Friday, May 28, 2010

Noam Chomsky in Lebanon

I had originally opposed Israel's not admitting Noam Chomsky into the country in order to give a talk at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, but what he's been doing during his visit to Lebanon this week makes the Israel refusal much more understandable.

Chomsky met with Sheikh Fadlallah, the "spiritual" leader of Hezbollah, yesterday in Lebanon.

Ynet reports of Chomsky:
Jewish-American linguist Noam Chomsky met with the spiritual leader of the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, on Thursday and told him that if Israel felt backed against a wall it could turn aggressive. 
It is not possible to foresee what Israel will do, because if it feels besieged it could turn aggressive, Chomsky said. Israelis' actions are based on a persecution complex, meaning that aggression would not be an option again except out of a "mentality of madness" which rules many in Israel.
The picture below is of Chomsky shaking hands with Fadlallah.

Among Chomsky's other activities during his trip to Lebanon was attending the inauguration of Hezbollah's "tourist complex" in southern Lebanon.
Jewish-American scholar and activist attends to the inauguration ceremony of Hezbollah's 'Tourist Complex' in Mlita in southern Lebanon on May 21, 2010. The Hezbollah Shiite militia inaugurated a 'tourist complex' displaying its own heavy weapons and those left by Israel, to mark the 10th anniversary of Israel's pullout from south Lebanon....

As part of events marking the tenth anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon, Hezbollah inaugurated Friday a permanent war museum, complete with war booty captured from Israeli soldiers, replicas of guerrillas in action on the battle field and in underground tunnels, and a memorial for its war dead.
Strangely enough, Jeffrey Goldberg, in a 2002 article in the New Yorker about Hezbollah, wrote that Fadlallah said to him:
Al Manar would not rule out broadcasting comments from non-Israeli Jews. “There would be one or two we would put on our shows. For example, we would like to have Noam Chomsky.”
This was not the first time Chomsky had met with leaders of Hezbollah. In 2006, he visited Lebanon for the first time, gave two lectures at the American University of Beirut, visited the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps, met with Walid Jumblatt and leaders of the Communist Party, as well as meeting with Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.

Assaf Kfoury, who helped organize his trip in 2006, wrote about Chomsky's meeting with Nasrallah:
May 11, Hizbullah headquarters, Beirut. We meet Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hizbullah, in a heavily fortified compound. Hizbullah has widespread popular support, with representation in the Lebanese parliament and the council of ministers, largely the result of its role in the successful resistance to the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1990's. Nevertheless, American government officials -- from Condoleezza Rice, David Welch, Elliott Abrams, Jeffrey Feltman and on down -- routinely visit other Lebanese politicians and dignitaries, never Nasrallah, and they portray Hizbullah as a band of terrorists. The value of this meeting with Noam is as much in what Nasrallah has to say as in the public recognition by a public American, admittedly the most dissident of them, of Hizbullah's role in Lebanon and the Middle East at large. Nasrallah recognizes the value of trying to break the official American embargo: He has no objection to Noam quoting him on anything he has said, and his last question to Noam is a request for advice on what Hizbullah can do to counter the pernicious propaganda in the US.

In response, Noam points out the importance of separating policies emanating from Washington from public opinion in the US, with the latter often at odds with the former. Given the nature of electoral politics today in the US, he also points out that officials in Washington are usually elected by a minority of the population and represent two parties that are virtually indistinguishable on fundamental issues, and hence the importance of reaching out to the US public ahead of policy makers who are beholden to corporate interests.

Nasrallah covers a wide range of issues in his presentation, including the arms of Hizbullah, which the US and its allies have demanded be relinquished. Nasrallah presents the issue of the arms in the context of a strategy to defend southern Lebanon which, he argues, concerns all Lebanese and not only Hizbullah. After the meeting, to the pack of journalists and TV crews waiting outside, Noam declares: "I think Nasrallah has a reasoned and persuasive argument that the arms should be in the hands of Hizbullah as a deterrent to potential aggression, and there are plenty of background reasons for that ..." Enough to feed the right-wing rumor mill for a long time to come.
Indeed. I can see why Israeli officials would think it not in Israel's interest to let Chomsky into the country, given his open support for Hezbollah, which has been building up quite an arsenal of missiles since the second Lebanon war in the summer of 2006.


  1. This still doesn't justify banning him. And, while it isn't clear here, if Chomsky urged the leadership of Hezbollah to be more understanding of Jews, then I would support meeting with them for that.

    I'm reminded, in part, of Thich Nhat Hanh during the Vietnam War. He spoke to all sides, and each side hated him because he talked to the other side. I seriously doubt Chomsky has anywhere near the clarity of Thich Nhat Hanh, and I won't extend the comparison too far. But if Chomsky talks to people, we should judge him for what he says rather than who he talks to.

    As for Israelis feeling persecuting with their backs against the wall -- that's true. And if Chomsky can support moderation by some of the leadership of Hezbollah (of course, some in the leadership of Hezbollah will never moderate themselves) then that's worth supporting.

    I'm certainly no fan of Chomsky, but let's be clear that he is at worst a useful idiot, not a security threat.

  2. Matt, I think you're right that Chomsky isn't a security threat to Israel - it's not like he's passing secrets to Hezbollah, or anything like that. I think you're giving him much more of the benefit of the doubt than he deserves, however. From what I could discover, he doesn't seem to be doing anything to urge Hezbollah to moderate its threats against Israel.

    I also think the comparison to Thich Nhat Hanh is somewhat grotesque. Chomsky has clearly delineated political views which he pushes at every opportunity (anti-American, anti-Israel, etc.) I don't think he sees himself as a kind of go-between the Israelis and their Arab enemies.

    Thich Nhat Hanh is a profound thinker on spiritual matters. I wish he were the one who was talking to Hezbollah, not Chomsky!

  3. I don't mean to be grotesque, and I don't mean to push the comparison far enough to be. But I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Chomsky, who I really really don't like as a political personality, is arguing for moderation with Israel's enemies. However perverted, he does fancy himself a man of peace. And there's nothing here to justify Israel refusing his entry.

  4. Matt,

    I have corresponded at some length with Chomsky. I think he talks out of both sides of his mouth. He claims to be a Zionist. He also claims that he is trying to help Israel. Yet, he sits comfortably and seems, not only by his words but also by his actions, supportive of those who are anti-Zionist.

    People who are friends of the Jewish people do not provide cover for people like Robert Faurisson. So, whether or not Chomsky thinks he is a Zionist, his point of view is so lacking in support for Zionism and Jews as to say, his form of support is unwelcome.

  5. I absolutely agree that his views are abhorent. But we should criticize him for his views, not because of who he speaks with.