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Chomsky on what ‘everyone knows’

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A couple of weeks ago, this site reported on an interview that professor Noam Chomsky did with Douglas Richardson in April, where he said that:

“If there ever were serious support [for the right of return], Israel would go all out– using nuclear weapons, anything else– to prevent it. So it’s not going to happen.”

I have seen many readers wonder what on earth Chomsky actually meant with the nuclear weapons. Is he actually suggesting that Israel would use those against refugees in its vicinity to prevent their return? What about the fallout? No, it couldn’t be. Chomsky must be referring to the diplomatic threat of international demands for an implementation of the Palestinian right of return. So, is Chomsky suggesting that Israel would nuke some country in response to such possible diplomatic pressure? I would like to interpret his meaning.

Criticizing Chomsky is often inevitably accompanied by the accusation that one is willfully taking on an intellectual giant. Norman Finkelstein has ridiculed those who do so:

‘A rite of passage for apostates peculiar to U.S. political culture is bashing Noam Chomsky.  It’s the political equivalent of a bar mitzvah, a ritual signaling that one has “grown up” – i.e., grown out of one’s “childish” past’, Finkelstein writes.

Thus I am running the risk of being another ‘bar mitzvah’ kid, trying to prove their worth by questioning what Chomsky says. But such questioning doesn’t have to mean “Chomsky bashing”, and I’m willing to take my chances. I think it’s a fair discussion.

Chomsky is voicing the “hishtaganu” notion, which means “we went crazy” in Hebrew. This is not a new concept. Chomsky referred to it way back in 1983 in A Fateful Triangle, under the chapter “Road to Armageddon” (p. 466-467), where he writes:

It may also be surmised, that nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach southern Russia are not really intended to deter the USSR, but rather to put US planners on notice, once again, that pressures on Israel to accede to a political settlement [….]; “Israel’s “secret weapon” which may compensate for its extraordinary military, economic and diplomatic dependence on the United States, is the threat that it may act as a “wild country” if pressed. 

Chomsky brings several examples of this “wild country” or “hishtaganu” notion, of the political tool of terror at a state level. And there are more current examples: In the wake of Israel’s 2008-9 Gaza onslaught, then Foreign Minister, Centrist Tzipi Livni said that “Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded” and that the military offensive had “restored Israel’s deterrence … Hamas now understands that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.”

So yes, Israel often responds to perceived threats by going wild, and it’s not only the radicals of government that do so. But does that mean one cannot possibly restrain it? And shouldn’t one seek to do so?

The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) indeed seeks to restrain Israel – by taking it to task for its violations of international law. This obviously requires, in the long run, a curtailing of the impunity it receives mainly from USA, often shielding it from sanctions by veto at the UN.

Chomsky is not advocating for leaving Israel alone – he is merely saying that insistence on the Palestinian right of return is unrealistic. Let’s see what he says about that and BDS:

“The BDS movement, which developed in 2005 […], their approach calls for– if you read the list of principles, there is a set of principles, if you take it literally, they’re calling for boycott of Israel, divestment from Israel, and sanctions on Israel until, and then comes a long list of conditions, some of which everyone knows are totally unrealizable. Like one of the conditions that’s listed in this almost-catechism is return of the refugees, in accord with international law. Well, first of all, it’s not in accord with international law, that’s a separate question. But return of the refugees. You can think whatever you like about the morality of that, but everyone knows it is not going to happen. There’s no international support for it. If there ever were serious support, Israel would go all out– using nuclear weapons, anything else– to prevent it. So it’s not going to happen. And dangling this hope in front of people living in miserable refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan is not a good idea or a moral position in my view…”

This section deserves scrutiny. Chomsky says that BDS has a “long list of conditions”, indeed an “almost-catechism”. But what is this long list really? It is three items, no more. The first demands relinquishing of the 1967 occupation and dismantling the separation wall, which the International Court of Justice deemed illegal in 2004. The second demands equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. The third demands implementation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

He tackles the third demand – return of refugees – first with a major assumption: “everyone knows it is not going to happen”.

Really? Who is “everyone”? And what did “everyone” know in the past that was “never going to happen”? Did everyone know that Nazi Germany would not be defeated? Did everyone know that the Berlin Wall would remain? Did everyone know that South African Apartheid would last forever? Why does “everyone know” that Palestinian refugees will never be allowed to return, in accordance with UN resolution 194 and international law?

Ah, Chomsky opines it’s not international law, and moves quickly on. Chomsky has been arguing this one for years, and has received fierce response. Palestinian-American Yousef Munayyer answered this cogently in The Nation:

“The right of return is backed by international law and it is a human right. The right of return is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration that all UN members, including Israel, agree to uphold. It is further enshrined, among other places, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination—two treaties to which Israel is also a state party. For Palestinians, it is also a sacred right”.

