli business start-ups receiving more VC funding than virtually any other country outside of North America, which follows two Nobel prize winners in just as many years, etc.

As Chomsky well knows, the key parties in attempting to seclude and segregate Israel are his leftist friends who have come into an unholy alliance with Islamists. They have come together, despite having completely contradictory viewpoints on many other subjects, because they are unified by hatred for Israel. They are certainly scoring points out there, but these points are often scored at the expense of the truth, just like Mr. Chomsky’s assertions…which may have scored media points in the past couple of days, but at the expense of the truth.

One last point: it is not an accident that in this interview, Chomsky has brought up a totalitarian Israel and an Israel that resembles South Africa. This is because, like his many friends on the Left who attack Israel, they have painted it into a monster so hideous that they don’t know whether to compare it to Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, so they combine the two.

This is done all the time. Naomi Klein does it, Norman Finkelstein does it, Noam Chomsky does it, Fatah does it, Hamas does it and less well known groups and people do it as well. It comes up ALL THE TIME. Israel is the Nazi Apartheid state, according to them. It is the beast from beyond, for how can any country or ideology be any worse than that entity which combines the Nazis and apartheid?

When you, dear reader, encounter these criticisms of Israel, take a deep breath and relax. Slowly, confidently, and without any hesitation or concern, remind the Israel basher that the Nazis killed more Jews in one month in early 1940 – before the Final Solution kicked in – than the total Palestinian death count in a 100 years of war with Jews and Israel. Remind the basher that in South Africa the whites were a distinct minority of about 10% of the population, while in Israel Jews are 80% of the population and anywhere from 65% to 55% (depends which Palestinian population figures you believe) of the population from “the River to the Sea.” Oh, and in Israel the minority can vote and elect Knesset representatives. Look at them calmly and say, “Please stop telling lies and demonizing Israel. People who want peace tell the truth.”

Because the truth is that Israel is also different from Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa in two other key measures: 1. Israel/Yishuv has offered peaceful resolutions that would give the Palestinians a state 5 times in history; 2. Israel’s enemies have sought to annihilate the country and remove it as a Jewish state from the map by using two approaches, the first being violence and the second being propaganda/hate speech that segregates Jews that live or support Israel from the rest of the world’s population, even when such claims ignore or obfuscate the actions of many brutal, dictatorial, militaristic, chauvinistic and murderous state actors who commit horrendous crimes that make Israel’s most aggressive actions look like child’s play.

In other words, people like Noam Chomsky should be ashamed of themselves.

UPDATE:
A reader indicated to me that I had few words for the Israeli government blocking Chomsky from going to Bir Zeit. I want to be clear that this was a moronic move by Israel, with no justification whatsoever. The ministers surrounding Netanyahu are not too clever, and Netanyahu is running his government like a teacher in an unruly class who has no idea how to gain control of the classroom. They embarrass him when the principal comes to visit, and also when some emissary needs to enter the room for a minute to drop something off. Idiots.

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themiddle

14 Comments

  • you do not know the truth. only G-D knows the truth, is the truth and so on. if you do not know the truth, but claiming to know, you are misrepresenting it anyway and disrespecting G-D.

    • Look, I tried finding G-D’s blog and had no luck. I even looked for God’s blog, god’s blog and gods blog and what can I say…no truth to be had. So I just guessed and wrote on this blog what I thought you would want to read if you could find goD’s blog.

  • very good you are admitting you were only guessing themiddle. but one thing, its not about what i or anyone would want to read. btw, its lifejournal.

  • Re. the first ‘particularly false’ claim.

    Tempting as may be to try to ‘take down’ Chomsky in intellectual combat, one might reasonably engage in this with a certain amount of trepidation, given that he is – whether one agrees with his politics or not – inhumanly clever: and therefore by definition very hard to ‘take down’ intellectually. One might think, ‘themidddle’, that more than a quick trip to wikipedia would be needed to make your point (as well your cavalier attitude toward classical bivalent logic, but we can address that another time if necessary).

    In fact your quote from wikipedia appears to undermine, not support, your attack on Chomsky.

