Shmate: A Journal of Progressive Jewish Thought
20 (Summer 1988), pp. 24-32 [May, 1988]
On Trip to Middle East, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Burton Levine
QUESTION: You just returned from the Middle East?
CHOMSKY: From Israel and the occupied territories.
QUESTION: Are we getting an accurate account of events in the American press? How, for instance, does The New York Times
compare with Ha'aretz
CHOMSKY: It has typically been the case that you get much better coverage in the Hebrew press in Israel. That's no longer true. Ha'aretz
is one of the worst. Ha'aretz
has caved in completely. It does not give honest reporting. It has a tremendous amount of self-censorship. There are other journals like Hadashot
that are much more honest. I do not know exactly what happened internally in Ha'aretz
. I don't want to say that there is nothing good in Ha'aretz
, but the general character of its reporting has deteriorated radically during the uprising. I read the Hebrew press pretty carefully and for the first time in my experience the coverage in the American press has been as good, if not better. Israeli television has been particularly bad. They are even complaining about it there because of the censorship, self-censorship and denial. What's remarkable about Israel is how much they are able to avoid attention to what's going on.
Neither the American press nor the Israeli press adequately cover the background. It is covered better in the Hebrew press. So, for example, in Ha'aretz
they did report in mid-April that Arafat once again called for a partition. He said that we have to accept the basic concept of partition, and by that he did not mean the lines of the U.N. recommendation but, rather, the current lines. That would never be reported in the United States. The New York Times
has a principle of never reporting conciliatory statements from Arab sources. They usually don't even print any letters referring to it. Interestingly, they broke that rule just a few weeks ago with a letter by Norman Finkelstein reviewing some of the documentary evidence they have been suppressing for years, and I mean suppressing. I don't mean failing to report. They won't permit letters to appear referring to it. There are even letters by The New York Times
' editors saying they will not permit the material to appear.
QUESTION: Is there a reason why American reporting has improved? Does it reflect a change in attitudes either among the American public or elite?
CHOMSKY: I think it's a mixture. For one thing there are a couple of good reporters there. I was very pleased to see that The New York Times
withdrew Thomas Friedman. That made it possible for some good reporting. They sent John Kifner, who is a very good professional journalist. When they send John Kifner somewhere it's because they want the story to come out, not because they want it to be covered up. Friedman's job is to cover it up. Similarly in the [Washington] Post
there was good reporting. The Boston Globe
had, perhaps, the best reporting of all.
In part there is, I expect, a reaction to the way journalists themselves are being treated. The foreign press corps in Israel has already reported somewhere between 100 and 150 attacks on journalists, some including physical violence. In the West Bank whenever I was stopped by soldiers, the first question was, Are you a journalist? That's what they are really worried about. They want the journalists out of there.
On the other hand the newspapers continue to suppress the background. The background facts are that for years the Arab states and the PLO have been calling for a political settlement, and for years Israel, both political parties in the United States, and the American media have been opposing them. And that truth is still unexpressible.
I expect Jewish leaders will also complain that the American media are not giving the background. Well, that is true, but the background is the opposite of what they believe it to be. There still continues to be an extraordinary double standard in favor of Israel in that regard.
QUESTION: Is there protest in Israel against the current policies?
CHOMSKY: One good thing that has happened in Israel is that for the first time, a significant, authentic peace movement has developed. I don't mean Peace Now, which is largely there in order to convince American liberals that they should continue to support Israel. In part this is around Yesh Gvul, which has been around for a couple of years. But there are a couple of new groups: Dy L'Kvush, Shomrei Esrim v'Echad, Kav Adom. I don't know what appeal they have in the population. Polls would indicate maybe 10% or 15%. I went on a demonstration with some of them, down to Dhahrieh, a prison camp, one of the worst by reputation. The demonstration had not a lot, maybe 70 or 80, people. Of course that's a long trek. It's way down in the Negev.
QUESTION: Does the Peace Movement grow out of an older tradition?