Chomsky tries to amass more arguments to strengthen his weak one, so he uses the “everyone knows”, and then adds that there’s “no international support for it”, despite it being part of UN 242 as well as the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which is also endorsed by 57 states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, including Iran.

So that’s a weak argument. That’s why Chomsky needs the bomb:

“Israel would go all out– using nuclear weapons, anything else– to prevent it.”

This is a rhetorical WMD. And it could be seen as a threat – inasmuch as he is anticipating Israeli “hishtaganu” and doing nothing to deplore that strategy.

Chomsky seems to suggest that we should be ‘realistic’, and so our tactics should aim at the Israeli settlements. He presents an orthodoxy about what can and cannot be challenged when it comes to Israel:

If you take a look, there’s a record of significant success, very significant success, of really BD tactics aimed at the settlements.

But is this because “everybody knows” that Israel will, one day, retreat from the occupied territories? Why hasn’t it happened so far? Aren’t we supposed to also fear Israel will go “all out” on this one? After all, wasn’t it Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban who regarded the pre-June 4th 1967 lines as “Auschwitz” borders? And every Israeli leader in recent years has said that Israel is vulnerable inside the ’67 lines. What might the Jewish state do to avert having to go back to Auschwitz?

Essentially, in talking about “BD” and targeting settlements only at that level (without sanctions), Chomsky is saying that this is the only level at which one could hope to act and achieve anything. Not only are sanctions out of the question, but he also suggests to target the settlements in isolation. This notion, of seeing the settlements as separate to Israel, touches upon a very central issue, concerning responsibility: Is it not fair to say, that the Israeli state is responsible for this occupation, for these settlements?

Historical appraisal shows that it is – and that the enactment and maintenance of the settler project has been supported de facto by Israel from right to left.
We can then wonder why criticism of Israel, as a whole, is so contentious. If a thief has stolen some items, is it not the thief who is to be regarded as responsible?
This approach of “measured response” applying to the “occupation” and “settlements” is what the EU has been applying, in its policy of marking settlement products. Whilst its representatives (EU or member-state ambassadors) sometimes become vociferous in their critique of Israeli policy, it is still maintaining a rather benign policy. The EU is very aware that it could up the action. Two years ago, EU advisers were mooting a blacklisting of Israeli banks. This caused alarm from heads of the Israeli banking sector: they warned of a “financial national tsunami”, in that virtually all banks are invested in the occupation. That reaffirms my point: Israel, its occupation and its settlements are not two different entities – they are one.
So BDS is challenging the orthodoxy that it’s just the settlements that are to blame, and that challenge is clearly bothering Israel.
The suggestion that Israel would use nuclear arms to achieve political goals has also come from another intellectual, Israeli historian Benny Morris. In 2008, Morris opined in the New York Times that

“Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months”


“[E]ven Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country’s nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war — either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb.”

When an intellectual as historically informed as Chomsky or Morris says such things, since they have a respected record of having critically charted history, their predictions of the future can tend to carry a certain weight of authority, as it were, and play out as more than a mere ‘guess.’ They can come across as a threat.

When we are speaking about the Palestinian right of return, we are speaking about an extension of this ethnic cleansing. Simply put – if someone ethnically cleanses another and you do not take a stance on their return, you are by extension confirming the reason why they were dispossessed. For Zionists, this is a rather acceptable logic, really from the inception of Zionism. As Morris himself correctly concluded,

“[T]ransfer was inevitable and inbuilt in Zionism – because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a Jewish state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population”.

But is this something that we are to all to simply put up with, because Zionists said so, or because they would ‘go all out’ if we challenged it?

Oppressors don’t willingly give up their privilege. Did the BDS against South Africa not start with popular protests in 1960’s? Did that not eventually lead to sanctions? The US was notably one of the last countries to join the sanction campaign in late 1980’s, Israel following suit thereafter. Notably, Israel had been selling nuclear weapons to South Africa in mid-1970’s. Was there not worry, then, that South Africa might go “all-out” with nuclear weapons and what not?

Chomsky’s warnings appear to be a rather desperate attempt to chill the BDS protest into the limits of what he sees as ‘reasonable’. But popular protests have a history of redefining what is ‘reasonable’, by putting pressure upon the tyrants and altering the power structure. That requires a certain boldness, to believe that violations of international law and human rights are not something that we have to live with forever, and that it is possible to affect change by consistent popular pressure.


Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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41 Responses

  1. Citizen on August 22, 2017, 2:01 pm

    Chomsky knows Israel was saved by Nixon (the taped Jew hater) in 1973 via Kissinger & Israel’s direct threat of using its nukes? Chomsky’s “Everyone knows” is also an oblique reference to Israel highly influential Lobby power, which he officially won’t acknowledge. Zionists are not Humanists, and Chomsky is a Zionist. I’d like to see Chomsky respond to Mr. Ofir’s troubling questions, wouldn’t you?