    You are trying to disprove the claim that ‘to deny a speaker to a university entry is the mark of a totalitarian state’ (your words).

    You then cite several features of a totalitarian society, viz. that it ‘recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life’ and that it is ‘generally characterised by the coincidence of authoritarianism … and ideology …’.

    On your argument, then a state characterized as totalitarian would not be expected to try to deny speakers entry to universities. Transparently, the opposite is true, particularly where the speaker is symbolic of ideological opposition to the state in question, and her or his appearance would be a symbolic blow against that ideology.

    I guess you don’t disagree with me on this, since you go on to argue in favour of an entirely different point: we had been arguing about what is the mark of a totalitarian state; now we switch to arguing over a new claim attirbuted to Chomsky, namely that he ‘is suggesting that because he has been barred from speaking to the Palestinians at Bir Zeit, Israel is attempting to control information that is reaching people…’.

    Prima facie, the point attributed to Chomsky is trivially correct. Not worth debating; it’s a mere analytic truth. But you then advance the following bold argument to try to take it down. You claim that the fact that Israel did not censor information in **other areas** counts against the claim that the refusal of entry to Chomsky was censorship.

    This structurally equivalent to a burglar defending herself by reference to all the houses she *didn’t* burgle.

    You may well be right in all you are saying – I don’t know; I’ve not followed this story closely. But on the basis of your own argument, it’s not looking too good.

    • I didn’t realize, Perspectivevortex, that this was an either/or proposition where if a state takes one specific action then it becomes classified as belonging to an entirely different class of states.

      Chomsky himself speculated that the reason the Israelis denied him entry this time was that he was only scheduled at a Palestinian university but didn’t include a talk inside Israel on this visit. In other words, the problem – as proposed by none other than Chomsky – was too little speech and too confined an audience, not the opposite.

      However, let’s assume that this wasn’t the case and Israel decided to shut him out because they did not wish him to speak to a Palestinian audience, or any audience at all. How on earth does this make Israel totalitarian or similar to a totalitarian state? I am happy to provide ten more sources that define totalitarianism, if you like, and this action by Israel will not qualify under any. He is one speaker and this is one instance. The motivations of Israel may be guessed but remain unknown. In fact, Netanyahu said he had no idea and would not have declined Chomsky entry. The point being that this is far from a systematic approach in which a government seeks to control all or even most sources of information to its public or to the Palestinian public. It suggests that, at best, one ministry or leadership within a ministry, made a decision to prevent one individual with anti-Israel views from speaking at a Palestinian university. Nothing more.

      As a counterweight, I bring you multiple voices within Israel or the territory, and there are also many visitors to Israel or the territory, who are critical of the state and who engage in critical activities regularly, sometimes even on the government’s dime, as many Israeli university professors can attest. The distance from this action to a Totalitarian Israel is certainly closer than if Israel had not taken this action, and that’s just about the only excuse Chomsky has for using the T word in this instance.

      You will note that I also don’t buy the premise that Chomsky is “suggesting that because he has been barred from speaking to the Palestinians at Bir Zeit, Israel is attempting to control information that is reaching people” to be correct. It is an assumption that lays beneath his accusation against Israel. Even he isn’t certain that is the reason he was denied entry. I haven’t a clue why he was denied entry and if he’s right that it’s because he wasn’t planning to also “balance” his visit with one to an Israeli university, it undermines his entire claim.

      I think the problem with your argument is that your analogy is flawed. It doesn’t match well when the topic is Totalitarianism because you would need a burglar who seeks to rob all the homes and control access to them as well (although, kudos to you for using the “theft” analogy regarding the conflict, since that blends well with other accusations like calling Israel Totalitarian or an apartheid state).

      You’re a clever guy, Vortex, so maybe you can think of another apt analogy. For example, I was thinking of something along the lines of a property owner with a property that has some areas that are fenced and some that are not. He feels besieged by the endless array of hostile elements that seek to disturb his property, or just eat the vegetables he’s growing. At times he tries to put up a new fence or chases out an unfriendly rabbit, and sometimes, when he thinks the shadows from the forest nearby represent a real threat, he even shoots. However, these are unusual situations, while the daily routine tends toward the openness of the property. He likes the openness because it reminds him of his yearning to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors. So you can say that even if he does put up a new fence sometimes, it’s not because he’s a rabbit terrorist or a poor neighbor. Can you provide an analogy along those lines? I’m sure you can think of something that will work.

