Chomsky Falls Short in Opposition to Israel, Opposes Right of Return of Refugees and Equal Rights for Arab-Palestinians
By Elliot Smith (NAM Guest Columnist)
Recently, MIT professor Noam Chomsky gave a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following the speech, Chomsky was interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! in front of an audience of 800 people.
Professor Chomsky, consistently lauded by Goodman as “world renowned political dissident,” has a long history of speaking out against Israel’s genocidal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and presents an accurate and meticulous history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, while properly lambasting the United States’ role in aiding and abetting Israel’s repeated war crimes.
Goodman is right to promote Chomsky’s efforts in this regard, and Chomsky deserves credit for getting the truth out to an otherwise brainwashed and deceived American public. Essentially, or so it would seem, Chomsky exposes the Zionist state to the harsh light of the indisputable factual record, unleashing a bevy of righteous criticism and indignation for Israel’s illegal occupation and periodic bloody incursions into Gaza.
However, during Goodman’s interview with Chomsky before the UN Assembly, she asked him about his position on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. At this point Chomsky revealed his bias (or perhaps tribal prejudice?), showing us that the “renowned dissident” stops well short of promoting actions, or objectives, that could ultimately lead to the dismantling of the Zionist project.
In his usual professorial style, Chomsky lectured the assembly hall on the fine points of tactical activism and advocacy. While praising the BDS movement for its opposition to the illegal occupation, Chomsky stated that the movement has “failed and should reflect on its, so far, unwillingness to face what are crucial questions for activists: What’s going to help the victims, and what’s going to harm them? What is a proposal, and what is real advocacy? You have to think that through, and it hasn’t been sufficiently done.” This would seem to be an obvious and rather patronizing request of the BDS activists. According to Chomsky, these misguided activists just haven’t thought through whether their tactics are helping the victims, i.e., the Palestinian refugees.
To support this allegation, Chomsky produces zero evidence that BDS activities have actually harmed Palestinians. Instead, Chomsky offers a general critique of the three guiding principles or goals of the BDS movement. This is a rather strange non sequitur to his previous discussion of tactics. Chomsky started his argument by defining tactics, and then pivots inexplicably to a discussion of the BDS movement’s goals. According to Chomsky, the BDS first principle, “ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall” (see http://www.bdsmovement.net/call), “has been extremely successful, in many ways, and it makes sense.”
However, Chomsky claims the second principle—that BDS actions should be continued until Israel allows the refugees to return—is misguided. (Actually this is the third principle: “Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”) He states, “That has had no success, and to the extent that it’s been tried, it’s been negative. It just leads to backlash. No basis has been laid for it among the population. It is simply interpreted as saying, ‘Oh you want to destroy the state of Israel. We’re not going to destroy a state.’ You cannot undertake actions which you think are principled when in the real world they are going to have a harmful effect on the victims.” It appears that Chomsky is telling BDS activists that they must vet their tactics with Israeli citizens and Zionist Jews prior to implementation, lest the Palestinians be subject to “backlash.” Is anyone buying this gibberish? Again, Chomsky isn’t even criticizing a tactic; he is criticizing a goal of the BDS movement that he finds to be unacceptable. What Chomsky is actually doing in an underhanded way is defending the Zionist project under the pretense of concern for the “victims.” Does anyone actually believe that if the BDS movement revises its first principles to Chomsky’s liking, that the BDS tactics currently employed will have better effects and receive less Israeli backlash? Will Bebe Netanyahu, upon hearing that BDS activists are no longer demanding the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, change his genocidal policies?
