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LectureHop: Chomsky on Israel-Palestine

He's less iconic in person.

Last night, famous linguist and leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky spoke on “America and Israel-Palestine: Peace and War” at Barnard’s LeFrak Gymnasium. The line to get in was long, but Bwog’s radical correspondent Peter Sterne made it inside.

A full hour before Noam Chomsky was scheduled to begin speaking, the auditorium was already beginning to fill up, and by 5:40 pm, virtually every seat was taken. Attendees continued to stream in, but they were forced to stand on the sides or sit on the floor.

Professor Chomsky began by noting the distinction between “people” and “unpeople.” People, he said, were entitled to human dignity and human rights, while unpeople “look human but are considered unworthy of human rights.” Historically, unpeople have included indigenous peoples and “those the Constitution considered only 3/5ths of a person.” In the War on Terror, he proposed, “unpeople” now include non-Americans. He noted that even though many were critical of Obama’s decision to assassinate Anwar al-Awalki, an American citizen and alleged terrorist in Yemen, they didn’t mind when the United States killed non-Americans. Chomsky used this example to illustrate how Americans are considered people with certain rights that should be respected, while non-Americans are not.

The same, he argued, is true of Israelis (people) and Palestinians (unpeople) in both the U.S. and Israel. He pointed to an October 12th front-page New York Times article, “Deal With Hamas Will Free Israeli Held Since 2006” (the online version’s title is different), that was illustrated with a picture of Israeli women celebrating Gilad Shalit‘s release. In Chomsky’s view, the article focused on the impact of Shalit’s release on Israelis, while largely ignoring the individual Palestinian prisoners involved in the prisoner swap, because the Palestinians are considered “unpeople.”

Chomsky’s criticisms were harsh, and they could easily upset Israelis, for whom Gilad Shalit’s release has been a national fixation. But it didn’t seem like they were designed to inflame. Chomsky didn’t have the angry or self-righteous attitude of a demagogue, but rather the tired and exasperated tone of a professor struggling to explain something simple to his students. It was obvious that he was extremely knowledgeable about the subject of Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab relations, and he proceeded to detail a brief history of diplomacy between Israel, Egypt, the U.S., Palestine, and other Arab states. He made a strong case that the United States has generally acted not to advance peace, but to advance its own interests, and that these are often tied to Israel’s. Serious and fair peace negotiations, he argued, would have to be mediated by a neutral third party—not the U.S.—and be based on the internationally-recognized 1967 borders.

One example of the U.S. and Israel choosing their own interests above peace, according to Chomsky, occurred in 1971, when President Anwar Sadat of Egypt offered the Israelis full diplomatic relations in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula (which Israel had occupied since the 1967 war). Israel rejected the agreement, preferring to move settlers into the Sinai, and the United States, under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, supported the Israeli rejection. According to Chomsky, this was partly for racist reasons: a memo circulated in the State Department arguing that Egypt posed no threat to Israel because “Arabs don’t know which end of the gun to hold!” With both Israel and the U.S. refusing to negotiate, Egypt launched an attack to reclaim the Sinai in 1973, which resulted in a war that killed 20,000 people and nearly caused nuclear war between the Americans and Russians. After the war, Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met at Camp David to negotiate the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, which was almost identical to Sadat’s original proposal eight years earlier. Though these negotiations are often seen as a diplomatic triumph, Chomsky argued that the Camp David negotiations and 1979 treaty should instead be considered a diplomatic failure. After all, he explained, if the U.S. and Israel had simply accepted Sadat’s offer in 1971, they could have avoided a disastrous war.

The audience seemed supportive of Chomsky during his lecture. He received a standing ovation at the end of his talk, and the crowd spontaneously broke into applause and laughter at particularly interesting moments in his lecture. The line “[Palestinian prisoners] are all unpeople, so nobody cares. The racism is so profound that it’s like the air we breathe” was particularly well-received. The explanation that “the United States and Israel punished Palestinians with sanctions for voting the wrong way [i.e. for Hamas] in free elections. That’s called ‘promoting democracy,'” also caused a great deal of laughter.

The way questioners addressed Chomsky soon revealed that the audience were not uniformly fans. Two clear trends were discernible from the lines of questioning, which contributed to the divided atmosphere. Those who addressed their questions to “Dr. Chomsky” or “Professor Chomsky” asked why the United States tolerates Israel’s behavior and what Israel should do about illegal settlements to achieve a two-state solution, while those addressing “Mr. Chomsky” asked about Ehud Barak’s proposal to Arafat during the 2000 Camp David Accords (a central point in Dershowitz’s celebrated “In Defense of Israel”) and Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposal for ostensible “negotiations without preconditions” at the U.N. a few weeks ago. In sum, around half the participants in the Q&A asked challenging questions, just as Alan Dershowitz had called for.