  • Your original claim was that the quote attributed to Chomsky – ‘to deny a speaker to a university entry is the mark of a totalitarian state’ – was poppycock. Assuming these words are actually what Chomsky said, it looks to me like Chomsky is asking people to reflect on that precise act – refusing him access – and then to consider what it means for freedom in Israel. He’s not saying it *is* a totalitarian state (I doubt he has ever made such a sweeping or unguarded statement, probably not even in his sleep). What you seemed originally to be arguing was that the fact that Israel is *not* a totalitarian state shows that this act was not the sort of thing a totalitarian state would do. But this is begging the question against Chomsky’s implicit challenge.

    But in your reply you say: ‘The distance from this action to a Totalitarian Israel is certainly closer than if Israel had not taken this action, and that’s just about the only excuse Chomsky has for using the T word in this instance’. I agree; also, you might criticize me for dwelling on the letter not the content of what you wrote. And fair enough.

    I very much doubt that Israel is a totalitarian state. The fact that I get most of my information from Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post online editions tells against it. In fact, I am symapthetic to the idea that an important reason Israel’s human rights abuses get more attention than, e.g., Turkey’s or Syria’s or China’s is because it has a more established tradition of dissent and free press.

    We should look instead at Chomsky’s implicit demand that we reflect on Israeli press freedom. The interesting question is whether there is reason to think that Israel is moving in a bad direction with respect to press freedom. I’m not in Israel; I’ve never even been there; so I am certain you are better informed than I. Still it seems that a nontrivial case can be made for concern, even from my distance.

    It seems to me that concerns about press freedom arise with greater frequency in the Israeli press than previously. Ha’aretz apparently is feeling ‘absolute paranoia’ that they are to be ‘made to suffer because of the [Uri] Blau case.’ (http://www.counterpunch.org/cook04152010.html). We have the Chomsky case. Some Israeli contacts also affirm a shift in attitude. However, this is insufficient to ground a sweeping generalization.

    But we also note Israel’s 2009 demotion by Freedom House to ‘partly free’. It now ranks well below Mali, where journalists too critical of the president disappear for a few days and return covered in bruises and with a revised editorial policy (perhaps the claim that the press is ‘free’ means that the journalists are at least still alive). We should also remember what constraints of press freedom look like – not sweeping restrictions on journalists (very 19th Century), but targeted strikes designed to show the rest they should stay in line (Mali’s an example of this; Turkey also uses this tactic). But one might also reject Freedom House’s exercise as, say, being a gross oversimplification of a complex phenomenon, and influenced by who-knows-what internal politics. I’d be sympathetic to this.

    But we can also observe, at a wider level of generality, that it would be extremely odd if Israel was **not** cracking down on press freedom. The state is assailed by “de-legitimizers” at home and abroad, while it tries to maintain an extreme and extremely difficult project of population management. It would be bizarre if it did not respond by putting greater pressure on the critics that at least it can reach.

    While none of these lines of argument bears much weight by itself, I suggest that together they justify concerns about freedom of the press in Israel; and thus vindicate Chomsky’s use of the T-word, at least as a prompt for us to reflect on this.

    • I don’t believe the problem with the Israeli press is systemic. The low rankings it received in 2009 from a number of monitoring organizations stem from Israel’s refusal to allow reporters into Gaza during Cast Lead. Its rankings the year before were much higher on everybody’s list. I think Israel recognizes that in Lebanon 2006, Hezbullah made very effective use of the press to fight the war and this was one of the lessons learned. Since I can’t give a score to the press about the type of job they’re doing, all I’ll say is that much of the coverage of the Lebanon 2006 war was disappointing in large part because it was effectively manipulated by Hizbullah.

