TRANSCRIPT OF NOAM CHOMSKY’S Question & Answer Session following his lecture on “THE CURRENT CRISES IN THE MIDDLE EAST

: WHAT CAN WE DO?” Massachusetts Institute Of Technology December 14, 2000

Transcription by Angie D'Urso, Feb18, 2001. Audio/Video Webcast of Chomsky Lecture:

Questioner #1 (Roger Leisner, Radio Free Maine): Back in 1988, up in Maine, the Maine Democratic Party in their platform adopted a plank recognizing Palestinian statehood. Now this is a result that Jesse Jackson campaigned for, and it was the only state in the nation where the Democratic Party did that. Two years later, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) came into Maine and just worked their buns off to repeal that part of the platform. It’s funny that within the last five years, I haven’t heard much about AIPAC. Has it sort of gone out of style? Or has the fundamentalism in Israel sort of driven it maybe into the peace camp?

Noam Chomsky: Well, first of all, let me make a suggestion. There is a very strong temptation, in fact we are trained for it from infancy, to sort of project problems somewhere else. You know, somebody else is the bad guy, we’re not doing it. The fundamentalism isn’t in Israel, it’s here. Most of the problems are here. It’s easy to blame someone else, but it’s harder to look into the mirror, and that is what you ought to do.


AIPAC is less visible than it was before, but that is because the Clinton Administration has moved so far to the extremist end. In fact, when Clinton came in, the very first year or two, the Israeli press was amazed. They said, you know, for the first time we have an American president who is to the extremist side of our own extremist parties. In fact, they started joking about him as the last Zionist and stuff like that. As U.S. policy has drifted toward the more extremist position, AIPAC is still there, and does what it did before, but it doesn’t have to be as visible because it’s, you know, certainly right in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. As far as the Maine proposals, and the one you mentioned in ’87, that is right in the mainstream of American opinion. Polls have been showing for years that roughly sixty or seventy percent of the population support a Palestinian state. One of the great failures, in my view - crimes, of the PLO, and there are many, is to fail to make any effort to make use of this fact. I can run through the history if you want, but a number of people here who were sympathetic to the Palestinians, but didn’t think much of the PLO, and I’m one of them, were trying to convince them for years that they should try to do what every other Third World movement does, namely help support some kind of popular solidarity movement which will make use of the fact that most of the people support them anyway, even without knowing anything. And they flatly refused. They don’t want to have anything to do with it. They acted in such a way as to make it as hard as possible to build up a solidarity movement. That is one of the reasons why these things have happened. As I say, there is plenty of blame to go around. In this case, the state of Maine’s position was consistent with polls throughout the Country, but of course not with policy.

New Questioner, #2: I have two quick questions. One of them is not necessarily related to the Palestinian issue, but I was just curious, because I noticed you mentioned the Soviet Union a few times in your talk as ‘Russia’. Is there a particular reason why you use the word Russia as opposed to the Soviet Union? The second question is in regard to the U.S. support of Israel. You said that the United States supports Israel because Israel is a client state. I agree with that, but you disagreed with some thinking, particularly from maybe the Arab world, and the Middle East region, that support of Israel is due to Jewish lobbying in the United States. You disagreed


with that and I am really interested in that, why you disagreed, because we see so many examples of that. The latest thing was Hillary Clinton, for example, in New York, rejecting money from some Arab groups and there are so many different examples.

Noam Chomsky: Right now there is no Soviet Union. That collapsed ten years ago. Now there is the Russian Federation, if you want to use the technical term. During the period when the Soviet Union existed, it was run by Russia, so you can call it Russia or you can call it the Soviet Union, it doesn’t matter very much. As far as the Jewish lobby is concerned, well I gave one reason. I was talking about the very common claim in the Arab world, and in fact in the writings of American Arabs, claiming and believing that the U.S. permits Israeli atrocities because of the influence of the Jewish lobby - which I think is just a flat out error. I think if you look more broadly, you see that there is nothing unusual about this, the same thing happens elsewhere. The U.S. has, in fact, happily tolerated the worst atrocities by Arabs, like Saddam Hussein, and without any Jewish lobby. This is a misunderstanding of the nature of terror and aggression. As far as other things are concerned, yeah, there is a Jewish lobby, there are domestic lobbies on all sorts of things, but I think it misunderstands American politics to think that domestic lobbies based on communities have all that much influence. They can have a swing influence, if there is an issue on which the main centers of power and the business world don’t care very much about, like should you recognize the Armenian holocaust or not. Then, yeah, domestic lobbies can make a difference, but when there is an issue on which the business world is united, they don’t make much difference. The case of Israel is kind of interesting, because here is a case where the real powers in the Country have, in fact, been split for the last 30 years. There has been a divide. So, there has been a sector of important power in the United States with regard to the Middle East, a very important sector, namely the energy corporations, which have more or less favored the international consensus, and they oppose state policy on other things too. So, they would like to have a reconciliation with Iran and Iraq, and they are opposed to the fact that the government won’t allow it. On the other hand, there are other sectors of power, big


