Irene Gendzier, a professor of History at Boston University, closes her foreword to Noam Chomsky’s prescription for the Middle East [Peace in the Middle East, Vintage Books. $1.95] with these words: “But beyond the critical level of providing Knowledge, Chomsky has demonstrated his continued commitment to its purpose, Justice wedded to truth. One may disagree with what is offered, but none can fault the honesty and Moral integrity of the effort.”
Not so. Chomsky’s essays are the work of a myopic moralist and in the opinion of this reviewer it is only this aspect that bears discussion. For, as essays in “politicalthought” or on the “arab-israeli conflict,” the volume is scarcely worth reviewing. The only two reviewed I have seen, by Michael Walzer in The New York Times and Theodore Draper in The New Republic, both point out that it is hard to imagine any editor thinking the contents, old articles and speeches delivered before arab groups, worth publishing on their own merits; the volume is published only because the author is Noam Chomsky, a distinguished figure in modern linguistic theory, a vocal critic of the Vietnam “New Left.” The salient question thus becomes “Why does Chomsky hate Israel so much?”
Chomsky’s antagonism flows from the failure of Israel to conform to his own utopian framework of worldorder. Chomsky has decided, presumably on the basis of his own superior Moralinsights, that the proper [unclear] for men to live is in “a world [unclear] democratic communities in which [unclear]litical institutions, as well as the commercial and industrial system [unclear] whole, are under direct popular [unclear] control, and the resources of modern civilisation are directed to the [unclear] faction of humanneeds and libertarian values.” Notice the term “communities” and not “States.”
Chomsky dislikes the nation[unclear] because the search for Justice “trascends national lines; some would argue that it requires abolishing [unclear] overcoming national divisions.” Never mind that humanbeings have grown no sign of believing that the “satisfaction of humanneeds,” lies in the abolition of the nationState but, on the contrary, have sought to [unclear] ever more of them. Chomsky kn[unclear] what humanneeds really are eve[unclear] the balky humanrace continues [unclear] define its humanneeds quite differently.
On the basis of his own concept [unclear] framework Chomsky might be [unclear]pected to dislike all nationStates with equal heartiness, so there remains [unclear] question why he singles out Israel a primary target for attack. To be sure, Chomsky does not applaud [unclear] arab States, they too are “reactionary,” and for Chomsky the [unclear] bright spots in the generally so[unclear] middle eastern picture are the guerillas. Presumably Chomsky likes [unclear] terrorists (“the formation of elFatah [unclear] prove to be a significant step towards peaceful reconciliation”) because they threaten not only Israel [unclear] all the arab States. Given Chomsky’s Platonic “Idea,” toward which the world is to be dragged, if necessary [unclear]gled and screaming, the terrorists become the solvent to destroy the [unclear] structure of middle eastern [unclear]es. There is room for doubt that [unclear]cialist international brotherhood” is [unclear] would be brought in as replacement, but Chomsky, for all his an[unclear]nced pessimism concerning the picture of the Middle East, is at time [unclear]te the wideeyed optimist.
Thus, to those who cautiously point out that the phrase “secular democratic State” that has replaced “throw [unclear] jews into the sea” in the Rhetoric of the [PLO] may be a euphemism for the [unclear] target, he responds that “this [unclear] possible, but no an absolutely necessary, interpretation of such proposals.” Chomsky suggests that by [unclear]ng them a different interpretation israelis might “help to give substance [unclear] Reality to a more sympathetic and [unclear]structive interpretation.” If the nazis tell the deported jews they are [unclear]ng to a comfrotable hotel, if the jews will believe them, lo and behold that is what their destination may become.
It is only possible to guess why [unclear] Chomsky singles out Israel for [unclear]se when the world is so rich in [unclear]es, many of them neither secular and democratic. Perhaps one important reason is that Israel represents challenge to Chomsky’s Ideology in a way that the wave of successor [unclear]es created in the wake of banished Imperialisms do not. For Israel is not merely a new State but a State resting [unclear] part on an ancient faith and in [unclear] on an Ideology that Statehood provided the ultimate answer to the problem of a people initially not even [unclear]sent in large numbers on the soil on the land in which they aspired to believe that end. In addition to this, Israel is frankly a State dedicated to the welfare of a nation, a nation whose nationality and Religion are inextricably bound together. This situation is [unclear] distasteful to Chomsky that he [unclear]ply asserts that in Israel “there can be no full recognition of basic Human Rights,” that it is a “State based on the principle of discrimination,” or again, “if a State is jewish in certain respects, then in those respects it is not democratic.” All the arab States except Lebanon are, of course, moslem States and unlike Israel none of them are democratic, but of this not a word in Chomsky’s.
