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What do Noam Chomsky and the neocons have in common? They both stand accused of protecting the enormously powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington from legitimate criticism. That's right, hell has frozen over. Professor Chomsky - the far-left MIT linguist who has consistently (and often quite viciously) criticized Israel since the early 1970s - is apparently a big softie when it comes to Zion.
Or so say assorted left-wing critics.
The brouhaha began in late March when two American academics published in The London Review of Books a paper critical of the Israel lobby. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that neither idealism nor hard-nosed practicality justified American support of the Jewish state. Nevertheless, a "loose coalition of individuals and organizations" has been steering US policy in that direction for years.
Though hardly a novel idea, the essay caused a wave of controversy because the authors were not your run-of-the-mill, paranoid kooks. Mearsheimer sits on the international academic advisory board at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, at Bar-Ilan University, and both he and Walt are leading lights of the realist school of international relations. Their critique simply could not go unanswered.
Indeed, following the publication of the article, professors and pundits of all stripes took to their keyboards.
Now, I will not address the many errors of the M-W piece or explain how arguing that lobbies drive foreign policy upends the whole realist paradigm; that's been done elsewhere and by people far smarter than me. What's interesting is where Noam Chomsky stepped out on the controversy.
Writing in Z Magazine, the aging anarchist commended Mearsheimer and Walt for their "courageous stand" but then attacked their notion of an informal, far-flung lobby as an empty label. "M-W focus on AIPAC and the evangelicals," wrote Chomsky, "but they recognize that the Lobby includes most of the political-intellectual class - at which point the thesis loses much of its content."
Max Boot, a neoconservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted the very same thing when he quipped, "In Mearsheimer-Walt's telling, the Israel lobby seems to include just about every American politician, think tank and newspaper." Now who could have imagined Chomsky manning the same barricade as the neocons?
BUT NOT to worry, he won't be joining the GOP or Likud anytime soon. He still thinks Israel serves as the brutal attack dog of American imperialism - having first helped the oil companies back in 1967 when it smashed an uppity Nasser and, thus, discredited secular Arab nationalism. Likewise, Chomsky still bleeds for the Palestinians. It's just that he objects to the part about capitalists needing to be goaded into regional domination.
And, the MIT linguist is not alone on this point; radical journalist Salim Muwakkil and Columbia professor Joseph Massad also dismiss the blame-the-lobby argument. In the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, the latter wrote, "The record of the United States is one of being the implacable enemy of all Third World national liberation groupsâ€¦ Why then would the US support national liberation in the Arab world absent the pro-Israel lobby is something these studies never explain."
The problem is that, while Muwakkil is African-American and Massad is Palestinian, Chomsky is a Red Sea pedestrian - and that raises suspicions in some left-wing circles.
Veteran pro-Palestinian activist Jeffrey Blankfort, for example, has taken issue with Chomsky's early experiences in the Marxist-Zionist Hashomer Hatza'ir movement, saying that they somehow blinded him to the political machinations of his fellow American Jews.
Amazingly, Blankfort - himself Jewish - has lambasted Chomsky as "a boon for AIPAC" and, by extension, "Israel's position in the United States."
Like Blankfort (and post-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe), James Petras also disagrees with Chomsky on the M-W paper. In fact, the Marxist sociologist gets downright nasty in his critique, suggesting that Chomsky's analytic skills "are totally absent when it comes to discussing the formulation of US foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly the role of his own ethnic group, the Jewish pro-Israel lobby and their Zionist supporters in the government."
Once again, Chomsky is covering for the tribe.
One would think that the Jewish anarchist has already paid his dues. Chomsky has attacked Israel time and again; described French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson as "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort"; commended the scholarship of the late Israel Shahak, author of the vile Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, and claimed that the charge of anti-Semitism is used to stifle criticism of Israel.
Yet the tragedy of Chomsky is that, for people like Blankfort and Petras, all this counts for nothing. The latter still accuses him of playing with the evidence in order to hide the role of the pro-Israel lobby and the "ZionCons" in hatching the current Iraq war.
Though Chomsky never answered the e-mail I sent him, I asked anti-Zionist firebrand and DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein what he thought of these unseemly attacks on his mentor. "I see no point in probing motives," he told me, "One should judge any argument on its merits."
All true, and still the fracas with Chomsky proves that, if you're Jewish, no matter what you say and do, you're always just one essay away from being labeled a pro-Israel lobbyist.
The writer is a former Jerusalem Post military reporter.
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