  2. Ismail on August 22, 2017, 2:41 pm

    And “everyone knows” that Israel will keep the major settlement blocs in any conceivable negotiation, too. This sort of breezy assurance functions to foreclose real discussion.

    First rate article, Jonathan, as usual. Special thanks for reminding us of Benny Morris’ quote about displacement of the indigenes as a necessary condition of fulfilling the Zionist dream.
    This is an especially useful quote given Morris’ current defense of ethnic cleansing, Ben Gurion-style.

    If the assertion had been made by a justice-minded, civilized lefty, it would have been easily dismissed by Zionists as propaganda. But Morris unabashedly supports the crimes of 1948, on the grounds that the creation of Israel was more important than letting Palestinians continue to live their lives unmolested. Utter contempt for the most basic elements of fairness, the sort most of us become convinced of before high school.

    So, Morris freely embraces Zionism’s crimes because, well, “we’re more important, so what’s the big deal?” He doesn’t seem to understand that, for a person of even modest moral sensibilities, his insouciant apologia for ethnic cleansing is horrifying.

    • JWalters on August 22, 2017, 6:07 pm

      I agree the unsubstantiated “everybody knows” claim is intended solely to foreclose discussion. At one time everybody knew the earth was flat.

      The threat of Israel going crazy is an old street fighting tactic, except for the part about starting a nuclear war. But in nature when a community has a harmful crazy member in their midst, they often band together and find a way to get rid of that crazy member.

      It seems to me Chomsky and Morris are too intelligent for these garbage arguments. So I suspect they have been coerced somehow. It would not be the first time that tactic has been used.
      “Terrorism: How the Israeli state was won”

      • Sibiriak on August 22, 2017, 10:06 pm

        Of course, “everybody knows” does not constitute any kind of logical/factual argument, and it’s an easy comment to single out and jump all over.

        Chomsky, however, is certainly not trying to foreclose discussion.

        Just the opposite–as exemplified by his two books co-written with Ilan Pappe: “Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on the US-Israeli War Against the Palestinians ” (2013) and “On Palestine” (2015).

        You won’t find any “garbage arguments” by either author in those excellent works.

  3. JoeSmack on August 22, 2017, 3:01 pm

    The biggest point that Chomsky (And JO) miss is that the BDS movement is not a panacea. It is only designed to put pressure on Israel to make concessions. In doing so, it is absurd to think that it is the job of Palestine activists living in America or Europe to make concessions because the demands are allegedly unrealistic for heads of state to implement. Moreover, it’s hardly BDS activists who are dangling the right of return in front of Palestinian refugees. That is something that Israel and its Arab reactionary allies have been doing for years to keep them in perpetual statelessness; the RoR is simply an articulation of a rejection of exile.

  4. Tom Suarez on August 22, 2017, 3:09 pm

    Thank you, Jonathan, for tackling the dangerous circular reasoning that keeps Chomsky a demi-god.
    It goes: Chomsky an intellectual giant and therefore we normal people are arrogant to challenge his edicts, and thus he is always right and, therefore, an intellectual giant (hmm…). Arguments — data, logic, reasoning — stand or fall on their own merits, and yours stand. His falls rather precipitously, a stark betrayal of all the meticulous logic and insight for which he gained such high esteem in his main field.

  5. festus on August 22, 2017, 3:23 pm

    So the world should allow Israel engage in any behavior it wants because they are sick enough to use nukes if they don’t get their way? And Chomsky wants to have us accept this as just the way things are? Jews from Europe and Russia have a right to return to a place their ancestors never lived (or lived maybe 2,000 years ago if you buy into that particular fairytale) but the Palestinians violently expelled by the Zionists over the past 70 years who have such a right of return under international law should not be allowed to return under penalty of nuclear annihilation? I thought the insane Sampson option was reserved for the event Israel was being destroyed…apparently it will also be used if any of those untermenschen are allowed to return. How sick a state is Israel?

    • JWalters on August 22, 2017, 6:10 pm

      Well put.

      • Citizen on August 22, 2017, 7:36 pm

        Yes, well put.

    • Ismail on August 23, 2017, 8:51 am

      “So the world should allow Israel engage in any behavior it wants because they are sick enough to use nukes if they don’t get their way?…”

      It’s uncanny how, like Dracula, this trope lives on. Unlike Dracula, though, it survives the normally fatal effects of sunlight. No matter how much you illuminate its flaws, it rises from its coffin again and again.