CHOMSKY: Partly. Yesh Gvul has been around since 1982. A lot of the people have been involved in things for years. For example, one of the activists of Kav Adom is Dov Yirmiah, who is an old activist. In fact he was thrown out of the army in 1982. He goes way back in Haganah. He was the oldest soldier in the Israeli army during the 1982 war. He volunteered for the war and was put in charge of dealing with the civilian population, but was so appalled by the sadistic treatment of the civilian population in Lebanon, that he wrote an article in the Hebrew press denouncing it. I don't remember the exact timing. He was then removed from his military position. He then published a war diary in Hebrew, violating censorship. The book was actually translated into English, but I don't think anybody ever heard of it or referred to it. It's a definite no-no in the United States. For several years he has been active. He went to Dheisheh refugee camp a couple of years ago and wrote a very bitter article about treatment of people there. He is a guy with a long record, going back many years, of honest committed dissidence. But I met with a number of activists in Tel Aviv from Dy L'Kvush, Shomrei Esrim v'Echad, End the Occupation and Yesh Gvul. They were mostly young, very committed and very serious. There are some who are older -- Peretz Kidron, who reports here for National Public Radio. But most of them are younger people, some of them were students of mine.
QUESTION: What do they want?
CHOMSKY: They are calling for an end to the occupation, a real end to the occupation. They don't have any far-reaching positions. I pressed them on that for a long time. Each group has its own political position but, as organizations, they are basically concerned with an end to the occupation. They have a kind of New Leftish flair to them. They are concerned with taking actions to show regularly and constantly that they are not accepting the occupation policies. They want it to become a part of Israeli culture to recognize that ending the occupation is an option.
Now that is extremely important in Israel, because there has been no political group in Israel, including Peace Now, that has called for an end to the occupation. There's a lot of deceit about that in the U.S. Here in the U.S. Shimon Peres and others are called doves and the claim is that they differ materially from the Likud in calling for an end to the occupation. That's absolutely not true. They just have a different tactical approach. Yitzhak Rabin just had an interview in England a few days ago. He said that the Labor proposal is that they will keep the Gaza Strip and 40% of the West Bank, meaning that is what they want on the West Bank. That's been their position since the 1960s. That's in many ways worse than the Likud position as far as the Arabs are concerned.
As far as Peace Now goes, I met with their activists while I was there, and I read their literature. They refuse to take a position. They are extremely evasive. They say things vaguely like "Palestinians have rights." But I have been pressing them for years to show me something on paper where they have taken a position that begins to approach the PLO and their proposal for a political settlement. They never come out with anything like the degree of commitment to a diplomatic settlement and mutual recognition that the PLO mainstream has. In fact the PLO is more of a peace movement than Peace Now. Peace Now condemns the PLO and rightly, I think, for its evasiveness. They say something, and then they retract it. But Peace Now does much worse. Their statements are much more evasive.
Even the new peace groups do not come out with very clear political statements. Part of the reason is that in Israel the idea of a political settlement is so remote from consciousness that, if a group does come out with it, they think they will lose political credibility.
QUESTION: They are not exactly popular now. How much credibility can they lose?
CHOMSKY: I agree with you. We had discussions on that and we disagreed. My feeling is that they should come out with a clear, forthright political statement. At times they do. In Peace Now you never find it. Peace Now is a very establishment group. They say in private that they see their role as ensuring that American liberals and liberals in the American Jewish community don't give up on Israel. I consider them very damaging. They are very harmful for the cause of peace. I have told them that many times.
QUESTION: How are they harmful?
CHOMSKY: I don't know what their impact is in Israel. But in the United States people like Amos Oz come here presenting himself as the beautiful Israeli -- a kibbutznik, good-looking, honest and an honest toiler. Then he deplores all the bad things that are happening. But the bottom line is, If only there was an Arab as beautiful as me, then everything would be all right; unfortunately, we are the only beautiful ones; they are all monsters, terrorists and gangsters, so what can you do? There is a phrase in Hebrew, "yorim v'vochim," you cry and you shoot. If you are a beautiful Israeli, you cry when you shoot. If you are not a beautiful Israeli, you just shoot. Now that's extremely deceitful. It is essentially a way of ensuring that the confrontation continues and that the occupation continues. The truth of the matter is that Amos Oz is no more an advocate for peace than the mainstream of the PLO, maybe less so.
There is a whole cult in Israel of deception of the West. There are people who specialize in it. Abba Eban has made an entire career out of presenting undemocratic, harsh, and often rather brutal policies in a framework in which they appear to be peace-loving and democratic. You have to read his work carefully to see what he is really saying. He is widely regarded as a dove. He signs Peace Now statements. On the other hand, if you look at what he actually says, it's straight Labor Party rejectionism. His position is that Israel should give up the heavily occupied population centers in the West Bank, but take everything it wants on the West Bank. It should take all of the resources, the land that it needs, water, the Jordan valley. And it should just leave the population stateless in little Bantustans in which they can continue to be a cheap labor force for the Israeli government. Now it's only when you get to the small print that you see that that's what he is saying. But he has learned over the years to put those things in a way that makes it seem that it's the beautiful Israel speaking.