sectors of power, which have gone the other way. In this kind of a context, it’s possible that a swing factor can work, but I don’t think it’s the Jewish lobby. I mean the Jewish lobby is part of it, but after 1967, there was just a love affair with Israel on the part of a large sector of the elite American population. American intellectuals, for example, just fell in love with Israel. You can see this very easily, just by looking at the coverage, even in left journals, say Dissent, a social democratic journal. Up until 1967, they didn’t care about Israel one way or another, and in fact, the New York Times wasn’t all that pro-Israel, wasn’t in fact, was non-Zionist, Jewish owned, but non-Zionist. Commentary magazine, which is now kind of like a rabid, ultra-Zionist journal, back in the 1950’s was so critical of Israel, that the American Zionist Organization actually set up a competitor, called Midstream, to sort of represent the Israeli point of view. All of this stuff changed in 1967, and it changed because of Israel’s military victory, which won them a lot of points. For one thing, they were giving a great gift to American power. For another - the others, a little more subtle maybe, but you have to remember what was happening in the United States at that time. The United States was fighting a war in Vietnam and it was not succeeding in crushing the South Vietnamese, who were the main target of the attack. Despite what they now claim, educated Americans, the educated population, the elite population, pretty much across the spectrum, was pro-War, and very upset by the fact that the U.S. wasn’t winning. Many had what they called ‘pragmatic’ objections, like Kinsley, you know, it’s costing too much or something, but fundamentally they supported the war and that continued until 1968, when the business community turned against it, and then later intellectuals turned against it. But Israel was showing how you deal with Third World upstarts properly. Kick them in the face. And they won a lot of points for that. In fact, those of you who are old enough to remember, will recall the jokes about let’s send Moshe Dayan to Vietnam, and he will show us how to do it right. That, among other things, led to a quite substantial shift of opinion in the articulate sectors of American society, including the media, and starting from then, there was quite a different picture. And there were other sources. So, for example, one of the main sources of support for Israel in the United States is a very powerful group, namely Christian fundamentalists. They are a huge part of the population, you know, way beyond the Jewish population. This is one of the most fundamentalist countries in the world, more than Iran, like around 40 percent of the population call themselves born-again Christians, and


every political candidate has to pretend to be some kind of a born-again Christian, otherwise you can’t run. That is a very substantial group of people, and a big sector of that is what they call ‘Pro-Israel’. They may be anti-Semitic (they probably are), but they are very supportive of Israel, and the reasons are all kind of complicated things about the Book of Revelations, and I won’t go into that. But, that is a big support group, and there are others. So, yeah, there is a Jewish lobby undoubtedly, and it has an effect in things that don’t matter very much. But when it comes to a crunch, I think you see that it doesn’t have that much power. There have been occasions where there was really a conflict between Israel and the United States. There haven’t been a lot, but there have been a few such occasions, and it is interesting to see what happens to the lobby. One such occasion, a striking one, was in 1956, when Israel invaded Egypt along with France and England, and the U.S. was opposed to that, not because of any objection to invading Egypt, but because Israel had the wrong allies. You know, those were the guys we were trying to kick out of the Middle East - France and England, and they were trying to reinsert themselves. And Eisenhower didn’t like the timing. This was right before the 1956 election, the most sensitive moment in political life. Eisenhower just told Israel to get out – period. He said, you know, you get out, or else. And Israel got out, of course. The lobby disappeared. No protest from the lobby. Another event like that, a minor event, happened just a couple of years ago, must have been 1991, when there was a confrontation between Shamir, who was then Prime Minister, and George Bush, over the style of settlement. It had nothing to do with substance. It was the style of settlement in the occupied territories. There is a Westernized section in Israel, mainly the Labor Party. The Labor Party is educated professionals, Western-oriented, secular, you know, that sort of thing. They understand how you deal with the West. They understand the norms of Western hypocrisy. There is another sector, which is poor, religious, you know, the Arab Jewish populations, Sephardic Jews, and so on, who don’t understand much about the West. Shamir and Likud generally come from them, which is why the U.S. typically prefers the Labor Party. They do about the same thing, but the style is different, and that showed at that time. Right at that moment, every time Secretary of State James Baker would show up in Israel, the settlers would pick that moment to go up to a hill somewhere and put up a sign saying “new settlement”, saying, you know, some vulgar