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  • hey bwog says:

    @hey bwog can you tell us how chomsky answered the “challenging questions” dershowitz called for?

  • Seriously says:

    @Seriously Why does this writer focus so much on the audience’s reaction to Chomsky at the expense of focusing on Chomsky’s arguments and talking points? This is just bad coverage.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous because you can read his opinion elsewhere

  • Surely says:

    @Surely “leftist intellectual” might be a bit of a simplification… he has that whole anarchist streak too

  • just curious says:

    @just curious why do so many women wear leggings? The contours of your asses are visible to the general public. And by no means is this a complaint..

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous because leggings are sooo comfy

    2. blah says:

      @blah “why do so many women wear leggings? The contours of your asses are visible to the general public” You just answered your own question. And jeans show the contours of an ass as well so whats with the stupid “women be different then men” wankery.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Chomsky’s talking points?
    In other words, the talking points of the guy who revealed to the world the consent that is manufactured by the corporate media?

    LoL, no wonder the top oligarchs in Israel are fearing that they feel like they’re being ‘South-Africanized’

  • Shame says:

    @Shame It is a shame that a brilliant linguist such as Chomsky proves himself to be an intellectually dishonest man politically. One who construes facts and spits out misinformation should not be taken seriously on any account. At trying times like these, it is imperative that the MidEast debate be filled with accurate assessments and honest words.

    1. Shame correction says:

      @Shame correction *miscontrues

      1. Shame correction correction says:

        @Shame correction correction Fragment. Consider revising.

        PS: reCaptcha is Nippolt, which almost spells Nipple. I bid you good day.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous …ǝɹoɯ pɐǝɹ
    ”˙ǝldoǝdun“ pǝɹǝpısuoɔ ǝɹɐ suɐıuıʇsǝlɐd ǝɥʇ ǝsnɐɔǝq ‘dɐʍs ɹǝuosıɹd ǝɥʇ uı pǝʌloʌuı sɹǝuosıɹd uɐıuıʇsǝlɐd lɐnpıʌıpuı ǝɥʇ ƃuıɹouƃı ʎlǝƃɹɐl ǝlıɥʍ ‘sılǝɐɹsı uo ǝsɐǝlǝɹ s’ʇılɐɥs ɟo ʇɔɐdɯı ǝɥʇ uo pǝsnɔoɟ ǝlɔıʇɹɐ ǝɥʇ ‘ʍǝıʌ s’ʎʞsɯoɥɔ uı ˙ǝsɐǝlǝɹ s‘ʇılɐɥs pɐlıƃ ƃuıʇɐɹqǝlǝɔ uǝɯoʍ ılǝɐɹsı ɟo ǝɹnʇɔıd ɐ ɥʇıʍ pǝʇɐɹʇsnllı sɐʍ ʇɐɥʇ ‘(ʇuǝɹǝɟɟıp sı ǝlʇıʇ s’uoısɹǝʌ ǝuıluo ǝɥʇ) ”6002 ǝɔuıs plǝɥ ılǝɐɹsı ǝǝɹɟ llıʍ sɐɯɐɥ ɥʇıʍ lɐǝp“ ‘ǝlɔıʇɹɐ sǝɯıʇ ʞɹoʎ ʍǝu ǝƃɐd-ʇuoɹɟ ɥʇ21 ɹǝqoʇɔo uɐ oʇ pǝʇuıod ǝɥ ˙lǝɐɹsı puɐ ˙s˙n ǝɥʇ ɥʇoq uı (ǝldoǝdun) suɐıuıʇsǝlɐd puɐ (ǝldoǝd) sılǝɐɹsı ɟo ǝnɹʇ sı ‘pǝnƃɹɐ ǝɥ ‘ǝɯɐs ǝɥʇ