There are people in Israel whom I almost believe have been invented by the hasbarah
system, the propaganda system, for the purpose of talking to American journalists. No article by a serious reporter in an American journal is complete if it does not quote the "philosopher" David Hartman. Now as far as I know the "philosopher" David Hartman is some marginal character who runs a weird religious school on private money and has never had an idea in his head. But he is there in order for Thomas Friedman to quote the "philosopher" David Hartman, saying some statements of mock profundity, which make it clear that there is a beautiful Israel. If he has any other role in the world I don't know what it is.
Israel is an embattled country. They rely very heavily on U.S. support. So they have developed a very sophisticated system of propaganda. They don't call it propaganda. They call it hasbarah
. It is the only country I know of in the world that refers to propaganda as explanation. The Ministry of Propaganda is the Ministry of Explanation. The idea being that our position on everything is so obviously correct that if we only explain it to people, they will see that it is right. And they do it well. People like Abba Eban, Amos Oz, David Hartman and others know how to do the job. American reporters, either out of naivete or, in the case of Thomas Friedman, just cynicism, play the game for them.
Thomas Friedman, I should say, has by now revealed himself, in the Israeli press, as the astonishing racist and megalomaniac that he is.
QUESTION: Which is why he won the Pulitzer prize?
CHOMSKY: He won two Pulitzer prizes. He won for balanced and informed coverage. You may have noticed that it was announced on April Fools' Day, which was not by accident. For years the guy has been covering up for Israel, falsifying facts. When the Israeli press comes out with headlines saying "Arafat Calls for Negotiations, Peres Refuses," as they did in December of 1986, Tom Friedman will choose that occasion to write one of his many articles saying that Peace Now is losing credibility because there is no counterpart in the Arab World. Now he has left The New York Times
and, while I was in Israel, he had a couple of long interviews in the Hebrew press, which are very revealing. First of all, they are revealing about his megalomania. The headline of one was "The Man Who Predicted the Uprising," and then it goes on with his self-adulation for having been the one reporter who predicted the uprising. Well, you read his columns and you won't find a hint that the uprising was coming.
QUESTION: I don't remember anything.
CHOMSKY: Nothing. But now he is the man who predicted the uprising. Then he goes on to say that he is the only journalist who really understands anything, because he is a really deep thinker. It's all nonsense. But what's particularly interesting is that they asked him in one interview, Now that you are leaving after four years, what is your recommendation about the West Bank? And he says, You should treat the West Bank like Southern Lebanon -- meaning put it under the control of a terrorist mercenary army, set up torture chambers if you need them and so forth. That is his recommendation. He knows what Lebanon is. And then he says, Don't ask for too much; if Achmed gets his seat in the bus, he will lower his demands. Well, you know, you can imagine a racist Southern sheriff thirty years ago saying, If you give Sambo a seat in the bus, maybe he will shut up. I don't think anybody in the United States would say that today. But Thomas Friedman says it without batting an eyelash and, in fact, Israel is so racist that nobody even notices it. That's Thomas Friedman, the great journalist.
QUESTION: And that kind of statement is not criticized in Israel?
CHOMSKY: Well I talked about it with friends of mine. But as far as I know, nobody even noticed it. The country is extremely racist. You sort of know it from reading. But when you see it, it's pretty traumatic. What's happening there is absolutely standard historically in systems of colonial oppression. The oppressors, whether they are slave owners or foreign military occupiers or elites, in order to defend themselves psychologically from understanding what they're doing, have to become racists. They have to assume that these are not real people. Because if you regard them as people, you cannot accept what you are doing. One consequence of oppression is racism. It depends on what the nature of the conflict is. It can be color of skin, or religion, or something else. One or another form of racism, in the generic sense, is an automatic consequence of oppressive relationships. I am sure you find it in bureaucrats dealing with slums. But the consequence of racism is ignorance. Since these people are just donkeys, they're not real people; you don't have to pay attention to what they are doing or thinking. Then you don't know what's going on. And the result of that is that there will be an uprising and you won't understand it. And you have to react with more violence, because that is the only thing you understand.