Chomsky knows well that the answer is a resounding “NO.” I need only quote from Chomsky’s own recent article, published October 10, 2014, titled “Only One Thing Will Make Israel Change Course.” Chomsky concludes, “For a century, the Zionist colonization of Palestine has proceeded primarily on the pragmatic principle of the quiet establishment of facts on the ground, which the world was to ultimately come to accept. It has been a highly successful policy. There is every reason to expect it to persist as long as the United States provides the necessary military, economic, diplomatic and ideological support.” Thus, by Chomsky’s own admission, the facts on the ground in occupied Palestine are not going to change simply because the BDS movement compromises its guiding principles to be more palatable to the common Israeli citizen. If Noam Chomsky is truly opposed to the Zionist project, why is he asking BDS activists to dial back their demands, when there is no evidence on the ground that these demands are causing more harm to the victims of Israeli aggression?
The basic purpose of BDS is to punish the state of Israel with economic deprivations in order to coerce their leaders into abiding by international law. All three BDS tactics are measures taken by parties outside of Israel that impact the economic welfare inside of Israel. Thus, if Chomsky is referring to “backlash” as Zionist Jews within or outside of Israel, or their sympathizers, scuttling the BDS movement by rejecting their tactics, this is largely irrelevant to the BDS cause. Clearly, the BDS movement does not aim to appease Zionists or their sympathizers, and to adopt this as a primary concern of the movement would be to compromise its mission. It could just as effectively be argued that by not demanding full human rights and restitution for the crimes committed against Palestine, the BDS movement would lose even more support than any gained through compromise. Regardless, even if this is a small factor, Chomsky does not provide any concrete evidence that BDS movement objectives have compromised their success. In fact, the movement has scored many recent victories, and has inspired the use of BDS tactics by others outside the movement, as Chomsky conceded in his response to Goodman (see http://www.bdsmovement.net/victories for a summary of BDS victories).
Chomsky briefly mentions the third principle (actually the second) of the BDS movement, which is, “Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.” Chomsky states that “there are things that could be done here.” He mentions briefly tax-exemptions for U.S. organizations involved in human rights violations, and then states, “Others that have been undertaken have had backlashes which are harmful. And I won’t run through the record, but these are the kinds of questions that always have to be asked when you’re involved in serious activisms, if you care about the victims, not just feeling good, but caring about the victims.” Yes, of course, Chomsky doesn’t have time to “run through the record” of these supposed “backlashes.” As before, it is apparent that Chomsky is using a back door argument to oppose bringing Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel full equality, all in the name of the victims. Again, he presents no evidence of backlashes, and it bears repeating that it makes no sense whatsoever that BDS tactics will receive greater backlash based on BDS movement first principles. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are all tactics that would be employed in the name of the first principle, which Chomsky accepts, regardless of the second and third principles, which Chomsky apparently rejects out of his “caring about the victims.” All three tactics are utilized with all three BDS goals in mind. However, the intent of BDS activists to achieve all three objectives has no bearing whatsoever on the execution of the tactics (unless, of course, objective 1 were to be successfully achieved, which everyone knows isn’t happening any time soon).
I think it is clear at this point that Chomsky has presented the UN General Assembly and the world what amounts to a clever subterfuge in an attempt to undermine demands for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and demands for equal rights for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel. The only explanation for these positions Chomsky is taking is not that he is worried about phantom “backlashes” against Palestinians, as if Netanyahu or any other Zionist policy makers are listening intently to BDS activists, or as if IDF soldiers are acting out against Palestinian children a little more harshly, or as if illegal Israeli settlers are somehow committing worse crimes, because of announced BDS movement objectives. Rather, it seems that Chomsky at his core is himself a Zionist, and his positions reflect a desire that the Jewish state remains Jewish. This makes Noam Chomsky a rather suspect “political dissident” when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and his opinions regarding the BDS movement and the conflict generally should be taken with this unavoidable conclusion in mind. The more the world is engaged by BDS activism and learns the degree of depravity of Israel’s illegal activities, the more economic punishment will be inflicted on Israel. And as with Apartheid in South Africa, human rights victories may be won for Palestinians. Appeasing the criminal state of Israel with concessions that fundamentally compromise Palestinian human rights is not the answer.
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