    ˙ʇou ǝɹɐ suɐɔıɹǝɯɐ-uou ǝlıɥʍ ‘pǝʇɔǝdsǝɹ ǝq plnoɥs ʇɐɥʇ sʇɥƃıɹ uıɐʇɹǝɔ ɥʇıʍ ǝldoǝd pǝɹǝpısuoɔ ǝɹɐ suɐɔıɹǝɯɐ ʍoɥ ǝʇɐɹʇsnllı oʇ ǝldɯɐxǝ sıɥʇ pǝsn ʎʞsɯoɥɔ ˙suɐɔıɹǝɯɐ-uou pǝllıʞ sǝʇɐʇs pǝʇıun ǝɥʇ uǝɥʍ puıɯ ʇ’upıp ʎǝɥʇ ‘uǝɯǝʎ uı ʇsıɹoɹɹǝʇ pǝƃǝllɐ puɐ uǝzıʇıɔ uɐɔıɹǝɯɐ uɐ ‘ıʞlɐʍɐ-lɐ ɹɐʍuɐ ǝʇɐuıssɐssɐ oʇ uoısıɔǝp s’ɐɯɐqo ɟo lɐɔıʇıɹɔ ǝɹǝʍ ʎuɐɯ ɥƃnoɥʇ uǝʌǝ ʇɐɥʇ pǝʇou ǝɥ ˙suɐɔıɹǝɯɐ-uou ǝpnlɔuı ʍou ”ǝldoǝdun“ ‘sǝsodoɹd ǝɥ ‘ɹoɹɹǝʇ uo ɹɐʍ ǝɥʇ uı ”˙uosɹǝd ɐ ɟo sɥʇ5/3 ʎluo pǝɹǝpısuoɔ uoıʇnʇıʇsuoɔ ǝɥʇ ǝsoɥʇ“ puɐ sǝldoǝd snouǝƃıpuı pǝpnlɔuı ǝʌɐɥ ǝldoǝdun ‘ʎllɐɔıɹoʇsıɥ ”˙sʇɥƃıɹ uɐɯnɥ ɟo ʎɥʇɹoʍun pǝɹǝpısuoɔ ǝɹɐ ʇnq uɐɯnɥ ʞool“ ǝldoǝdun ǝlıɥʍ ‘sʇɥƃıɹ uɐɯnɥ puɐ ʎʇıuƃıp uɐɯnɥ oʇ pǝlʇıʇuǝ ǝɹǝʍ ‘pıɐs ǝɥ ‘ǝldoǝd ”˙ǝldoǝdun“ puɐ ”ǝldoǝd“ uǝǝʍʇǝq uoıʇɔuıʇsıp ǝɥʇ ƃuıʇou ʎq uɐƃǝq ʎʞsɯoɥɔ ɹossǝɟoɹd

    ˙ɹoolɟ ǝɥʇ uo ʇıs ɹo sǝpıs ǝɥʇ uo puɐʇs oʇ pǝɔɹoɟ ǝɹǝʍ ʎǝɥʇ ʇnq ‘uı ɯɐǝɹʇs oʇ pǝnuıʇuoɔ sǝǝpuǝʇʇɐ ˙uǝʞɐʇ sɐʍ ʇɐǝs ʎɹǝʌǝ ʎllɐnʇɹıʌ ‘ɯd 04:5 ʎq puɐ ‘dn llıɟ oʇ ƃuıuuıƃǝq ʎpɐǝɹlɐ sɐʍ ɯnıɹoʇıpnɐ ǝɥʇ ‘ƃuıʞɐǝds uıƃǝq oʇ pǝlnpǝɥɔs sɐʍ ʎʞsɯoɥɔ ɯɐou ǝɹoɟǝq ɹnoɥ llnɟ ɐ

    ˙ǝpısuı ʇı ǝpɐɯ ǝuɹǝʇs ɹǝʇǝd ʇuǝpuodsǝɹɹoɔ lɐɔıpɐɹ s’ƃoʍq ʇnq ‘ƃuol sɐʍ uı ʇǝƃ oʇ ǝuıl ǝɥʇ ˙ɯnısɐuɯʎƃ ʞɐɹɟǝl s’pɹɐuɹɐq ʇɐ ”ɹɐʍ puɐ ǝɔɐǝd :ǝuıʇsǝlɐd-lǝɐɹsı puɐ ɐɔıɹǝɯɐ“ uo ǝʞods ʎʞsɯoɥɔ ɯɐou lɐnʇɔǝllǝʇuı ʇsıʇɟǝl puɐ ʇsınƃuıl snoɯɐɟ ‘ʇɥƃıu ʇsɐl

    ˙uosɹǝd uı ɔıuoɔı ssǝl s,ǝɥ

    ǝuıʇsǝlɐd-lǝɐɹsı uo ʎʞsɯoɥɔ :doɥǝɹnʇɔǝl

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous definitely less iconic in person. talk about muttering!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous So…

    Barnard hosts Chomsky. Everyone wants to attend.

    And yet people feel okay…bitching about Barnard? How exactly does this work out?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous what does this mean?

    2. not the time! says:

      @not the time! As a CC student, I believe some of my BC classmates are some of the smartest I’ve met.

      At the same time, I’m sorry the world doesn’t revolve around your womens college insecurities but get over it and stop seeing everything through that lens!