This is a typical phenomenon. It has been going on for years. And it is also typical of many other situations. Take a recent case, the United States in Honduras. The United States must have Honduras penetrated with every CIA agent imaginable. But they did not know that there was so much hatred of America that the Hondurans were going to burn up the American embassy, while the Honduran army sat by applauding. They are all shocked in the intelligence apparatus. Part of the reason is either they don't read the newspapers, where it was perfectly obvious, or they don't notice because, after all, these are just "spics." Who cares what they say? We give them some money, so they shut up.
This happens over and over again. In fact in Israel it is the third time it has happened with a major event. In the early 1970s, when Israel was in a really triumphalist mood, the generals were talking about conquering everything from Baghdad to Khartoum in a week or a month. During this period, when Sadat's army mobilized in the Sinai they didn't pay any attention. How can these "gooks" do anything to us? In fact military intelligence was saying things like "War is not the Arabs' game." Well, they paid for that attitude. They were practically destroyed. It was a very big psychological blow to Israel when it happened. The second major time it happened was in 1982 and '83 when they went into Lebanon. They had big plans. First of all, they were going to kick the Syrians out. Well, it turned out that they couldn't. Although they won the technological war with the Syrians, the war on the ground they did not win. They did not displace the Syrians from fixed defensive positions, and there is plenty of internal critique in the Israeli technical military press. Unfortunately the Arabs know which end of the gun to hold and that is dangerous.
They were going to conquer Lebanon and put their puppet in charge, take the waters of the Litani River probably, and everything was going to be beautiful. The only trouble is that they were kicked out of Lebanon, driven out by the Lebanese resistance. And that was another shock. Well, they sort of accounted for that on the assumption that we are just civilized and won't accept the level of casualties and they are a bunch of Shiite crazies who think they are going to heaven and we cannot deal with them like a civilized people. But on the West Bank, we can control everything. They are just peasants and businessmen and not serious.
Well, now comes another explosion. Each time they are suffering the consequences of the racism that results from their oppressiveness, and it will continue. It will continue until there is a political settlement. One of the remarkable things about this current uprising is how nonviolent it is. The Arabs have not responded with lethal force. And that's astonishing.
QUESTION: Is that a disappointment to the Israelis?
CHOMSKY: I think so.
QUESTION: Were the expulsions from the West Bank and the assassination in Tunisia an attempt to goad the Palestinians into violence?
CHOMSKY: I would assume so. They would much rather have real violent resistance. You could see it when the girl, Tirza Porat, was killed in Beita. The country went insane. They were ready to kill every Arab. You know the army was upset about that, because they knew right away that she had been killed by a Jewish settler. They were worried about the settlers' reaction. They don't want to have to control a gang of lunatics inside their own country. They tried to calm it down. But you could see what was happening inside the country -- mass hysteria.
The response to the attack actually illustrates the extraordinary racism in the society. Here was a case which was a clear provocation by settlers. They came into a closed military area and village lands. A madman, who was technically not allowed to carry a gun, killed an Arab in the fields. They were then brought into the village. Another Arab was killed. The mother of one of the Arabs who was killed threw a stone at this lunatic, who then started firing around wildly, killing a Jewish girl. The net effect of all this is 30 houses either totally demolished or virtually destroyed. I was there with a few Arab lawyers. I got in through back roads and climbed over hills avoiding military curfew. They really wrecked the place pretty badly. They say 14 houses destroyed, but that's a joke. You have to look at the houses 50 feet away which are half smashed. So about 30 houses either destroyed or unlivable, which is serious business. This means old people cooking in the rain in the rubble. It's not pretty. Six people deported. The police just announced two days ago in Israel that they are planning to carry out criminal prosecutions against the mother of the murdered Arab man who threw the stones. They are going to charge her with complicity in the murder of the Jewish girl.
Meanwhile, what about any punishment for the settlers? Has anybody blown up houses in Eilon Moreh?, the head of the military command was asked by The New York Times
. He said, No, there would be no punishment of this Roman Aldubi, they guy who did all of the killing, because the tragic incidents were already penalty enough. The Arabs, in contrast to the Jews, you have to smash in the face. Nobody reacts to this. The only reaction even in the liberal Israeli press is, Well, they overdid it because they blew up the houses of some people who may not have been involved in the confrontation. One way in which the peace groups in Israel could respond is just go to Beita and rebuild the damn houses. Why wait? In fact, while I was in Beita, we asked, How could you feel if Israelis came to rebuild? These are peasants, very stolid, very quiet, very dispassionate. It is amazing when you see peasants throughout the world. They just assume that the world is a place of violence and terror and that the guys on the outside are going to smash them in the face; that's their role.