      I recall speaking to an Israel supporter who opposed BDS on the grounds that Israelis, already shaking in terror at their precarious position vis a vis robust Palestinian military might, will be further driven to the right if they perceive themselves to be besieged by food co-op radicals avoiding their inferior hummus. “Don’t annoy me, I may get worse”, the classic tactic of a bully.

      The point of this is clear; nothing, absolutely nothing, may be allowed to impede in even the tiniest way Israel’s every wish. Stab an occupying soldier? Terrorist. Peaceful march? Unhelpful, probably criminal. BDS? Poking a hornet’s nest, watch out.

      Sit down, shut up, go away.

  6. Keith on August 22, 2017, 5:27 pm

    JONATHAN OFIR- “Thus I am running the risk of being another ‘bar mitzvah’ kid, trying to prove their worth by questioning what Chomsky says. But such questioning doesn’t have to mean “Chomsky bashing”, and I’m willing to take my chances.”

    When your article is the fourth in a series to lambast Chomsky over some remarks he made to the Association of American Geographers in April, I would call that Chomsky bashing. Chomsky is a powerful social critic who has written some extraordinary books. He is not a tactician as he himself has written in the past. And to attempt to conflate him with Benny Morris is intellectually dishonest. Perhaps Mondoweiss should focus more on attempts to break the blockade of Gaza (by supporting the FreeGaza Movement?) rather than continuing its long tradition of Chomsky bashing, which seems to ebb and flow. And yes, stopping Israel’s human rights abuse of the Palestinians should take priority over endless debates over one state versus two and the right of return.

    JONATHAN OFIR- “…I’m willing to take my chances.”

    How courageous of you! And on Mondoweiss no less.

    • Citizen on August 22, 2017, 7:38 pm

      Keith, did you read comment of festus?

      • Sibiriak on August 22, 2017, 10:11 pm

        Citizen, I read both. Keith’s points stand.

      • Keith on August 23, 2017, 1:01 am

        CITIZEN- “Keith, did you read comment of festus?”

        Yes. It was an all too typical overreaction. Chomsky engaged in a little hyperbole, so what? Who would even know about it except for Mondoweiss? One article, fine. Two, questionable. But four? Come on Citizen, you know that Chomsky bashing is a tradition at Mondoweiss. Jeffrey Blankfort was flat out obsessed. And for what? The Mondo meme seems to be that the biggest obstacle to justice for the Palestinians is Noam Chomsky! He doesn’t support all of the tactics of BDS? So what? As I said before, he is an analyst, not a tactician. Is he wrong on BDS? Probably. But is that any reason to vilify him? There is more to this than that. Certain people wish to increase their influence within the Palestinian solidarity camp by attacking Chomsky. What other explanation is there? I disagree with Chomsky over BDS, but I don’t vilify him. Yet, Tom Suarez talks about a ” DANGEROUS circular reasoning that keeps Chomsky a DEMI-GOD.” Dangerous? Demi-god? What is going on here? This ongoing attack on Chomsky is very consistent with Zionist attempts to discredit the author of “FatefulTriangle,” the first popular critique of Israeli abuse of the Palestinians. Chomsky bashing. Finkelstein bashing. Greta Berlin bashing. You don’t see a pattern here?

    • Jonathan Ofir on August 23, 2017, 2:51 am

      Keith, my article stands in my own name and on the merits of its own arguments.
      Your arguments on the other hand do not even refer once to the actual content of my arguments, beyond my introductory qualifications concerning challenging Chomsky. Your response seems to fall squarely under the notions which Tom Suarez described above.

      Chomsky has made a statement, which in itself could be said to be rather outrageous. If he was an unknown pundet, that statement would likely have been dismissed. It is BECAUSE he has the intellectual clout he does, that such statements, coming from him, deserve to be questioned. And it’s about more than the statement itself – it’s about the notions that accompany it, historically so, as I have been pointing out.

      This is not some organised mob of Chomsky haters colluding together on Mondoweiss. But Mondoweiss provides a platform for the airing of such ideological discussions.

      You suggest that Mondoweiss focus on something else – Gaza for example – but Mondoweiss does that as well.
      So all in all, your response seems to be one that seeks to avoid the discussion and divert from it, making this into a Chomsky ad-hominem issue, which it isn’t – whilst protecting that on me and Mondoweiss.

      • Keith on August 23, 2017, 10:36 am

        JONATHAN OFIR- “Keith, my article stands in my own name and on the merits of its own arguments.”

        Come on, Jonathan, it was the fourth article on Mondoweiss concerning a relatively trivial event. The second article was by Danaa Marec who made a comment on the first article but “agreed” to expand it to a post. No editorial impetus here? It is not as if this is the first occurrence of this phenomenon. In my response to Citizen, I refer to Jeffrey Blankfort and his Mondo sanctioned obsession with Chomsky. I once stopped commenting for three months because the anti-Chomsky vitriol was so thick that I didn’t want to be associated with it. You are unaware of all of this? Okay, now you know.