    3. Because says:

      @Because you have a lower mental capacity than CC girls

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous who’s twitter account is MyLifeIsBarnard? She’s funny.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous “while largely ignoring the individual Palestinian prisoners involved in the prisoner swap, because the Palestinians are considered “unpeople.””
    One of the most biased and unintellectual honest statements. The Palestinians involved in the swap were outright murderers who vowed to continue terrorizing Jews. Shalit was kept in inhumane conditions, not allowed access to the red cross, while the Palestinian prisoners who had actually committed murder were kept in prisons. I guess those facts just weren’t important enough to Chomsky.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous of course those Palestinians are all murderers, therefore “unpeople”

      1. hmmm says:

        @hmmm Of course Palestinians are not all murderers. The poster to whom you’re replying didn’t say that, no one said that here, and incidentally the only Israelis who believe that are the strawmen that you imagine in your mind. But *those Palestinians are most definitely murderers– mass murderers in fact of men, women, children, and babies. One in fact was quite famously photographed with the blood of his victim– a soldier that he kidnapped and threw out of a window of a police station in Ramallah– smeared all over his proudly outstretched hands. They are murderers, and if you cannot accept that, it is you who are doing the dehumanizing, and it is the Jews that you are deeming an “unpeople.”

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous I’m pretty sure the poster you’re responding to was referring to the Palestinian prisoners when he said “those Palestinians,” not to all Palestinians like you assumed. You inadvertently proved his point – not all of the Palestinian prisoners freed were murderers, as much as Israelis would like to think.

          1. hmmm says:

            @hmmm In fact you are proving mine. The poster to whom you are referring charged that the accusation that “those” Palestinians are murderers is a logical extension of the (non-existent) consensus that all Palestinians are murderers. The fact is that the perpetrators of some of the most brutal crimes committed anywhere in the civilized world in the past two decades are on that list, and some served less than five years in prison. Factually it is indisputable that they are murderers– though I am sure that there are those who will dispute it with all sorts of half-witted academic and non-academic contrivances, because believe it or not people with hatred in their hearts will dispute anything, and there are plenty of people willing to hate Israel, either for its power or more often for its powerlessness. To deny that that they are murderers is to deny that it is murder for a Palestinian to kill an Israeli, or a busload of Israelis with a bomb coated with loose screws for good measure. And that is the outrage. That is the outrage that screams from the headlines here, to anyone who concedes the humanity of the victims. One thousand and twenty prisoners convicted of participating in such crimes have been pardoned to secure the release of a soldier kidnapped five years ago at gunpoint, in an exchange that commands the support of an overwhelming percentage of the Israeli public. And Mr. Chomsky’s complaint, which you have adopted, is that not enough Israelis have learned all the names and crimes of all of the offenders. Is that a human response? Is that the way you speak of human beings? Not satisfied, Mr. Chomsky calls it a deprivation of humanity to respond otherwise– ironically blaming Israelis for the humanity he denies them, for the fact that he sees no other outrage. Is that the injustice here– that some gunrunner or bombs manufacturer was mistakenly deemed a murderer, or worse yet overlooked in the crowd? That someone read the paper, heard that murderers were being released, and said– “murderers are being released”– as opposed to “these 1000 convicts whose names I’ve sadly not yet learned?”

          2. hmmm says:

            @hmmm In full disclosure, I read of the crimes committed by numerous individuals on the list as the news trickled out over the past few days– but I haven’t read the list. After what I’ve already read, I know enough to know what the injustice here is. I wasn’t interested in hearing anything more about this, to be honest– because I’ve heard enough to be sickened– but here is a verbatim excerpt from a news source (Jewish Telegraphic Agency), that took me about half a second to retrieve:

            * Abd al-Hadi Ghanim: In July 1989, during the first Intifada, Gaza resident Abd al-Hadi Ghanim grabbed the steering wheel of a Tel Aviv-to-Jerusalem bus on Israel’s main highway and steered it into a ravine. Sixteen people were killed.

            * Yihia al-Sinwar: A founder of Hamas’ military wing, Yihia al-Sinwar was involved in the October 1994 kidnapping of Sgt. Nachshon Wachsman, an Israeli soldier who had American citizenship. Wachsman was killed by his captors during a rescue attempt several days later by Israeli commandos. Al-Sinwar’s brother is believed to have been an organizer of Gilad Shalit’s abduction.

            * Aziz Salha: In October 2000, Aziz Salha produced one of the most horrifying images of the second intifada. He was photographed proudly waving his bloodstained hands out of the window of a Ramallah police station after participating in a lynch mob that broke into the building and beat to death two Israeli reservists who had been taken into Palestinian custody there after making a wrong turn into the city. An Israeli court convicted him of the murder of Cpl. Vadim Norzich.