They thought about it. They talked about it and they said it would have to be a political decision. Their conclusion was that if the Jews came out of a real sense of political solidarity, because they want to help them, they would be happy to work with them to rebuild the village. But if they were just coming to make Israel look good or to salve their conscience, then they don't want them.
QUESTION: That's a pretty sophisticated reaction.
CHOMSKY: I thought it was a very sophisticated reaction. In fact, I must say I was extremely impressed by the people on the ground, whether it was in villages under curfew or refugee camps under curfew -- those we could get into -- or towns that had just been swept through by the army or the hospitals in the old city of Nablus. The people are just extremely dedicated and determined. There is even a sense of exaltation, as if they had stars in their eyes, but in a quiet way.
I was at the hospital in Ramallah right after the demonstrations, with people smashed up. There were no doctors, because the doctors all flee after the demonstrations. They are afraid they are going to be picked up. There were a few nurses. We talked to a 13-year-old kid with a bullet wound in his leg. According to his story, he was just running away from a demonstration and he was shot. Anyway, the Arab friend of ours, who was taking us around, asked him at the end, How do you feel about it all?, and you could see his face light up and he said, My spirit is higher than the wind. Or a guy lying in a bed with tubes coming out of him, paralyzed from the waist down, who describes how he got his bullet wounds, but then he ends up saying, If this is what you have to do for a homeland, then we are going to pay the price.
Others have seen this too. The Israeli reporter, Joel Greenberg, who writes for the Jerusalem Post
-- he is quite good, incidentally -- went into Kabatiya. It is a town that was under, well, it was a concentration camp for about 40 days. No one was allowed in or out. Water was cut off. Electricity was cut off. Telephones were cut off. Everything. He said when they finally went in there, he found the people were exhilarated. They said if they had to go back to eating grass they would. And that's the same sense I got.
The moods in Israel and in the occupied territories were quite different. In Israel most people probably do not know what is happening, they know about as much as we do. But the more thoughtful people have a sense of foreboding. They are asking, Are we going to be here in 20 years? Whereas, on the other side, where people are getting smashed up, beaten and tortured, put in prison, deported, they feel that they are going to win. It's very dramatic when you see it.
QUESTION: What is their relationship to the PLO? Some reports here, even in The New York Times
, give the impression that they are unhappy with the PLO. Some say their devotion to the PLO is partly lip service.
CHOMSKY: Well, it is more than lip service. It is partly true, but not quite. I pressed this very hard. I had good Arab contacts, so I was able to meet people in the old village of Nablus, who were among the local organizers of the popular committees. These are not particularly educated people. One is a taxi driver. Another is a municipal clerk. They are very sensible people. No rhetoric. It is not like talking to the PLO. I have talked to top PLO people, who are full of revolutionary rhetoric. There is none of that stuff. These are very down-to-earth people, very serious about what they hope and plan to do. I asked them what they thought about the PLO. They give the same kind of responses that I would give and do give, and that irritated the Arab intellectuals when I said it to them in East Jerusalem. They spoke about the corruption, the incompetence, the failure to send money and the crazy things, like playing for the international press gallery with ships, and living in Five Star hotels. They had no illusions about the PLO.
But they have their own organizational structure. At the level of this unified leadership, the party structures emerge. So you get the Communist Party, which is much more influential in my opinion than people make it out to be; it is illegal of course. Also the Popular Front, Fatah (which is the largest group), and the Democratic Front. In the Gaza Strip, but not so much on the West Bank, there is Islamic Jihad. That is the grouping at the level of leadership. The leadership send directives, but the directives are rather vague, like they will say, today should be subsistence day. That was the day I happened to be in Nablus and people were clearing fields of rocks and planting subsistence crops. They were supposed to carry out the vague directive themselves.