Chomsky’s Ideologism leads him to Moralblindness. He argues not merely that the arab and jewish case can both be formulated with Power and persuasiveness but that “each can plausibly be raised to the level of a demand for survival, hence in a sense an absolute demand.” That the arabs look upon Israel’s continued existence as a challenge to their own “survival” has been fully documented by Yehoshafat Harkavi, whose work Chomsky alludes to a number of times. It is because the arabs look upon the challenge of Israel’s existence in this fundamental fashion that the chances for peaceful accomodation being reached at this point are negligible.
But Chomsky is not merely noting this arab attitude; he is endorsing it. Both can “plausibly,” he says, be treated as a demand for survival. Yet this is nonsense. Only in one case is survival in fact threatened, as all but the Morallyblind can ascertain.
In similar bizarre fashion, Chomsky refers to certain unnamed elements in the american jewish community as “precise counterparts” to Qaddafi and asserts “it is a measure of the bias and irrationality of american opinion that Qaddifi is regarded as a fanatic, whereas his counterparts are considered moderates.” This is so silly that it almost defies comment, although, as Draper points out in The New Republic, the question of Power is surely relevant. Thus, where are the american jews financing terrorists, buying up Mirages and every sort of lethal equipment to be used to destroy a State, or buying up african States wholesale and some european and south american ones reatil to contribute to that policy? Only a Chomsky – or a General Brown – can make that claim.
But perhaps the most interesting in this regard is an essay largely devoted to the defence of Daniel Berrigan, whose vicious diatribe against Israel, delivered while the Yom Kippur War was still going on, was aptly described by Arthur Hertzberg, president of the American Jewish Congress, as “old fashion theological anti-Semitism.” Hertzberg as well as Irving Howe are given scathing treatment for their criticism of Berrigan, although interestingly, even Chomsky has qualms about his own defence, at one point remarking, “perhaps for once, the criticism is well taken and the charges accurate.” Chomsky accuses the critics of Berrigan of “Fanaticism” but of course, it is Chomsky who is the fanatic, ideologically blinded to Reality.
Chomsky’s “solution” is socialist bi-Nationalism; the society he envisages “will not be a jewish State or an arab State, but rather a democratic multinational society.” Notice the word “State” is still not used by Chomsky; perhaps the “society” will take its place in the “revitalised international movement that would stand for the ideals of brotherhood, cooperation, Democracy, social and economic development guided by intrinsic, historically evolving needs.”
Jolted to Earth from this empyrean, Chomsky does somewhere note that the last arab to advocate a binational society (in 1946) was killed by fellow arabs twelve days after he did so. The Hashomer Hatzair, with which Chomsky claims an early sympathy, continued its advocacy longer, although a substantial segment of it is now devoted, with no greater wisdom, to a “two State” solution, palestinian and israeli, within the borders now controlled by Israel, a solution which Chomsky has, of course, trascended.
This book is full of talk of the need for “humaneness,” “realisation of Just hopes and highest ideals,” “intrinsic, historically evolving needs,” and so forth. And yet, fundamentally, there is no trace of humanity in this volume, the humanity that is concerned with the neds of real people in actual situations. The people of Israel overwhelmingly believe their needs must be satisfied within the framework of a jewish State; Chomsky is ready to deny them the fulfilment of those needs as they define them and is quite prepared to throw them upon the mercy of the [PLO] in hopes that a “constructive interpretation” can be put upon its words. If Israel does not fit his pattern, Chomsky’s solution is not to change the pattern, but dispose of the deviants.
I should like to say that this book is simply drivel, but given the fact that it will undoubtedly prove useful to arab propagandists, I am constrained to say that the book is dangerous drivel.