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Provoking Ire

Chomsky's political talks during this time stirred up considerable controversy in different sectors. In some instances, this was exacerbated by "experts" who seemed to be suffering from amnesia. Alan Dershowitz, for example, claims in his best-selling book Chutzpah (1991) that he had had a public discussion with Chomsky immediately following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, during which Chomsky had proposed a "hare-brained scheme" that involved abolishing the state of Israel and replacing it with "a secular, binational state." Calling Chomsky a "false prophet of the left," "who would willingly sacrifice Jewish values and the Jewish state to some Marxist view of the world," Dershowitz declared that neither his "children, friends, [n]or students" could accept such a vision (199). There are two points here. First, Chomsky's alleged position is a restatement of that put forward by the Zionist organizations Avukah and Hashomer Hatzair in the 1930s and 1940s, and this "hare-brained scheme" had been elaborated and discussed by Zionist Jews prior to the creation of Israel. In a properly historical context, in other words, Dershowitz is no more Zionist than Chomsky. Second, Chomsky's opinions concerning Israel and the Israeli-Arab situation are not accurately reflected in Dershowitz's book; this is evident to those who have read and retained Chomsky's Peace in the Middle East? Reflections on Justice and Nationhood (1974) and Towards a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Got There (1982). Chomsky remarks: "the fact that he cites an alleged statement that is uncheckable (his 20-year old memory of something he claims he heard) rather than the easily checkable articles I was writing about the topic at just that time tells any sane person all they need to know" (27 June 1995).

The views Chomsky upheld were consistent with the traditional left binationalist program, and were directed towards resolving the Israeli question in the long term:

In the short term, everyone's interests (including Israeli Jews) would be best served by steps towards some kind of federalism in cis-Jordan, leading eventually to closer integration and cooperation as the two communities involved determined through choices that are as free and uncoerced as possible. Interestingly, that was the position that Shimon Peres and others also reached many years later, when it was far too late, after they saw the consequences of their extreme rejectionism. All that is readily checked; it's been in print for 25 years. (27 June 1995)

Chomsky recalls that at the time to which Dershowitz refers in his book, Israel's leading civil libertarian, Israel Shahak, then chairman of the Israeli League for Civil and Human Rights, was interviewed by the Boston Globe during a visit to that city. Dershowitz wrote to the Globe to denounce him, claiming that he had been thrown out of his position in the league, when, in fact, it had been demonstrated in court that during its annual meeting, the league, a small group, had been overwhelmed by a large mob of people who wanted to oust Shahak. As they had paid the registration fee, these people were able to claim the right to vote against Shahak. Chomsky elaborates:

The mob was organized by the governing Labor Party, who offered (in a secret document that was quickly leaked) to pay the registration fees for the people who stormed the meeting. It's rather as though the Communist Party in Russia had secretly organized people to break into the annual meeting of some tiny Amnesty International group and vote out the leadership, then pass a resolution denouncing the United States, the Communist Party paying their membership fees. That's what Dershowitz ­ the great civil libertarian ­ was endorsing, putting aside the shocking lies about Shahak and the Israeli Courts. One can see why he doesn't want the truth exposed. (27 June 1995)
As he already knew the details of the Shahak affair, Chomsky wasted no time in replying to Dershowitz's letter to the Globe, which, in turn, incited Dershowitz to denounce Chomsky and ask for proof in the form of court records. Chomsky happened to be in possession of these:
I . . . wrote a letter quoting them, which showed that he was a complete liar, as well as a Stalinist-style thug (that was implicit; I didn't bother saying it). He continued to try to brazen his way out, and was finally told by the Globe ombudsman that they would publish no more of his lies on the matter (that was after I'd sent the original Court records and a translation to English to the Globe, who had requested documentation so they could assess Dershowitz's increasingly hysterical charges). Ever since then, Dershowitz has been on a crazed jihad, dedicating much of his life to trying to destroy my reputation. (31 Mar. 1995)