On the other hand, if you ask questions about politics and what they want, they will say, Well, independence of the West Bank and Gaza, but if you want to talk about that go to the PLO. So with all the reservations about the PLO and their lack of illusion about it, they still see the PLO as the symbol of Palestinian nationality. I asked them, Why go to the PLO, if they are so incompetent? They said, Look, it's a national problem and that is our national leadership. If you want to talk about settlements, go talk with them. Again I think it is a sophisticated, realistic reaction. It is a realistic assessment of the facts and a plausible response to them.
QUESTION: It sounds a little like labor union members who support leaders who they know are corrupt.
CHOMSKY: Exactly. Those guys are crooks, but that's what we are stuck with. We would like a different world, but this is the world. If you want to bargain, go bargain with them. But it's worse here because they recognize it as a general national problem. My own guess, frankly, is that if Israel ever does agree to a political settlement, there could be a very sharp conflict between the local people on the ground and the PLO bureaucrats and mucky-mucks from outside.
QUESTION: What about the Palestinian intellectuals we hear so much about, people like Hanna Siniora and Mubarak Awad?
CHOMSKY: I asked about them. They are the people the press and Peace Now go to. The people I talked to were contemptuous of them. That includes Mubarak Awad, who does not have any relation to what is going on, who is just splitting things. One of them said about Siniora that he is the one the PLO sends to try to undercut local leadership. These are the people the Israelis go to to find out what is going on. I don't think they know what's going on. Now some of these people they do have respect for -- for example, Feisal Husseini, a Fatah person who has been in administrative detention off and on and is now back in again. Him, I noted, they respected.
QUESTION: The section of your book, The Fateful Triangle
, that really struck me was on the secret agreement between King Abdullah and Ben Gurion to partition the Palestinian lands between them.
CHOMSKY: More material has come out on that since. Simha Flapan's interesting book [The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities
(Pantheon, 1987)] has more on it. Nobody yet has a document which says it. But the evidence is accumulating pretty strongly. And Flapan has more evidence. The evidence is circumstantial, but pretty strong. If you look at the actual military history you will see that both sides essentially kept to the positions in the bargain. At the end of the war Israel sent all of its forces down to the south to surround the Egyptian forces in the one place where the Egyptian army reached to Israeli territory. Israel had a very narrow waist. The Arab Legion was the only serious military force, but they did not do a thing in reaction. They could have cut Israel in half and saved the Egyptian army. In fact, they never moved into Israeli controlled territory. People say they went into Jerusalem, and that's true, but Jerusalem was to be international territory.
On the Israeli side, Yigal Allon, who was commanding the southern front, knew that they had the force to conquer the West Bank. But apparently Ben Gurion held him back. The only plausible reason is that they had an arrangement.
Flapan takes a much stronger position. He claims that the Arab armies intervened on May 15 primarily to frustrate Abdullah. In his new book he gives more evidence. It is a very strong possibility that Flapan is right. Remember Egypt was under British occupation. Their problem was England. Abdullah was just a British stooge. If Abdullah conquered, say, the Negev, that would have been just a big British base in the Middle East. That was the last thing the Egyptians wanted. They were trying to expel Britain. That was their struggle. We look at it from our point of view. That's just racist and colonialist. Also, it is a fact that Abdullah did have a plan to attack Syria. He thought he had a deal with Haganah. Haganah was going to attack Syria and Abdullah was going to go in and save Syria and then keep it. It did not work out, but it was an actual plan.
QUESTION: Was this post-1948?
CHOMSKY: It was either 1948 or 1949. Right in that period. This is discussed with some documentation in Flapan's book. In general, I think the idea is extremely plausible. Syria in 1949 offered a full peace treaty to Israel, which Israel rejected. There are good indications that the Arab states did not want to go to war in May 1948. Nahum Goldmann was opposed to declaring the state, and his reason was not that he was against a Jewish state. You see, the state was actually declared prior to the time when the Partition Recommendation proposed it. It was advanced. Goldmann's proposal was that they should hold off, and he always held throughout his entire life that, had he done that, they would have avoided war. Flapan tries to explore that in his book. His own conception is that Goldmann knew that the Arab states would accept a proposal if it was worked out properly, and he thought they should have explored that path. But Ben Gurion and other leaders were pretty confident. They thought they would be able to grab some land. There was a period of about 10 days from about May 14 to May 24 when it was touch and go; it wasn't at all clear how it was going to work out. But aside from that 10-day period, there was no doubt who was going to win.
QUESTION: Syria was willing to settle in 1949. How about Egypt?