      If there is a problem with Israeli press, it is that sometimes the Censor does not pass through items that should have passed through until the foreign press picks them up. I will acknowledge that this is a problem and a situation that can be abused. However, in some instances, like the Blau situation, it turns out that at least initially, it was reasonable to keep the story quiet. Ultimately, however, it hurt Israel, and perhaps unfairly, that it took too long to for the full story to come out.

      The idea that Ha’aretz is worried about something is just ridiculous. They are currently actively petitioning Israel to make the Deir Yassin files public. Do you realize what a powder-keg that could be? Yet, there they are openly pushing for it with no fear of reprisal. Is this the mark of a paranoid paper or is it that perhaps a rabid left-wing publication like Counterpunch is projecting a bit. Haaretz is also the paper that put out a story a couple of weeks ago about the non-story of some law changing in the West Bank that would enable, according to their screaming headlines, Israel to evict large numbers of Palestinians. They did this freely and without any concern or consequences. As far as I could tell, they were screaming about nothing, even though their coverage and the international coverage that resulted insinuated that Israel was preparing for mass evictions and ethnic cleansing. This is not the way paranoid editors and publishers write. Their daily menu of Akiva Eldar, Amira Hass et al also indicates an openness of the freedom that can only be found in a small proportion of the world’s countries. Jerusalem Post, Yediot and Maariv also have no problem bringing out stories that are critical of the establishment or the government. In fact, even state-sponsored television does this.

      The bottom line for me is that even with the pull and push that the pressures of the Arab-Israeli conflict bring to Israel’s battle to remain an open democracy or hunker down on those whose criticisms might undermine it, Israel remains a country where people speak freely and critically of the state. Organizations do as well, and the press does so incessantly. Politicians speak freely and critically of the government and some even undermine the state’s right to be in Jerusalem with no consequences. And yes, even speakers who visit universities criticize Israel.

      There is every reason to remain vigilant and to ensure these freedoms remain in place, because the situation is difficult for Israel in many respects, and wars and conflicts can easily bring about a degradation in people’s and the press’s freedoms, but what I deem unfair about Chomsky’s accusation which was, as best as I can recall, “These are the actions of a totalitarian state” is that it is very distant from the reality regarding Israel. He might have experienced a brutish action and it may have been unfortunate and ham-handed, but that is a far, far, far cry from anything resembling totalitarianism.

  • A totalitarian state, perhaps, is one that arbitrarily expresses state power through massive and irrational suppression of the media. Irrational because such suppression ultimately works contrary to state interests.

    So I am willing to agree with you that with respect to the media, Israel is a far cry from totalitarian. This may mean that groups crying ‘totaliarian’ were engaging in hyperbole; it may also mean that they have a synoptic picture of the state of political media that I don’t have. In any case, if my earlier point is acceptable, this is a straw man defense of Israel, since it is of no interest to level accusations of totalitarianism in the traditional sense (a tradition successfully pursued by Syria perhaps, and attempted less successfully by Egypt and China).

    A relatively more interesting question is, Is there a (non-totalitarian-based) problem with the media? And a much more interesting question is, Is there a problem with Israeli policy itself? The latter being the actual issue; and the instance of the Gaza attack shows that the answer to both of these question is ‘yes’.

    Israel’s restrictions on press freedom around the attack, of course, suggest strongly that the officially presented reasons for the attack were disingenuous. If this had genuinely been a defensive use of force proportional to the strength of the enemy, then there would be no reason to restrict media access (I assume that we can agree to reject claims of concern for journalist safety as irrelevant side-track).

    Wise though it is for you to concentrate on Israel’s press record as one of its relative strengths, the real issue is not the reporting of the events, but the events themselves; and here I cannot see that there are grounds for optimism, cheer, or exculpation.

    To offer a politically Realist defense of the media restrictions (as I read into your comment that ‘in Lebanon 2006, Hezbullah made very effective use of the press to fight the war and this was one of the lessons learned’) is also a sidetrack, since the issue over which we are required to pass judgement is not e.g. Mark Regev’s skill in handling the international media – something in which I am happy to accept he has a great deal of skill – but the Gaza attack itself.

    I would guess that you too are inclined to criticize that attack, in part on the Realist grounds that, even with the successful restrictions on the media, the fallout has empowered Israel’s critics and this is now expressing itself in a mainstreaming of the cultural and economic boycott (something with which, for that matter, I understand that even Chomsky does not agree).