            * Mona Awana: In January 2001, West Bank resident Mona Awana, pretending to be an American with a romantic interest in an Israeli high school student, used the Internet to lure 16-year-old Ofir Rahum to meet her in Jerusalem. They then drove Rahum to a prearranged location on Ramallah’s outskirts, where he was shot and killed by Palestinian gunmen.

            * Fuad Amrin: In May 1992, Gaza resident Fuad Amrin stabbed to death 15-year-old Helena Rapp on her way to school in the Israeli city of Bat Yam.

            * Husam Badran: As the leader of Hamas’ military wing in the northern West Bank, Husam Badran was the instigator of several of the deadliest suicide bombings of the second intifada, including the 2001 bombing attacks on a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem (15 killed), the Dolphinarium discotheque bombing in Tel Aviv (21 killed), the 2002 suicide bombings of a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya (30 killed) and the bombing of the Matza restaurant in Haifa (15 killed). More than 100 people were killed in terrorist attacks directed by Badran.

            * Tamimi Ahlam: In August 2001, Tamimi Ahlam, a female university student and journalist originally from Jordan, led a suicide bomber to the downtown Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria where he detonated himself, killing 15 people, including seven children.

            * Walid Anajas: Hamas operative Walid Anajas assisted with the 2002 suicide bombings at Jerusalem’s Cafe Moment (11 killed) and a gaming club in Rishon LeZion (16 killed), and the remotely detonated bombing of a cafeteria at the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which killed nine people, including four Americans.

            According to the same source, 477 convicts have been released so far, most of which were serving life sentences– the most severe sentence that can be imposed under Israeli law– which is a good indication of their level of participation in the crimes for which the were convicted. I haven’t read their names, nor do I intend to, and nor do I intend to remember any of the names listed above– not wishing to give any of them the privilege. Incidentally, I will never forget the name of one of the prisoners that was released in a previous exchange a few years ago– this one for the purpose of returning the bones of three soldiers who had been killed in Lebanon, so that their families could give the bodies a burial. Samir Kuntar– responsible for killing a young Israeli man on a beach in front of his infant daughter, and subsequently crushing the young girl’s skill with the butt of his rifle while the mother watched and smothered her other child. While in prison, he was given the opportunity to complete a PhD from an Israeli university via correspondence. Alive and well in Lebanon, and unrepentant, he gave his greetings to the prisoners yesterday, and encouraged more terrorism in celebration. I suppose that Mr. Chomsky might be pleased that I know his name. What’s next? A parade?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Chomsky saying that Israelis view the Palestinians as “unpeople” is a baseless accusation, and completely false. As someone who has lived in Israel, I can say that I don’t look at Palestinians as “sub-human” in any way. Being pro-Israel does not mean being anti-Palestinian. I hope both sides are able to act in a way that helps the 2 state solution plan move forward.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous “Being pro-Israel does not mean being anti-Palestinian.” lol wat

      1. wat wat says:

        @wat wat that’s right. think about it instead of writing the idea off. If you are truly “pro-humanity” how could you not support both Jewish and Palestinian desire for self-determination?

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous Because Israel is not interested in Palestinians having any right to self-determination

          1. Do you realize how ridulous that sounds says:

            @Do you realize how ridulous that sounds The vast majority of Israelis believe in a two-state solution. Do you think the same is true on the Palestinian side? Polls have shown that most Palestinians steadfastly refuse to consider Israel’s right to exist in any form. Not to mention the fact that nonviolent Palestinians can make their homes in Israel as full citizens with all the same rights accorded to Israeli Jews, whereas Abbas has said outright that ““when an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is established, we won’t allow the presence of one Israeli in it.”

  • Van Owen says:

    @Van Owen He’s a complete tool…

    1. King says:

      @King Why? Because he rejects the narcissistic notion that the Israelis are gods while everyone else is a “goynim”?

      If you vote thumbs down, it is because you want everyone to be a goynim.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous First of all, it’s “goyim” (plural) or “goy” (singular). Second of all, a goy is simply a non-Jew– and there is nothing wrong with being a non-Jew. In fact, while the tradition of Christianity dictates that I am going to hell because I do not believe in Christ, there is no such concept in Judaism–a non-Jew can lead a perfectly righteous life and would never be punished in any way for not being Jewish. Third, it would be blasphemous in the Jewish religion to suggest that Israelis (or any other human beings) are “gods,” which is why no one does so.

  • Zack Attack says:

    @Zack Attack Noam Chomsky? That guy uses WAAAY too many jokes about pussy.

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