expression about Baker, and we don’t care what you say. And the U.S. didn’t like that. That is not the way you are supposed to behave. The way you are supposed to behave is the way Shimon Peres would do it. So, you wait until a week after Baker goes home, and then you don’t go up and put up a new settlement, you thicken an old settlement, doing exactly the same thing, and you don’t offend the boss, and everybody is happy. The boss continues to pay. That is fundamentally the difference in the Labor Party and Likud. Bush and Baker were annoyed enough at this so that Bush threatened to withhold the loan guarantees, which were being used illegally by Israel to build settlements. Israel was very much upset about that, it’s a lot of money at stake. The lobby at first protested, but Bush made one speech on television, in which he didn’t say very much, he just gave a couple of hints that this wasn’t going to work, and the lobby just vanished, and Israel backed off. This just happened a couple of months ago. The Israeli government was deeply committed – a big project of theirs was selling advanced military technology to China. They have mostly a military industry. It’s kind of a military based economy, kind of like the United States in many ways, sort of an offshoot. A large part of the economy is military based, and for their purposes, these advanced technology sales to China were extremely important and the U.S. was opposed to it. Barak insisted publicly in Israel that he was going to do it. He didn’t care what the United States thought, but the Clinton Administration just told them, sorry, that is not going to work, and of course, they had to back off on a matter very critical to them - and the lobby was not in evidence. And I think you find that in case after case. If the lobby sees that it is running up against real power, it’s going to disappear, for one thing because they are cowards, and for another, it’s because they don’t have much power.

New Questioner, #3: I would like to ask you to elaborate a little bit more on the issue of Jerusalem. You already mentioned that it has been used to divert the attention from what’s going on in the settlements and with the infrastructure in the territories, but it seems that in someway the peace process always falls back on Jerusalem. In the Oslo agreement, it was treated separately from the rest. The present Intifada started from something happening in Jerusalem, or it was used as a focus, because as you were saying the holy sites are there


and major interventions are happening on the physical form of the city and this is upsetting the situation. So, what do you think the role of Jerusalem is in the peace process?

Noam Chomsky: First of all, we have to be careful about what we mean about Jerusalem. If you mean Jerusalem in the pre-1967 sense, okay, that is a small area. I mean, the first thing Israel did after the 1967 war was to expand, approximately triple, the size of Jerusalem very quickly, both into the West Bank and also into Israel proper. Israel semi-annexed Jerusalem. Technically speaking, it was careful not to annex it, because it knew that would lead to international protest, but it’s called annexation and in practice it is kind of like that. So, they tripled the area, and they more or less annexed it, but not formally. They didn’t do it in a very polite fashion either. So, it’s recently been revealed in Israel, only in the last couple of months, that when they came in, they smashed up a Palestinian housing area right in front of what’s called the Wailing Wall, you know, the Western wall at the Temple. They barely warned the residents, and it turns out that the bulldozers apparently killed, you know, bulldozed, people right into the houses as they smashed it down. They basically took over a large part of the City. That has expanded Jerusalem. Then it goes on. There is also something called Greater Jerusalem, which is a big ring around it, which is intended to incorporate the City that I mentioned, Ma’ale Adumim. Its borders go through about 8 kilometers from Jericho. Most of the settlements only use a tiny fraction of the territory that is assigned to them. So, Ma’ale Adumim, for example, which is the most important because it splits the West Bank in two east of Jerusalem, uses about 1/16th of the land assigned to it, either in housing or agriculture. That means they are intended to expand. Well, you know, when Rabin, for example, talked about Greater Jerusalem, that is what he is talking about. To distinguish the issue of Jerusalem from that of the territories is not really very easy, because what’s called Greater Jerusalem is a big piece of the territories, in fact, it effectively splits the West Bank in two - one of the settlements, there’s another one farther north and there are a couple of others. If you talk about Jerusalem proper, like the religious sites, you know, in the old city and that sort of thing, that is not a hard problem. One very fine Israeli sociologist, Baruch Kimmerling, very smart guy, Hebrew University, he had an article a couple of weeks ago in


