Friday, May 27, 2005

The Judge-Penitents Turn on Chomsky

My friend and ally Amritas has been good enough to send me a link to one of the more bizarre excursions into the hinterlands of ideology I've ever encountered. Namely, an anti-Chomsky polemic from the extreme Left. Now, before we enter into this labyrinth I should first tip my hat to the author for the following homage he renders me and others in describing Chomsky's popularity and influence:
Who else has whole internet blogs dedicated to nothing else but attacking him?
Well, George W. Bush and Michael Moore to name a few, but still, the compliment is much appreciated.

As to the article itself, the less one says as to its accuracy and rhetoric the better; its a fairly nasty piece of work all around, and while I agree with the author as to his attacks on Chomsky's regular distortions of historical fact and tendency towards the most poisonous rhetoric possible (although this author, judging by his own affection for the slanderous, doesn't have much room to talk); I can, for the most part, do nothing but stand aside and marvel at what is, essentially, a pissing match over who is more zealous in his desire to annihilate the Jewish State.

The article is very (unnecessarily) long, so I will limit myself to a few comments on its most glaring idiocies.
[F]rom the perspective of the Palestinians, it was Chomsky who was the rejectionist. In the early 70s, the Palestinian national movement was not calling for a separate state in the West Bank and Gaza but for returning to the land from which 750,000 of them had been expelled or fled, not 2000 years, but twenty years before. It was not until the PLO dropped its demand for its national rights in all of what had been Palestine in exchange for a truncated entity on the other side of the Green Line (1967 border) that Palestinian national rights, or what was left of them, became acceptable to Chomsky.
While I thank the author for acknowledging what many apologists for the PLO have long denied, namely that the group's stated purpose was the destruction of Israel and not Arab statehood in tandem with Jewish statehood in a partitioned Land of Israel; as well as acknowledging that a large part (I believe a majority) of the Palestinian refugees fled of their own accord (though the number 750,000 is still very much in contention); regarding Chomsky this statement is manifestly inaccurate. Chomsky, from the dawn of the Arab-Israeli conflict, has supported a "bi-national" socialist state; that is, a one state solution. His only difference with the PLO party line is in regard to their demand that all Jews who arrived in Israel after 1948 be expelled. The negation of Jewish national rights, and thus the negation of the essence of Zionism, has never been anything but eminently acceptable to Noam Chomsky.*

The author's grasp of reality does not improve when he deals with AIPAC and the "massive complex of Jewish organizations" over which it presides; an issue which is, with a disturbing inevitability these days, the point at which nearly all radical leftists head off the deep end into outright antisemitism.
If there are any constants in Washington, they are the power of AIPAC over Congress and the combined power of both over the White House when it comes to issues in the Middle East. While the lobby and its legislative lackeys may not win every battle, they ultimately win every war as the three living ex-presidents, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush the First, who ended up losers at the polls can attest.

Founded in 1959, with each passing year, the organization gets bigger and stronger. With a base in Washington, offices across the country, 85,000 energized members, a staff of 165, and a $33.4 million annual budget, 58AIPAC is at the pinnacle of a massive complex of Jewish organizations and Political Action Committees (PACS) across the country, from the national to the local, that are devoted to maintaining Israel’s privileged status in the nation’s capitol.
If we are to believe our erstwhile Chomsky critic, AIPAC has been solely responsible for the electoral losses of three presidents (economic and political factors being apparently nonexistent when Jewish power is involved) and has not merely power in the Congress but power over the Congress (the distinction is essential). We are to believe further that its 165 member staff apparently directs a terrifyingly powerful pyramid of Jewish organizations (a laughable assertion to anyone who has ever dealt with large Jewish organizations, since they are congenitally incapable of agreeing on anything amongst themselves, let alone with each other) powerful enough indeed to plunge what is ostensibly the most powerful country in the world into war.
Chomsky’s comment, notwithstanding, AIPAC, "was widely credited with having played a key role" in rounding up the necessary votes in the Senate to give Pres. Bush his majority. "[B]ecause of the extreme sensitivity to the issue, AIPAC was anxious to camouflage its role to avoid providing evidence for the accusation... that the Persian Gulf War was fought at the behest of the Jews to protect Israel." [62] To disguise their role, the Washington Jewish Week’s Larry Cohler reported that AIPAC had prominent Jewish senators vote against the war while lobbying non-Jewish senators in states with small Jewish populations to support it. That Saddam Hussein was not removed at the time brought strong criticism from the primarily Jewish neocons and on a lower register from AIPAC. During the Clinton presidency they would press their demand for regime change in Iraq and under Bush Jr., they made sure that task would be carried out. [63]
This rather stunningly blatant piece of racist conspiracy theory would have us believe that George Bush Sr. (who the author, let us not forget, has already described as targeted for unelection by the all-powerful Elders of AIPAC) and his various advisors (many of them no friends of Israel) took the United States into war for the purpose of protecting Israel (a country which, as a result of the war, suffered a series of missile attacks against which it was not permitted by the very well manipulated Bush Sr. to defend itself) under the intoxicating influence of Jewish power. Of course, under Bush Jr., "they made sure the task was carried out", a slander which drags us into Pat Buchanan (or Noam Chomsky) territory and cannot be answered with anything other than the statement that sometimes I wish we actually did have the power that fools like this attribute to us; at least then I wouldn't have to stay up nights worrying about them.

