The recent fracas over Israel’s refusal to grant entry to Noam Chomsky, an MIT professor, leftist cult figure, and fervent opponent of the Jewish state, has revealed something far beyond the debate over free speech in Israel and who should and should not be a persona non grata. It reveals that an enormous amount of people, inside and outside Israel, have no real idea of who Chomsky is and what he stands for.
In a sense, this should not be surprising. Chomsky’s admirers regard him as something of a semi-divine figure, and they promote him as a relatively apolitical sort of liberal, a fervent partisan of peace and human rights, who has no interests or beliefs other than simple human justice. For the most part, this image has been accepted by those whose acquaintance with his career is, at best, casual.
The truth, however, is far uglier. Chomsky has been, throughout his long career, a consistent and dedicated supporter and/or apologist for tyranny, terrorism, political violence of all kinds, and sometimes horrifying acts of mass murder.
Chomsky first gained fame in the late 1960s as a critic of the American war in Vietnam. As one of the intellectual gurus of the antiwar movement, he openly advocated a North Vietnamese victory and, to this day, minimizes or denies outright the brutal oppression and killing that followed the fall of Saigon. He acted in a similar, albeit more notorious fashion, in regard to the Cambodian genocide, committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. While the Khmer Rouge atrocities were so horrendous that they helped turn much of the left against them, including some particularly courageous French leftist intellectuals, Chomsky was the most outspoken partisan of the Cambodian regime, and expressed this by simply denying that the genocide was occurring at all.
Because of his rarified position on the left at the time, political opposition to the Khmer genocide was badly damaged, and while the true body count will likely never be known for certain, estimates of the dead run as high as three million. To this day, Chomsky denies his denial, and refuses to take moral responsibility for his statements and actions, even though this contradicts his own professed beliefs about moral responsibility, according to which we are responsible not only for what we say and do, but also for the potential consequences of what we say and do.
Chomsky’s habit of denying or minimizing genocide is not confined to Southeast Asia. In the 1980s, he signed a petition on behalf of French holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. When critics pointed out that the petition was clearly in support of holocaust denial, referring to Faurisson as a legitimate researcher and his claims that the holocaust never happened as “findings” and that Chomsky’s signature leant this monstrous claim intellectual and moral legitimacy, he simply attacked them all as enemies of free speech and freedom in general. He repeated the performance in the 1990s and 2000s, engaging in lengthy apologetics for the Milosevic regime in Serbia and denouncing the NATO air campaign against it.
In regard to Israel, Chomsky’s outspoken opinions are no more respectable. He has at various times claimed that Israel is a colonial outpost of the American empire, that it is a racist state founded on discrimination, that is akin to Nazi Germany, that Palestinian terrorism is the moral equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, that the Oslo Accords were a Palestinian sellout, that Israel should cease to be a Jewish state and become a “binational” entity, that Arafat was right to refuse Ehud Barak’s 2000 offer of statehood; that the second intifada, with all its attendant suicide atrocities, was justified; and so on. He is and has been a supporter of the most extreme and irredentist factions of the Palestinian national movement for his entire career, and while he now claims to support a two-state solution, he has renounced none of his previous statements and has openly stated that his support is purely tactical in nature.
Nor is Chomsky’s opposition to Israel—and, it should be noted, his even more intense hatred of the United States—confined to support for the Palestinians. He has openly endorsed Hezbollah and met with its leaders, and his lifelong apologetics for terrorism and terror supporting regimes, including a backhanded justification of 9/11, has garnered him the endorsement of none other than Osama bin Laden himself.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, however, Chomsky has recently begun to embrace a worldview which is unambiguously anti-Semitic. During a 2002 speech to a pro-Palestinian organization, he stated that “Jews in the US are the most privileged and influential part of the population,” and that “Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control.” Such fantasies of Jewish power are instantly recognizable for what they are, and besides being ugly and violent, would likely be in violation of Israel’s (and most Western democracies’) laws against racist defamation.
There are many civil libertarians inside and outside of Israel who believe that free speech is more or less absolute, and that anyone has the right to say anything anywhere they may choose to do so. This is a legitimate stance, whether one disagrees with it or not. But one hopes that in the coming days, as they make their case for allowing entry to Chomsky, they will be honest about who and what they are defending, and allow us to make our own decisions accordingly.
Benjamin Kerstein is Senior Writer at The New Ledger and lives in Tel Aviv.