which he said, look, the issue of Jerusalem is a diversion. We could solve this one in five minutes, he said. I guess it’s a bit of an exaggeration, not quite five minutes, but, it’s easy to figure out technical answers to the problems of Jerusalem if anybody wants to bother. The holy sites, for example, can be under some kind of international supervision, and what’s left of the Palestinian residential areas can be Palestinian administered, which if Israel was sensible they would prefer anyway, and, you know, a couple of other things like that. It’s really a kind of small technical problem. What cannot be finessed, however, is the takeover of the territories. That you can’t finesse. Either they get out or it’s Bantustans. Those are the choices. Although you’re right, that this Intifada happened to start in Jerusalem, that is pretty misleading. I mean, it’s been mostly in Gaza and around Ramallah and places like that, which is typical. The same was true in the last Intifada.

New Questioner, #4: (Inaudible) - It’s a question of Capitalism in its last stage of Imperialism.

Noam Chomsky: Does everybody know this story already or do we have to sit here and listen to it?

Same Questioner, #4: Well the story is - we think U.S. imperialism has to be overthrown through workers’ revolution, as opposed to you, who offers a criticism to the U.S. –

Noam Chomsky: For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, this is a routine that goes on at every meeting. Let me just ask you, how many people want to listen to this – will the people who want to listen to this raise their hands. Okay, will the people who want to go on with the discussion raise their hands.

Same Questioner, #4: Why are you against democratic discussion?


Noam Chomsky: I just gave you a democratic vote.

Same Questioner, #4: You can manufacture your own consent. (laughter - Chomsky and Herman are authors of book “Manufacturing Consent, The Political Economy of the Mass Media”)

Noam Chomsky: Yeah, yeah, right. This is a standard routine of harassment, an effort to break up meetings. It goes on all the time. Okay, look you set up your own - you set up a meeting. You are free to set it up and everybody can come. Let’s go on.

Same Questioner, # 4: (audio tape inaudible)

Noam Chomsky: We had a popular vote. We’ve heard it already. Let’s go on.

New Questioner, #5: I just felt that there were a few facts that you didn’t mention and I wonder why. For instance, if I go back to the ’67 war, it’s a fact that Israel was attacked. It was a self defense war and it wasn’t mentioned. If we are talking about the Lebanon war, I mean, the life of the Israelis who lived in the Galilee were hell for years, attacks and children in shelters, children murdered at schools, you didn’t mention it. And recent things, like the killing in Gaza, which I am against violence and I don’t justify any kind of violence, but the Gaza event in Netzarim, you didn’t mention and it happened one month ago, the school bus of Israeli children who went to school that was bombed by Palestinians, and this creates the reaction. You didn’t also mention what happened after the parade. I think it is a mistake to bring so many policemen to where people go out from the Mosque, but what really started it, and I read it in the newspaper because I live here right now, it was when the Arabs finished praying, they just threw stones at the Jews who were praying downstairs on the Western Wall. I mean,


you didn’t even mention it. You know, I don’t think that violence is justified but I think that also the Jews in Israel have the right not to be murdered and not to live in shelters and not to live - I remember myself in shelters for so many years. I mean, all of these events not mentioned by you, even a hint, and this is what bothers me.

Noam Chomsky: Okay, well you are absolutely right, I didn’t mention the atrocities committed against Jews and I didn’t mention the vastly worse atrocities committed against Arabs. For example, in discussing this kind of Intifada, I said absolutely nothing about the atrocities. So, you’re right. I didn’t mention the few cases in which atrocities were committed against Jews, or the many cases in which atrocities were committed against Arabs. And the same in the past. I barely mentioned them, because I was talking about other things. However, we could, but then we will balance it. I mean, for example, it is simply not a fact that the Palestinians coming out of the Mosques started throwing stones down below, and if you read Ha'aretz, you’ll see that it’s not a fact. That happened after the border guards were shooting.

Same Questioner, #5: Was the killing of the children who went to school, is that a true fact or not?