        JONATHAN OFIR- “Your arguments on the other hand do not even refer once to the actual content of my arguments, beyond my introductory qualifications concerning challenging Chomsky.”

        I didn’t want to get into a lengthy discussion on an article I didn’t think should have been written, particularly since I disagree with Chomsky on this point. Yet, I don’t vilify him, a Mondo tradition. But I did take umbrage and mention your despicable conflation of Chomsky with Benny Morris. Chomsky may differ on tactics, but to compare him with current Israeli apologist Morris is intellectually dishonest as I said in my comment.

        JONATHAN OFIR- “Your response seems to fall squarely under the notions which Tom Suarez described above.”

        Tom Suarez comment was so outrageous as to make your post look sane by comparison. DANGEROUS circular reasoning? Chomsky a DEMI-GOD? This is a dishonest ad hominem attack of the meanest sort. You and Tom Suarez may not be organized, but you both are birds of a Mondo feather.

        JONATHAN OFIR- “You suggest that Mondoweiss focus on something else – Gaza for example – but Mondoweiss does that as well.”

        Are you referring to the Mondo vilification of Greta Berlin of the FreeGaza Movement?

        Enough of this. Your article was just another way stop on the Mondo anti-Chomsky highway.

      • Mooser on August 23, 2017, 11:47 am

        “Enough of this. Your article was just another way stop on the Mondo anti-Chomsky highway.”

        If anything happens to Mr. Chomsky, we will know who to hold responsible!

      • festus on August 23, 2017, 1:56 pm

        The threat of nuclear annihilation before allowing the Palestinians back presented matter of factly by Chomsky as a reason why the Palestinians will never be allowed to return is a “..relatively trivial event..”? Really? You think if the mainstream media let the public in on this that the American public would consider it trivial?

      • Keith on August 23, 2017, 4:34 pm

        FESTUS- “You think if the mainstream media let the public in on this that the American public would consider it trivial?”

        Has this been promoted by the mainstream media? The notion that Zionist Israel would resist the right of return in any but symbolic form is hardly controversial, Chomsky’s unfortunate phrasing notwithstanding. So yes, I consider Chomsky’s statement to the Association of American Geographers in April is relatively trivial. What dire consequences have befallen the Palestinians because of this statement? But it makes you feel good to criticize Chomsky, doesn’t it? As I already stated, my priority would be to end the blockade of Gaza and the recurring “mowing the lawn.” These are critically important to the well-being of the Palestinians. Endless bickering over the right of return is a self-indulgent activity in view of the imbalance of forces. If you can’t get the Israelis to at least stop killing the Gazans on a recurring basis, there is no point in even discussing the right of return. The situation is sufficiently bleak and requires more modest short term objectives, putting the long term objectives on the back burner. On another thread, Nevada Ned linked to an excellent article by Aviva Chomsky (Noam’s daughter) discussing Charlottesville. I think some of what she says applies here as well, hence, I am offering a quote and a link.

        “Over the years I have come to see more and more of what Adolph Reed calls “posing as politics.” Rather than organizing for change, individuals seek to enact a statement about their own righteousness. They may boycott certain products, refuse to eat certain foods, or they may show up to marches or rallies whose only purpose is to demonstrate the moral superiority of the participants. White people may loudly claim that they recognize their privilege or declare themselves allies of people of color or other marginalized groups. People may declare their communities “no place for hate.” Or they may show up at counter-marches to “stand up” to white nationalists or neo-Nazis. All of these types of “activism” emphasize self-improvement or self-expression rather than seeking concrete change in society or policy. They are deeply, and deliberately, apolitical in the sense that they do not seek to address issues of power, resources, decisionmaking, or how to bring about change.” (Aviva Chomsky)

      • Danaa on August 23, 2017, 7:45 pm

        Keith, so I happened to see your comment and had to jump in. My own “expanded” post was entirely volitional, and was really using Chomsky as a means to address some aspects that are of special interest to me, namely, the “bubbles” in which intellectuals and academics live. Chomsky is one of many such people on all sides of the fence, and my point was simply to use the take Chomsky has on BDS as a way to highlight what it means to be always surrounded by the best and brightest, which I am sure Chomsky is. far from yet another “Chomsky bashing” exercise, I am interested in the ingenuous ways people – even the smartest and best meaning – can be so incisive in their anlysis and still manage to sugar coat a past, making it into something more glorious and/or glamorous than it was. We all do that a bit, don’t we? In the US we have a great admiration for the founders, yet the blemishes of the time and place where the constitution was written are and were there for all to see, even now through the lens of time.

