Alex Rowell

Chomsky distorts his past in
Lebanon interview

The Professor has a way of tailoring his responses to the proclivities of his audience (Image: ceasefiremagazine.co.uk)

Reading the various interviews that have come out of Noam Chomsky’s recent visit to Lebanon, it’s difficult to nominate precisely which of his statements is the most objectionable.

Certainly, a formidable contender is his response to an Al-Akhbar question on Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, in which he described the Party of God’s collaboration with regime forces against Free Syrian Army rebels as “understandable,” on account of the “very difficult position” in which the Syrian uprising put the regime’s foremost Lebanese ally. A handful of observers more charitable than myself have suggested on Twitter that he meant the word in the strictly literal sense of being comprehensible or rational, rather than in the more usual sense of being pardonable or acceptable. To this I respond by inviting them to imagine the Professor using the same adjective in reference to, say, Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain, or indeed Israel’s air strikes on Damascus.

Odious enough as that was, it’s perhaps only to be expected from someone who wrote at great length about his trip to Hamas-controlled Gaza last year without giving the lightest wrist-slap to the regime whose brutal violence against its fellow Palestinians has earned it ample and much-deserved attention from human rights NGOs.

Accordingly, for my money, Chomsky’s shadiest moment came during the following exchange in his Daily Star interview:

According to Chomsky, an anti-Zionist who has repeatedly attacked Israel and opposed the establishment of a Jewish state, things have not changed much and have only got worse.

“My stance has never changed since 1940 ... I do not think there should be [such] things as an ethnic state,” he said.

This is seriously misleading, if not an outright lie. It happens to be a matter of public record, as Chomsky himself reaffirmed in an interview with Tablet in 2010, that in 1953 he and his wife lived in a kibbutz to the south of Haifa, an experience they found so enjoyable that upon leaving for Noam to complete his PhD, they planned to return. “It was political,” Chomsky said about his reason for being there. “I liked the kibbutz life and the kibbutz ideals […] I gravitated toward Zionist groups […] like Hashomer Ha'tzair.”

Though he recalls his enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by his fellow kibbutzniks’ “racism” and the “exclusionary character” of the no-Arabs policy, he admits these were things he “lived with.” Whatever his later change of heart, it seems unambiguously false for him to claim to have opposed an “ethnic state” in Palestine since 1940 when he was eagerly helping to cement and develop the newly-established “Jewish State in Eretz-Israel” more than a decade after that year.

But then, perhaps the Professor was wary of confessing to a Zionist past while still on Lebanese soil. He certainly seems to have a way of tailoring his responses to the proclivities of his audience. Asked by the Star about Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria, he struck a markedly more reproachful note than previously, saying, “Any kind of [further] militarization is going to widen that conflict.” For all we know, he may have offered a third opinion to NOW, had we had the opportunity to press him on the point.

Sadly, he declined to grant us an interview.

Follow the author on Twitter @DisgraceofGod

The Professor has a way of tailoring his responses to the proclivities of his audience (Image: ceasefiremagazine.co.uk)

Perhaps the Professor was wary of confessing to a Zionist past while still on Lebanese soil. He certainly seems to have a way of tailoring his responses to the proclivities of his audience.

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Why does Chomsky's opinion matter? I do not think that his "Le Penseur" pose in the photograph above grants his opinions any credible advantage over the opinions of others. Is it because he is an anti-Israel Jew, a species so rare as to make a scrutiny into him more interesting than others? Then again, Al-Akhbar, is a notoriously a trashy gutter brand of journalism, and it is not surprising that it will elevate idiots like Chomsky to the pantheon. Unless, of course, the Lebanese Intelligence Services and Security Apparatus (who run torture dungeons at the Ministry of Defense where they force completely innocent people to sign confessions of being Mossad spies just to prove to the herd of brainless Lebanese that they are protecting us against the enemy), ought to arrest the journalist who interviewed Chomsky because merely speaking to a Jew, under extant Lebanese law - is an act of treason!

    June 23, 2013

  • theo smith

    Chomsky interviews to lebanese newspaper were lots of fun. Questions were asked according to each one's fantasms and answers given according to each one's desires. Well this is very close to what Chomsky considers as anarcho-communism. Alex Rowell has only pointed one among many other contradictions

    June 22, 2013

  • MonkFish

    Somewhat unsubtle piece. Chomsky has never made a secret of his TOTAL support for Hezbollah and other "resistance" groups in the region. Like many left-wing ideologues who believe that the destruction of the State of Israel will bring about World Peace, he is willing to overlook the sectarian and theocratic nature of Hezbollah and the violence promoted and doled out by Hamas. This explains why a man who claims to stand for free speech and a kind of secular arnarcho-communism can support Shia and Sunni theocrats and secular despots and do so at the same time, even when these factions are antagonistic toward each other, as they are now. As for his alleged complicity in brining about an "ethnic state" in Palestine, the journalist should do a little more research into the Kibbutz movement instead of "chercher la petite bete". Although anti-Arab sentiment did exist among Kibbutzniks, it was marginal. The dominant ethos was one of communist egalitarianism and cooperation between people of all religions and races. You have to bear in mind that the Kibbutz movement is older than the state and that many Kibbutzniks believed that the fledgling State of Israel would eventually take the form of a bi-national socialist state (like Hannah Arendt and Martin Buber) and that they were the vanguard that would bring socialism to the Arabs. This ethos endured well into the seventies. Chomsky, like the liberal Tony Judt who spent many a summer on a kibbutz in the Galilee, is therefore perfectly consistent with his "values." You also need to learn how to distinguish between the various streams of Zionism. When you use expressions like "Zionist past" that obscure the very real differences between, say, Kibbutzniks and Lehi right-wing terrorists.

    June 21, 2013