Noam Chomsky: Yes, it was. That is a true fact as was -

Same Questioner, #5: Why did you choose among these true facts, just to mention the fact that people were killed by the American helicopters– and you didn’t mention the children who were murdered on their way to school -

Noam Chomsky: For a simple reason, because the overwhelming mass of the atrocities are by Israel and the United States. I am talking about the United States and our supply of military helicopters. If we were providing guns to the Palestinians to kill Israelis and the Palestinians


were carrying out 90 percent of the atrocities, I’d talk about that. But I’m talking about our providing military helicopters to the Israelis to carry out 90 percent of the atrocities. That is why I mentioned it, but barely. (Same Questioner, #5, but inaudible) May I continue? Let’s go back to 1967 and 1982. In 1967, Israel was not attacked and nobody even pretends that. I mean, back at the time, Abba Eban, it was his job at the UN to claim that Israel was attacked. He knew it was a lie, and what he was saying were total lies. And you can’t even get this in Israeli –

Same Questioner, #5: And about the attack in ’73, ’72?

Noam Chomsky: You want to go back to that? Let’s take a look at ’67. I’ll come then next to ’73. In 1967, Israel launched the war. Now you could say it was a legitimate pre-emptive strike if you like, but there is just no question that Israel attacked. Okay? That is not even a matter of debate. As for 1973, no, Israel was not attacked. What was attacked was Israeli occupied territory. Egypt attacked Egyptian territory that was held by Israel under the conditions that I described, after Israel refused a peace treaty. The fact of the matter is, there is not one case in which Israel was attacked. In 1982 - you’ve got your dates mixed up. There was a time when people were hiding in the Galilee but not in 1981. 1981 was an extremely peaceful year, there were no attacks from the North to the South, zero.

Same Questioner, #5: I lived in the – in the 80’s children lived in shelters every weekend-

Noam Chomsky: In the 80’s, that is after, right? May I continue?

Same Questioner, #5: Also the - university - and all the media, the CNN, are in the territories, and you get all the information through the media, and you say there was no university, no media, no attacks


on Israelis. I mean, we were in the shelters and you stand here and said that there were no shelters.

Noam Chomsky: No, I didn’t say that. I said in 1981, up until the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, there were no attacks from the North. There were plenty of attacks from the South. Israel was regularly bombing Lebanon, trying to elicit some kind of PLO response, which would be a justification for the planned invasion. And they were bombing fishing boats, they were attacking villages, they were killing all sorts of people and there was nothing in response. Israel attacked in 1982 (and they were pretty frank about it) because they were afraid of PLO moderation. They were afraid that the PLO was abandoning terrorism and was moving toward a political settlement, and that is what Israel does not want. They made it pretty clear. Like, if you were there at the time, and you were reading the papers, you would have read it. For example, a couple of weeks after the,- right after the invasion - you heard of Yehoshua Porath – who is, as I’m sure you know, the leading Israeli academic expert on the Palestinians, a pretty conservative guy incidentally, wrote an article in Ha'aretz, in which he pointed out that we had to invade Lebanon because what was happening was what he called a veritable catastrophe. The PLO was refusing to carry out terrorist acts. They were becoming a kind of a moderate force. For Israel this is impossible, we want them to go back to terrorism, and Israel tried to elicit terrorism. Now take a look at what happened after that. I mean, if you want, I’ll direct you to Israeli sources, but right after that period, Israel was regularly provoking attacks inside Lebanon, and when they would bomb somewhere in Lebanon, there would be a response in which Kiryat Shemona would get a Katyusha attack. That was happening consistently, and in fact, it mostly happened after 1982.

Same Questioner, #5: Why would they attack now when Israeli already withdrew? It’s not true. In the 1980’s, we were in the shelters.

Noam Chomsky: May I continue?


Same Questioner, #5: You read only the articles that serve your point.

Noam Chomsky: No, I don’t. So we agree, I presume, that everything you have said so far is false. Now, lets look to the present. Let’s take a look at the present case. Finally Israel withdrew after 22 years of illegal occupation in which it killed about 45,000 people, kind of trivial, right?