In the interest of verisimilitude, the author offers us the testimony of exactly two figures; Edward Said, the post-colonial theorist/professional gadfly, who remained dedicated throughout his life (without the slightest reservation) to Israel's destruction, and held the considered (and often epically verbose) opinion that all national liberation movements are sacred and legitimate with the exception of Zionism, a position I consider forthrightly racist; and Israel Shahak, who the author describes as "late" and "revered". Late he may be, but revered he most certainly is not. Even fanatically leftist Israelis consider him a dangerous crank whose writings on the Jewish religion are nearly inseperable from the crudest antisemitic propaganda. With the presentation of such witnesses, Chomsky is indicted and convicted on the charge of being insufficiently aware of the Jewish conspiracy at work in the US government. Needless to say, I disrespectfully dissent from the verdict in question; Chomsky may downplay AIPAC's influence in comparison to the conspiracists, but he has never minced words about his position regarding Jewish power in the United States; describing Jews as "the most privileged" of America's ethnic groups (presumably placing them above the WASP majority which, with a single exception, has held the presidency without interruption for over two hundred years) and as people who "want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control", which hardly sounds much different than the musings of Said, Shahak, and our author.

The author attributes Chomsky's confusion on this issue to his US-centric worldview. I concur that Chomsky is obsessed with the United States and believes it to be the source of a semi-theological form of evil; but he has never given Israel much latitude in this regard. He portrays it as a willing collaborator, and not a helpless pawn. If he acknowledges the reality that Israel is not all-powerful, it is not to absolve Israel, but to further indict her, and with her, of course, the United States.

As to antisemitism itself, according to our author, it is merely a tool in the hands of the powerful to oppress the fearless speakers of truth to power:
The effects of an accusation of "anti-Semitism" are like none other. Being so branded as has brought such powerful and diverse public figures as Rev. Billy Graham and Actor Marlon Brando to their knees and to tears with their apologies. The fear of being called "anti-semitic" or of provoking anti-semitism, ironically, inhibits the actions of US-based Palestinian organizations despite the fact that they are Semites themselves. As if losing their land was not enough, in America they have also been robbed of their ethnic identity.
We are meant, it appears, to assume from this passage that such accusations are inherently illigitimate. In fact, Billy Graham was criticized (and rightly so) for making a statement to the effect that those who did not accept Jesus would not be permitted to enter heaven; and Marlon Brando made remarks about the Jews running Hollywood which were unmistakeably crude and offensive. So much for the penitents. As to the phenomenon itself, it is clear that the author knows nothing whatsoever about antisemitism and its history, even as he is busy denouncing the "massive complex" of Jewish power for exploiting it. In fact, he raises the single most cliched and preposterously ignorant defense Palestinian apologists have devised, i.e. that Arabs are semites themselves and therefore cannot be anti-semitic. In fact, the word "semite" as it was originally used in the term anti-semitism refers to a language group and not a racial one; thus making a mockery of the author's asinine claim that the Palestinians are "robbed of their ethnic identity" by its use. Furthermore, antisemitism as a term referring to a specific ideology has always referred to hatred of Jews, and in fact was first used by anti-Jewish Austrian political parties at the end of the 19th century as a substitute for the German word "Judenhass", or "Jew-hatred", which was considered too crude a term for use by a political movement seeking mainstream legitimacy (which, of course, it eventually achieved in the Nazi Party). The author should have done a little homework before making a fool of himself.