        My other contention is that sugar-coating the past can make it difficult to come to terms with a very harsh present, which then leads to viewing possible futures through rose-colored glasses. Things were good once – may be they can be again. Which, alas, can make one oblivious to the fact that the “patient” (cf. israel) has kind of gone all psychopathic in the meantime.

        Chomsky does some things extremely well, and few are better. But when it comes to certain aspects of the I/P debate, then no one can ever hope to be always on the “right’ side in a historical sense – not you, not I, not Chomsky, not Ofir. None of us can guess history’s final verdict so all we can do is assess, estimate, make predictions.

        Personally, I think I would rather take up the issue of BDS with someone like Chomsky than a crazy pro-Israelite madman. The question Chomsky brings into the debate is “what’s likely to be most effective”. And both he and Finkelstein bring in this great faith in “international law”. Well, many of us have little hope that law alone can do the trick of changing israel’s ways. And as for effectiveness, time will tell – most of us go by a strong gut feeling that BDS – especially the expanded version (where it’s applied to all of israel) – will pay dividends. Chomsky doesn’t share this gut feeling, for whatever reason. I claimed that his coming on one side (of BDS not being so effective due to one item in a platform), was because it’s natural to believe in some ultimate “right” and “justice” when one is surrounded by generally well-meaning and well-reasoning people, which someone like Netanyahu decidedly isn’t. And neither are most israelis.

        The truth is, that there really isn’t anything other than BDS, something that I believe most Israelis and ex-Israelis who believe in human rights see plenty clearly. There is simply no other choice. Nothing else will work – and I know you are not so naive as to think “Free Gaza” can work on any level more than PR for the cause of gazans. The blockade will not be lifted just as the riron ring of occupation gets ever tighter.

        So all in all, it’s a good argument to have, and better with one such as Chomsky as lightening rod than some lesser figures (of which there are too many to count). It’s not all “bashing” you know…..

      • Keith on August 24, 2017, 12:50 am

        DANAA- “My own “expanded” post was entirely volitional….”

        Entirely volitional? The editorial comment preceeding your post was that you “agreed” to expand your comment to a post. Where the editors lying? If not, then the editors were utilizing your comment-expanded-to-a-post to achieve some desired outcome, no?

        I did not comment on your post, per se, my point was that 4 articles on a miniscule portion of Chomsky’s question and answer to this gathering tended to radically overemphasize one aspect of his answers to questions which otherwise would have sunk to obscurity. To what purpose? If you review the history of anti-Chomsky animus on Mondoweiss, the answer seems clear to me. So while you personally don’t wish to vilify Chomsky, Mondoweiss apparently does, and has done so in the past. Similar to Finkelstein, Greta Berlin, and a musician whose name I dare not speak? Jonathan Ofir’s post was over the top as was Tom Suarez’ comment. You disagree?

        What is the purpose of all of this if not to denigrate Chomsky? I cannot see another purpose. I cannot see why Chomsky’s positions are not accepted as simply Chomsky’s positions, then ignored. He has a right to his opinion, does he not? You disagree? No problem. No big deal. So why is this always such a big deal? Chomsky’s influence is wildly exaggerated.

      • RoHa on August 24, 2017, 3:49 am

        ‘the “bubbles” in which intellectuals and academics live’

        Have a little sympathy for us, Danaa.

        To even cling on to our jobs, we have to continuously churn out papers like

        “Counting the Beans: the implications of second-order logic for intersectionality in Antarctica”


        “Anna Livia Plurabelle or Australian Labor Party? An antipodean post-feminist reading of Finnegan’s Wake.”

        Could we do that if we didn’t live in a bubble?

      • Danaa on August 24, 2017, 5:13 am

        Keith – I will address only the “volitional” part. Whatever you may have read into a preamble, it was I who desired to expand my own comment, influenced by none other than my very own self. As you can tell from multiple typos and egregious grammatical cul-de-sacs. I often produce my comments in one breath, literally at the heat of the moment, and frankly a 10 min edit window hardly suffices for the needed repairs. Also, as you can well imagine, given my preference for expounding, well, it bears to reason that things may need to be “expanded” for clarity, if nothing else. Wouldn’t you do the same?

        So while I cannot take editors off the hook on everything, as I know basically nothing, in this particular case, blame for content, should there be any, must be shouldered all by my lonesome (and i had shoulder surgery not so long ago, too. Ah, the burden!).

        An aside – to your other points, think of it this way – if people did not care so much for Chomsky’s opinion,s they surely would not take the time to run every sentence through a grinder, would they? can there be a greater complement?

      • Sibiriak on August 24, 2017, 3:37 pm

        Danaa: …if people did not care so much for Chomsky’s opinion,s they surely would not take the time to run every sentence through a grinder, would they?