CHOMSKY: By the time Nasser consolidated power in 1953, he was already moving toward a peace settlement with Israel. In fact, that is almost certainly one major reason for the Israeli terrorist acts in Egypt in 1954, when they blew up American installations. Part of the reason was, probably, to exacerbate relations between the United States and Egypt. Part, probably, was to undermine the negotiations then going on between Moshe Sharett and Nasser, which it succeeded in doing. Also, when Ben Gurion got back into power in early 1955, pushing out Sharett, the first thing he did was carry out a major military attack in Gaza, killing lots of Egyptians, which killed negotiations. In fact you know there is very interesting documentation in Hebrew, Pentagon Papers style. Years ago they published in Hebrew, the captured Egyptian documents from the 1956 war. As far as I know, no scholars in America have touched them. What they tell is that Egypt was trying very hard to keep their word by arresting Palestinians and keeping Palestinians out of the army. Israel was sending in letter bombs to try to kill the Egyptian commanders who there trying to quiet down the Palestinians. There is every indication that they were trying to inspire Palestinian terrorism.
QUESTION: Did Sharett represent a real difference from Ben Gurion?
CHOMSKY: You can find hawkish statements in his stuff. But he did think that they were following the wrong course, that they ought to follow the course of diplomacy. He was a contrast to Ben Gurion. People always quote Ben Gurion in the 1960s. But as long as he was in, he was very forthright. He said no foreign factor can set Zionist aspirations, they will be set by the Jewish people alone. As far as borders are concerned, there are no limits. We should never settle on borders. We should always go on. Every political agreement we make is a temporary expedient, and we will go on to get more.
QUESTION: He had the same position that people criticize, the PLO for its Covenant.
CHOMSKY: Exactly. I've pointed that out before. I do noThe Fateful Triangle
t think that was reason not to negotiate with Ben Gurion. A substantial part of the Zionist movement never accepted the partition. Just three or four weeks ago the Herut program committee -- Herut is the main group in Likud -- which writes the platform, once again stated that they have not yet given up on their aims in Jordan, though they said they are not going to march on Amman. About two years ago the head of the Likud parliamentary delegation, Ronnie Milo, stated in parliament that they have not abandoned their claims in East Jordan. They might give up some of them in the course of negotiations. That's East Jordan.
Achdut Haavodah was the mainstream of the Kibbutz movement for years and of the Labor coalition. They do not exist any longer, but as long as they existed they held that they did not accept the 1922 partition, let alone the 1947 partition. These are major components of the Israeli system. Even today they have never stated what borders they accept, and they never will.
QUESTION: What about Lebanon? There has been a lot of reaction in America to the uprising in Gaza and the West Bank. Yet Israeli air and ground raids in Lebanon have killed many more civilians than the repression on the West Bank.
CHOMSKY: Take the last few days. They invaded, but nobody knows what they really did, because they do not allow any reporters. But they obviously totally destroyed one village and they were shelling very heavily. But nobody cares. Even when it's reported here, nobody cares. Some of the things that are reported are mind boggling. For example, in January 1984, Israel carried out bombing in the Bekaa Valley. There were 400 casualties, including 150 children. Some of the bombings are front page news, but nobody cared. Part of the reason is just normal anti-Arab racism, which is extreme in the United States. But partly the point is that Israel is a U.S. client state. It inherits the right of terrorism and aggression from us.
You remember the big furor over the alleged Nicaraguan invasion of Honduras. The Nicaraguan troops swept maybe a couple of kilometers across the border in hot pursuit, driving a terrorist force out of the country. That same week Israel carried out several bombings in Lebanon, north of the area of occupation, for a military action. The ability to maintain control over the cognitive dissonance is astonishing. All of this was on the same page. All of these liberal [U.S.] Senators were screaming about Communist totalitarians who dare to drive terrorists out of their country. On the other hand this other stuff is going on and nobody bats an eyelash. It's a real double standard. It is extreme.
Take the treatment of the press. If Nicaragua were to treat the press the way Israel does, we would have blown the place away. Israel has 18 journalists in jail. They have been closing newspapers for years. The week La Prensa
[a Nicaraguan newspaper] was suspended, they permanently closed two newspapers. When La Prensa
was opened, they closed another newspaper. For the first time a couple of weeks ago they closed a Hebrew newspaper. The editor, Michal Schwartz, is in jail. She is not permitted to see her lawyer, because the lawyer might reveal what the investigation is about. I don't even know if it's been reported in the United States. Suppose Nicaragua were to do something like that?