The Tangled Web: Zionism, Stalinism and the Holocaust Story

So Chomsky became the lightning rod for the pro-Israel lobby: he was seen as the anti-Zionist, the pro-Arab, the anti-Semite. This, of course, was not all. His criticism of American policies in Vietnam and Cambodia had alienated him from establishment intellectuals and politicians; his condemnation of Cold War policies had led to his ostracization by the proponents of America's "free-world" vision. Those bent on questioning or ignoring him persisted in their efforts. Edward Herman claims that, as a consequence of his refusal to toe the line, Chomsky's work was "subjected to an ongoing and intense scrutiny for any literal errors or bases of vulnerability, a scrutiny from which establishment experts are entirely free. This search was perhaps more intense in the United States and among its allies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with a growing body of hard-liners anxious to overcome the Vietnam syndrome, revitalize the arms race, strengthen support for Israel's rejectionism and policy of force and involve the United States in more aggressive actions towards the Soviet bloc and Third World" ("Pol Pot" 596).

It became obvious that Chomsky was a threat and a source of embarrassment to many: he was a Jew arguing for a democratic state in Israel (rather than "the sovereign State of the Jewish people" ); he was a Zionist arguing for a gradual move towards binationalism; he was an intellectual exposing collusion between governments and intellectual elites; he was a linguist taking aim at the cherished assumptions of respectable fellow linguists, philosophers, psychologists, and historians; he was a scientist conducting political analysis and denigrating as fraud most of the work done by political scientists; and, moreover, he was a privileged American calling into question what were taken to be fundamental American values while noting that basic rights, even those entrenched in the American constitution, were consciously being squelched by those elected to propagate them because they were not in the best interests of the ruling elites.

Chomsky was not the only person making these observations. Zinn and Dellinger had a similar orientation, and, of course, Chomsky had inherited a tradition from a series of earlier left-intellectuals ­ those who populated the milieu from which he had emerged. Yet, he was marginalized, as many others who had preceded him had been. Unlike some previous and still-active dissenters, though, Chomsky was recognized as being the most important thinker in his field, and this both allowed him some latitude and increased his responsibilities: to his students, to his peers, to his community, and, perhaps most of all, to himself.

Respect within one's own field of expertise is not, and never really has been, a guarantee of safe haven within the university. In 1919, Harold Laski wrote to Bertrand Russell. His words take on particular poignancy in light of Chomsky's position:

There is a more private thing about which I would like you to know in case you think there is a chance that you can help. I know from your Introduction to Mathematical Logic that you think well of Sheffer who is at present in the Philosophy Department here [at Harvard]. I don't know if you have any personal acquaintance with him. He is a jew and he has married someone of whom the University does not approve; moreover he hasn't the social qualities that Harvard so highly prizes. The result is that most of his department is engaged on a determined effort to bring his career here to an end. . . . Myself I think that the whole thing is a combination of anti-semitism and that curious university worship of social prestige which plays so large a part over here. (qtd. in Russell, Autobiography 2: 112)
Russell Jacoby recounts similar incidents that involved Paul Starr, David Abraham, Henry Giroux, and, perhaps most remarkably, the editor of Telos, respected historian Paul Piccone. He concludes:
The ordinary realities comprise the usual pressures and threats; the final danger in a liberal society is unemployment: denial of tenure or unrenewed contract. In a tight market this might spell the end of an academic career. The years of academic plenty were long enough to attract droves of would-be professors; they were brief enough to ensure that all saw the "No Vacancy" sign. Professionalization proceeded under the threat of unemployment. The lessons of the near and far past, from McCarthyism to the first stone thrown at the first outsider, were clear to anyone: blend in; use the time allotted to establish scholarly credentials; hide in the mainstream. (135)
Chomsky would not adopt these tactics for academic survival, and, as a consequence, he was denigrated by the organs of mainstream propaganda, ostracized or ignored, and scrutinized on all fronts.

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