    • Israel’s restrictions on press freedom around the attack, of course, suggest strongly that the officially presented reasons for the attack were disingenuous.

      Not at all. There can be many other reasons to prevent press freedom in a war zone and they have nothing to do with the reasons for the attack. The fact is that a sovereign state was attacked on a regular basis from another territory and decided, after patiently waiting for years to allow other methods to end the attacks, to launch a large-scale offensive to resolve the problem., On the basis of the dearth of attacks since Cast Lead ended, it appears the Israeli reasons were not only legitimate, but correct.

      If this had genuinely been a defensive use of force proportional to the strength of the enemy, then there would be no reason to restrict media access

      Prior to the launch of the offensive, Hamas declared war on Israel by deed and by word. They launched large scale rocket attacks and announced the beginning of “Oil Stain” which was their name for their offensive on Israel. In several statements made by public Hamas figures, Israel was threatened that should it enter Gaza, the place will become a significant graveyard for Israeli soldiers. In that environment, how can anyone doubt the use of extreme caution and prudence by the Israelis in the planning and execution of their attack. The notion of proportionality, as explained by Goldstone himself, is that if you can take out a target with rocket X that has a certain payload but instead use rocket Y with a higher payload, then you are being disproportionate. However, using rocket X is not, in and of itself, disproportionate. I’m sure we’re all military experts, but with all due respect, the suggestion that Israel used disproportionate force is one which we’re not qualified to assert.

      I would challenge you instead to tell me your views on British and American troops heading over to Iraq. How many dead soldiers did you think would make the attack on, say, Fallujah, a “proportionate” one? Would you accept that if they won the battle without losses, that it was still proportionate? I think you would. In Fallujah, the allied forces killed somewhere in the vicinity of 1900 civilians out of a 600,000 person population. Israel killed around 700 civilians out of 1.4 million (Palestinian population figures) in Gaza, so that allied forces can be said to have been about 7-9 times more deadly against civilians in Fallujah than Israel in Gaza. Is there something profoundly wrong with American and England? That’s the inevitable conclusion on the basis of your logic. In fact, since the proportional victim count was so much higher, the problem with America and England would seem to be far greater than Israel’s.

      Did allowing embedded reporters in Iraq provide you with a sense that what the allied forces were doing is more acceptable than what Israel did in a war with Gaza? What did Fallujahns ever do to the US? Did they launch rockets at Miami regularly? The embedded reporters were depending for their survival upon the men who were doing the fighting. Do you think that colored the reporting somewhat? Does that make the US and England into problematic societies since they’re trying to influence coverage of the war to their advantage?

      Restricting media coverage of the Gaza war was a mistake on one level, and I don’t think Israel should repeat it. However, to suggest that this represents some sort of deeper issue is a mistake. It was a tactical decision and it was predicated, as were many elements of the Gaza War, on lessons learned in Lebanon 2006. You may wish to dismiss this, but you can’t because 2006 was a traumatic war for Israel and the Gaza War was conducted with 2006 uppermost on the IDF’s and Israel’s collective consciousness.

      As for your assumptions regarding the Gaza War, I’m not sure how we got from “Is Israel a totalitarian state” to “you are inclined to criticize the Gaza attack,” but I’m fine with changing the subject. Yes, Israel has been harmed by the Gaza War, but it was entirely justified in conducting it and, in fact, should havedone so years earlier.

      I know people who live in Sderot and the patience displayed by Israel over the years in which it was entirely out of Gaza but had its citizens toyed with in this insane game of Russian roulette were years in which a state permitted its citizens to be harmed. Israel’s relative silence over the attacks for political and especially diplomatic expediency was a grave error.

      As to how this affects Israel, I fail to see what Israel is supposed to do. If it doesn’t fight back, its citizens are attacked, and if it does fight back, it is censured in a manner that no other country on our planet has to face. In fact, one could argue that one of the key reasons for the quantity and volume of the criticism is Israel’s open democracy and its press freedoms. Quite the opposite of what Chomsky is asserting in fact.

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