QUESTION: It would be on the front page of The New York Times
CHOMSKY: Oh, my god! We would be bombing. All of these pretended advocates of free speech are just frauds. Maybe there are half a dozen people in the U.S. who believe in freedom of the press, if that many.
QUESTION: Speaking of censorship, what about your relations to American Jews? Your Fateful Triangle
was an important book about the Middle East. American Jewish journals consciously avoided it. They would not even print negative reviews, hatchet jobs.
CHOMSKY: It is interesting. Take a look at England. In England that book was reviewed in the Jewish Quarterly
by Noah Lucas, who is a well-known historian. It was a very favorable review. He later picked it as one of the most important books of the last decade. That is England. Here you must have total censorship. The Jewish community here is deeply totalitarian. They do not want democracy, they do not want freedom. Israeli doves like Meir Pail and Matti Peled have been saying for years that the American Jewish community is their worst enemy, that it is a totalitarian community, that it does not want democracy in Israel, that it does not believe in democracy in Israel, that it does not believe in democracy here. These guys say things I would never say. Pail is no big dove, but his critique of the American Jewish community is that what they want is for Israel to be a war god similar to Mars. But they certainly do not want discussion. In fact they have a whole vilification apparatus which is pretty impressive. The Anti-Defamation League office in Boston is a pretty leaky place. Many of the people who work there are appalled, so I have received stuff from them. For example, I got my file, a 150-page file.
QUESTION: They keep a file on you?
CHOMSKY: It reads kind of like an FBI file -- half-truth, half-lies. People go to talks and send in what they claim I said, often an inversion of what they heard. Also clippings, inter-office memos, correspondence that they picked up. I got it because I was going to have a debate with Alan Dershowitz. This stuff was being sent to Dershowitz, so that he could cull defamatory material from it -- as he did -- for the debate. Somebody in the office who was appalled sent me a copy. People like Dershowitz, who is just an Israeli hack, a strict party liner, go to the ADL to get defamatory material. People like me, I don't care. But if you are in politics or journalism, you cannot live with this. A temporary secretary at the ADL office told me that after the 1982 war there have been correspondence between the ADL and the Partisan Review
in which the editors, William Phillips and Eith Kurzweil, offered the Review to the ADL as a way of defaming critics of Israel, me in particular. I believe that story is true. At the same time these people were inviting me to their cocktail parties. But that is typical of the intellectual community. It's basically Communist Party style.
This vilification apparatus is really effective in shutting people up. It scares a lot of people off, especially people in exposed positions. There is just no way to respond. If you are denounced as being an anti-Semite, what are you going to say, I'm not an anti-Semite? Or if you are denounced as being in favor of the Holocaust, what are you going to say, I'm not in favor of the Holocaust? I mean you cannot win. Stalinist types of the ADL understand the beauty of throwing mud is that nobody can follow the details. You write it. Somebody else quotes it. Then somebody else says something.
Some people are really extreme. Dershowitz has actually written articles in the ADL journals in which he says I told him that I was "an agnostic about the Holocaust". First of all, I would not have a conversation with Alan Dershowitz if I met him in the street. But this is fabrication.
QUESTION: It is actually a quote that comes up a lot attached to your name now.
CHOMSKY: Sure. Why not? Why not say I am in favor of the Holocaust? I think all Jews should be killed. That is the next thing to say. The point is that they can say anything they want. It is a kind of status that the Communist Party had aspired to but never achieved. And they have achieved it. They are totalitarians. There are plenty of others like them. Take say, Elie Wiesel. His position is that one must maintain silence in the face of atrocities carried out by one's favorite state. That is his position, reiterated over and over again in the clearest possible terms. At the time of the last big uprising on the West Bank (there were real atrocities, 15 people were killed in early 1982 -- it was even making the papers at that time), he was asked to comment on it in the Jewish press, not even the public press, and he responded that only people in power are in a position to know, and I am not in a position of power, and therefore I cannot comment. He finally wrote an article in the Hebrew press in which he simply reiterated his position that you must maintain silence. That is your job. I must say that he is hated in Israel. When he won the Nobel prize, the vituperation in the Israeli press was just explosive. They absolutely despise him. What is an interesting fact about American culture is that a man who puts forth this position can be regarded as a moral hero.