        And yet in your own long, expanded, specially–commissioned anti-Chomsky article you couldn’t manage to quote even a single sentence of Chomsky’s–not a single one! But thanks for sharing your personal perceptions (projections). And thanks for telling us how Chomsky’s advanced age explains his mental rigidity, and how he can’t see reality because he’s “wearing rose-colored glasses”–thanks for those great insights. And thanks for putting all those thoughts into Chomsky’s head (the one’s he’s never put on paper.) That was beautiful. Really.

      • Danaa on August 24, 2017, 9:01 pm

        RoHa, those titles! you have my full sympathy for the bubble life. Yet it’s not the worst bubble out there, is it?

        PS my own specialty used to be the Physics of bubbles (believe it if you wish). How can I avoid blowing them every-which-way? and just you wait till you see my take on the economic bubbly species….very explosive, that (sadly not on this blog).

      • RoHa on August 24, 2017, 11:56 pm
  7. Paranam Kid on August 23, 2017, 3:41 am

    Jonathan, as usual, you hit the nail on the head, and esp. in this case I want to congratulate you on a well argued article.

    I am starting to believe that Chomsky has been projecting an image of himself regarding Israel that is not quite a truthful a reflection of his true believes. By criticising Israel as one of the most prominent left-wing intellectuals of our time, he gives the impression that he is against Israel in its current form & its policies, incl. its occupation of the Stolen Palestinian Territories.

    When one sets his “nuclear option” next to that, it becomes clear that what he really thinks is that Israel should be rapped on the fingers, sure, and goaded to treat the Palestinians a bit more humanely. But Israel should not be pushed too much because then it would use the nuclear option, or go all out.

    Chomsky clearly does not support the right of return for Palestinians because that would undermine Israel as a “Jewish state”. In other words, Israel’s apartheid should not be dismantled.

    So that brings us to the crux of the matter: racist states , such as e.g. apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany, are not acceptable, but Israel is an exceptional case, i.e. he agrees with the pre-1948 Zionist claim that “Palestine (= future Israel) is not subject to norms applicable to the rest of the world”, as Tom Suarez states in his excellent book State of Terror. Citizen’s comment above is spot on with the statement that …Chomsky is a Zionist….

    As for taking an intellectual heavyweight to task, those who believe that questioning someone like Chomsky means that they can also easily be made to follow personality cults, a very dangerous penchant. And Finkelstein’s ridiculing of those who do take on the intellectual giant only shows the limitations of Finkelstein’s own intellectual capabilities.

    Keep up the good work Jonathan !!

    • Emory Riddle on August 23, 2017, 6:36 pm

      Of course it’s not trivial…if it were, the mainstream media would not bury it. If the American media highlighted what Chomksy said, the public would go crazy…with damned good reason. Not sure how something that would be so impactful were it not hidden can possibly be labeled trivial. Chomsky should be criticized by passing this off as something we should just accept — that Israel would use nuclear weapons to stop the return of Palestinians. I honestly have no idea as to what Keith is arguing. This all seems very clear.

  8. Talkback on August 23, 2017, 5:45 am

    So Chomsky doesn’t know that the right to return has become customary international law and therefore is binding even for countries that wouldn’t ratify the Geneva Conventions. And he doesn’t know about the decades long international support which is expressed in countless resolutions of the General Assembly in which this “inalienable right” is confirmed.

    What does he actually know?

    • CigarGod on August 23, 2017, 10:30 am

      He “knows” what “everybody knows.”
      Everybody…in his circle/bubble.
      Gee, he’s mortal.

  9. pabelmont on August 23, 2017, 8:39 am

    I believe that — as of todaty — there is something that surely is “not going to happen”, namely, that the international community (or any significant part of it) is going to put enough pressure on Israel to make Israel do anything at all.

    But I also believe that there is nothing to be done by the international public other than BDS.

    What might BDS accomplish? Well, I see three possible outcomes. First, BDS might accomplish nothing much, or do whatever it does so slowly that it seems nothing much.

    Second, BDS might fire up international public opinion (accompanied by anger at the anti-free-speech efforts used by BIG-ZION to suppress it) that Israel will begin to make gradual (and small) concessions to that public opinion, concessions sufficient to take the energy out of the BDS movement and concessions far short of conceding all of the three demands of BDS. Not a very useful outcome. However, Israel has shown little talent for making concessions (the recent prisoners’ hunger strike aside).

