Though an Interior Ministry spokesperson later called it a “misunderstanding,” the blocking of Noam Chomsky’s entrance to the West Bank by an Israeli border official earlier this week has been hailed by some prominent Israelis. MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union), for instance, has argued that an incendiary anti-Zionist like Chomsky should not be permitted to further exacerbate anti-Israeli sentiment among the Palestinians.
Chomsky, 81, had been on his way to Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University to lecture. A day after he was prevented from entering, the Interior Ministry denied that the linguist had been blacklisted and announced that if he still wished to cross into the West Bank, he would be allowed to do so.
Chomsky, who in the 1970s publicly defended French neo-Nazi
Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson, represents a particularly pernicious
strain of anti-Zionism. He embodies the “proud to be ashamed to be a
Jew” figure, so unfortunately rampant in recent years in certain
Not much is more attractive to extremist Palestinians and their
supporters than a respected Jewish professor from the prestigious
Massachusetts Institute of Technology vocally delegitimizing the Jewish
Chomsky, to some extent, is the intellectual grandfather of a growing
number of Jewish university professors and intellectuals who link
anti-Zionism to anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-globalization
Others plowing a similar course include Jacqueline Rose, professor of
English at Queen Mary, University of London, who has defined Zionism as
“a form of collective insanity”; Michael Neumann, professor of
philosophy at Trent University in Canada, who has accused Israel of
waging a “race war” against Palestinians; historian Tony Judt, who has
called for dismantling Israel and replacing it with “a single
integrated, binational state,” and Joel Kovel, professor at Bard
College, who claimed that “to be a true Jew,” an Israeli had to
“annihilate the Jewish Zionist state.”
Chomsky, in short, should not be seen as an isolated eccentric. Any
country with a healthy instinct for survival would want to protect
itself against the likes of him. And it is not inconceivable that his
opinions, expressed among Palestinians, could lead to violence.
Consider, for instance, remarks he made in Boston in January of last
“In the West Bank by now there’s very little resistance, because of
Israeli violence which has indeed subdued the population,” said Chomsky
then. “And by now, because of collaborationist Palestinian forces, as
I’m sure you know, Israel, the US, with its allies, the Arab
dictatorships – Jordan, Egypt – have trained security forces, Fatah
security forces, whose main task is to subdue the population.
“If they have a demonstration, you know, against the atrocities in Gaza,
instead of the Israeli army going in, they’ll do it. That’s a typical
Given statements like that, indeed, it would not be surprising were the
Palestinian Authority, not Israel, primarily interested in blocking a
Chomsky visit to Ramallah.
NEVERTHELESS, WHILE one might empathize with an instinctive response to
bar Chomsky – a response apparently shared by the Interior Ministry
officials who initially denied him entrance to the West Bank – blocking
free speech is the wrong approach. That freedom is too precious to
sacrifice in circumstances such as this one.
If Chomsky had been allowed to pass freely into Ramallah and to speak,
the attendant risks notwithstanding, his visit would have received just a
fraction of the media attention he ended up enjoying. His lecture,
incidentally, was relayed by video-conference from Amman to Bir Zeit
But more substantively, Chomsky should be allowed to voice his crackpot
claims – such as that Fatah is collaborating with the US, Jordan and
Egypt to subjugate its own people – so they can be scrutinized for their
veracity and logic, or lack thereof. The marketplace of ideas should be
open to Chomsky and others like him. In the end, reason will win out.
Our dismay and fury at Elvis Costello for canceling his appearances in
Israel next month stems from the correct conviction that, had he come
here and seen our country for himself, he would never again be fooled by
those who distort and manipulate our reality to peddle false
stereotypes and advance rejectionist boycotts.
Chomsky is doubtless far too set in his hostility to internalize that
reality and be swayed by it, but in blocking him, Israel makes it easier
for him to win over new critics.
In contrast, by ensuring Chomsky’s civil liberties, as Israel did when
he visited in 1997 and spoke freely at Israeli universities, the Zionist
state that Chomsky so vilifies helps prove to a watching, uncertain
world just how baseless are his attempts at delegitimization.