But what we are ultimately dealing with here is a question of purity; that is, who is more purely dedicated to the annihilation of the Jewish state and its replacement with an Arab state; in my view, Chomsky and his critic are indistinguishable in this regard, but the author certainly disgrees, as he points out in this final, parting assault.
In "Peace in the Middle East," [Chomsky] reveals that:
At the time of the Six Day War in June 1967, I personally believed that the threat of genocide was real and reacted with virtually uncritical support for Israel at what appeared to be a desperate moment. In retrospect it seems that this assessment of the facts was dubious at best." [97]
It was an honest expressions [sic] of his affection for Israel and a rare admission by Chomsky that he had erred. It was apparently his last. Given this background, some other questionable statements of Chomsky in that South African interview become comprehensible. When asked to explain the differences between Israel before and after statehood, he responded:
The post-1967 period is different. The concept of settler-colonialism would apply to the pre-1948 period. It is plainly an outside population coming in and basically dispossessing an indigenous population.: ... Without going into it, by 1948, that argument is over. There was a state there, right or wrong. And that state should have the rights of any state in the international system, no more, no less. After 1967, there is a quite different situation. That's military conquest. (Emphasis added) [98]
What Chomsky seems to be saying here to the Palestinians after 1948, is "Get over it." Is that a misinterpretation? Could not the apartheid state of South Africa been defended on the same basis? And what was Israel’s war in 1948, if not military conquest? Israel took not only the area accorded it by the United Nations, but much of what would have been the Palestinians’ had they accepted partition. Finally, how could Chomsky’s ideal of a Jewish homeland in Palestine have been realized by any means other than by settler-colonialism? Those are a few of many questions that require answers from Chomsky.
Of course, 1967 was one of the very few occasions where Chomsky was, in fact, correct (although I note the speed with which he denounced his indiscretion). And both he and his critic are utterly and deliberately wrong considering the process of Israel's founding. Zionism had nothing to do with settler colonialism. Colonists come to a country to exploit its natural resources and economic potentialities; Zionism came to the Land of Israel to found a homeland for an oppressed people and to build a society which would identify with the Jewish people; its purpose was national liberation and not exploitation. The conflict in this land is not over colonialism or exploitation, but over competing national claims regarding a very small and hotly contested piece of real estate. As for comparisons to South Africa, which are just another way of declaring Israel evil and illigimate, I have already said my piece on Jewish-Arab relations in Israel, which are complicated and, yes, troubled, but which cannot be accurately described by simplistic attempts at rhetorical demonization.

As to "dispossession", one cannot disposses someone who sells their land to you; which is how the pre-state Yishuv acquired all the land it held before 1948 (with, I would note, severe restrictions on where and how much of that land they could buy). As for the nature of "Israel's war in 1948", it was, in my opinion, the desperate defense of 600,000 souls to avoid being pushed into the sea. In fact, the very use of the term "Israel's war" is a lie. You would think from this article that the armies of five Arab countries did not exist, did not invade Israel, did not kill 1% of the Jewish population, and the war in its entirety was an aggressive assault by the Jews upon their helpless neighbors; as much as he criticizes Chomsky, the author has learned the good professor's lessons on the value of strategic omission extremely well. Of course, the reason these facts must be suppressed is that they would call into question the holy innocence of the Palestinians and the concurrent demonization of Israel which has been the stock and trade of Chomsky and, apparently, this author.

As to the question of the UN partition, there is no question that the Israeli army took land which would have been part of Palestine "had they [the Palestinians] accepted partition", which is precisely the point: they did not accept partition. The Palestinian national movement rejected any legitimacy to the Jewish national liberation movement and embarked on a war of annihilation instead. A war which was wholly unnecessary and whose results were unquestionably tragic for the Palestinian people. The borders prescribed by the UN only became sacred to the Palestinians and their supporters after their defeat in 1948. Taking these facts, and our author's obvious belief that the entirety of Zionism (and therefore partition of the land to provide for a Jewish state) was and is wholly illigitimate, into consideration, I cannot consider his rapturous allegiance to the partition borders to be anything other than the rankest hypocrisy.

But to return from history and its distortions to the question of the good professor, I cannot agree with his erstwhile critic. Chomsky has never accepted that Israel ought to be left alone in its 1948 form. That is, he has not said "get over it" to the Palestinians, but rather "accept a bi-national state in which you will swiftly become the dominant majority"; that is to say, a system which would reduce Israel's Jewish population to the same oppressed status Jews have enjoyed throughout their history as a universal minority without a homeland of their own. Chomsky and his critic are in the same boat together; what one desires swiftly and with violence, the other desires in measured doses, although in all likelihood with violence as well.

What is most fascinating about this piece, however, is its extraordinary irony. For the first time, perhaps, the guns have been turned around; and Chomsky himself has now become the target of the very Leftwing antisemitism he has spent his career denying out of existence; and has thus become subject to all the vicious opprobrium and ferocious distortionism he has so long directed towards others. For what Chomsky is being asked here, essentially, is the eternal question of the antisemite: are you a Jew, or are you one of us? The monster has begun to devour its own.

*I am aware of the fact that Chomsky has now declared himself in favor of the Geneva Accord, which supposedly advocates a two-state solution, but a matter of two years in the four decades long career of one of the PLO's most fervent apologists strikes me as less than relevent; especially considering Chomsky's declaration that his support is a tactical decision and not a moral-ideological one. Considering the acceptance of the Palestinian Right of Return in the fine print of the agreement, this does not strike me as being nearly as inconsistant with his previous positions as it may initially appear.