    Lastly, BDS might fire up international public opinion sufficiently to get the governments to take real steps of some kind (for instance, steps to require Israel to remove all settlers from all territories occupied in 1967 and still occupied), and those steps might influence Israel to step up its oppressions rather than to make concessions, leading to other and further international public (and international governmental) actions. In this scenario, the genie would be out of the bottle, the governments would be really “angry” (if governments ever get really angry), and real pressure might be exerted on Israel, maybe a cutoff of purchasing of all Israeli exports (a problem about the military exports, of course), and Israel might at that point decide (under pressure of its big businesses, say) to make major concessions. In that case, the world’s governments having gotten really fired up, who is to say that the world’s governments would not insist on a real PRoR?

    And with a large number of governments ganging up on it, who would Israel nuke in that case? Palestine? Well, yes, but not with a nuclear bomb, and whatever Israel did in that case would just add to world anger.

    The problem we BDSers all face is to convince the world’s people (or enough of them) that Israel as a “Jewish and apartheid state” is illegitimate so that those people will convince their local and international businesses and governments (all of whom seem really happy with the erasure of human rights, by whomever and against whomever done, including if done by Israel) that the businesses and governments will feel a political necessity to act in a serious way. This is a way-uphill fight.

    But there seems no other fight.

    • Mooser on August 23, 2017, 11:51 am

      “What might BDS accomplish?”

      Lots of Zionists tell us BDS can destroy Israel. I believe them. They should know.

      • eljay on August 23, 2017, 12:57 pm

        || Mooser: … Lots of Zionists tell us BDS can destroy Israel. … ||

        That’s weird: Lots of other Zionists tell us that BDS is weak and ineffective and that the “Jewish State” is strong and will last a Thousand Years (or more).

      • Paranam Kid on August 24, 2017, 5:53 am

        There was another ethnic group that were convinced their state would last 1000 years.

      • eljay on August 24, 2017, 8:44 am

        || Paranam Kid: @eljay
        There was another ethnic group that were convinced their state would last 1000 years. ||

        Zionists will be just surprised as that other group was when the “Jewish State” fails to meet expectations of its longevity.

  10. ballerina on August 23, 2017, 11:12 am

    That interview was one that gave me pause at the time and I’m grateful for this article reviewing it…at the time i was disturbed by Chomsky’ remarks, but let them just simmer there for a while without reaching any dramatic conclusions..finally decided that for whatever reason he was showing himself vulnerable to Zionist pressure and that i would have to keep that in mind when he pronounced on the issue in future..however, i still think he has brought excellent arguments to the table on many other topics..i even remember when he was more honest about Israel if not BDS

  11. punterweger on August 23, 2017, 11:37 am

    Although I have long admired Chomsky’s work, I find this to be an excellent, cogently argued article. From a movement point of view, the Chomsky-Finkelstein critique of BDS is hard to comprehend. Indeed, as this article demonstrates, their arguments do not stand careful scrutiny. Nor do the ad-hominem arguments that accuse Chomsky critics of bashing him, and the characterisation of Chomsky as an analyst, and not a strategist, help his case. Paraphrasing Marx, I would say that analysts have only interpreted the world, when the point is to change it. Chomsky surely understands this, which leaves one wondering why he would devote such energy to undermining the most effective organising tool we have at the moment in the fight for the rights of Palestinians.

  12. James Canning on August 23, 2017, 1:14 pm

    Most Israeli leaders know that chances of a “right of return” being implemented are zero. And chances of such a right being part of a deal on Israel/Palestine are also zero.

  13. shaun patrick on August 24, 2017, 1:18 am

    I would like to add the following thoughts. Israel makes the classical mistake of every seemingly invincible society in history from the Greek, Persian, Roman periods through to more the more recent Ottoman and Nazi regimes…. that they can continue forever and untouchable. This is a mindset built on ego and arrogance which will lead to its downfall just like the others. Like other extremist governments Israel’s behavior is cruel and erratic driven by fear and hatred and there already exists politicians in the Israeli government that would risk or even use a nuclear option without a second thought.

  14. Tom Suarez on August 27, 2017, 4:22 pm

    To clarify my previous comment in which I referred to Chomsky as a “demi-god”:
    This was not an “ad hominem attack” on Chomsky. It was a characterization of the attitude of his stalwart followers to him (and to which he certainly seems to have no objection).
    Why is it so difficult to suggest that arguments stand or fall on their own merits, independent of who makes them? One may pay special care in dismissing an argument put forth by someone like Chomsky, who has earned great respect for his knowledge and intellect; but flawed arguments and flawed ethics/morality are not made whole by virtue of who made them.
    Chomsky’s extraordinary, counter-intellectual, counter-legal, counter-justice position on Return, literal atomic bomb or not, is especially destructive precisely because of his stature. It must not be left unchallenged, and that is what Jonathan has done.

    • Tom Suarez on August 28, 2017, 3:53 am

      (oops… I see my final sentence is backwards — should be: “It must be challenged, and that is what Jonathan has done.”)

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