Same Questioner, #5 Nobody of course from the Israeli –

Noam Chomsky: A few dozen were killed in Israel. Count it up. And almost every case was retaliation for an Israeli attack in Lebanon. There was a standard cycle, what happened over and over. It’s very well documented. The Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, the occupying forces in southern Lebanon or their mercenary army, the SLA, would be attacked by the resistance, Hizbollah, and then Israel would retaliate by bombing Beirut or some refugee camp and so on, and then Hizbollah would send rockets to northern Israel. That was the regular cycle, almost invariant. And, in fact, that cycle began in an interesting way. It began in 1992. From 1981 right through 1992, there was almost nothing except Israeli attacks in Lebanon of which there were numerous ones, like Shimon Peres’ 1985 iron fist operations right in the middle of Lebanon were murderous and it was well reported in the Israeli press. There was almost no retaliation. In 1992, something changed, and it was described very accurately, for example, by Moshe Arens, nice, right-wing Minister of Defense, you know, you don’t have to worry about his politics. He explained that in 1992, the rules of the game changed. How did they change? Well, Israel had carried out an assassination of a Shi'ite cleric, and they killed him and his wife and child and then bombed an ambulance that was trying to come and pick them up. And you say, well okay, that changed the rules of the game. From now on, after this period in fact, what happened is what I just described, the cycle that after Hizbollah attacks


on Israeli forces or their mercenary army, Israel would respond farther north, killing people, and then after 1992, Hizbollah would also attack northern Israel. Now if you go back to the early 70’s, what you are describing is at least partially true. But after that, it’s simply not true.

Same Questioner, #5: The Lebanon War -

(inaudible voices of others)

Noam Chomsky: It’s a very important question. If you like, I would be glad to give you the highest level Israel sources which discuss and describe the Lebanon War. What you are hearing is probably propaganda that you learned in Elementary School. Nobody believes this in the Israeli academic system. And the Lebanon war was a straight attack. Nothing had been happening except attacks from Israel to Lebanon for over a year.

Nitin Sawhney (MIT): Do you want to take two more questions please, as we’ll have to leave the hall in about ten minutes. Please keep it concise.

New Questioner #6: You had mentioned many events that didn’t make it into the U.S. mainstream press. I was wondering if you could suggest some sources where someone in the U.S. could find out about those kind of things.

Noam Chomsky: Well, you know, everything I’ve just – almost, but not everything – but most of what I’ve just said you can pick up off the Web, if you want. I know a lot of this I’ve written about in the last couple – the current stuff I’ve written about in the last few months. The earlier stuff is


in a long series of books. Just myself, I’ve been writing about it since 1970, as the situation developed, just writing about it, and so have others.

Same Questioner, #6: I’m just curious, you know, where can I look now to be better informed?

Noam Chomsky: Well, you get a lot of material – a lot of the Hebrew press is now available in English, so you can pick up a lot from – if you read good Israeli journalists, like Amira Hass and – Gidon Levi is unfortunately not well so he’s not writing, but Danny Rubinstein and a couple of others, and you can pick them up off the Web, from the Ha'aretz English edition. You get a lot of material. There are a lot of Palestinian sources. There are international sources. Read Robert Fisk, a British journalist, now with London Independent, and others, and you get quite good information. And, you know, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch have had things. And there are many other people who write about this. I’m not the only one. But you’re going to have to work. For example, I could have given a thousand cases, but on the few cases that I mentioned, you know, the suppression of the diplomatic record, the current business with the helicopters, you can find it, but you’re going to have to search. The Boston Globe isn’t going to report it. In fact, they have made it very clear that they are not going to report it.

Same Questioner, #6: Some foreign sources? Foreign press that reports these kind of things?

Noam Chomsky: Yeah, for example, the helicopters were discussed in the British press, but by a few journalists, and in the continental press. I mean, I don’t want to suggest it’s all that different, but it’s somewhat more open. On the other hand, you’re going to have to work. If you’re on the Internet and you look up ZNet, you’re going to find almost all of this stuff. ( or, and particularly ZNet’s Mideast


Watch at Same Questioner, #6: Thank you.

New Questioner, #7: Having recently returned from both Gaza and the West Bank, and seeing these helicopters in action, and seeing Israeli sharp shooters in action killing kids, and by the way, this is reported in Ha'aretz, a main Israeli paper, but it’s not reported here, I returned with this incredible sense of frustration of how to get the word out. I mean, there is such a pall of silence here that we have to somehow be able to break, and I talked there with people. You know, how can the international communities somehow be mobilized to try to help break this silence, and we’ve discussed having an international presence, you know, which might command some kind of media attention, if it can be large enough - one of the problems being, people there cannot demonstrate any other way now except by taking rocks and having guns, because they will be shot down and killed if they are simply there demonstrating the way we do here, forms of civil protest. But they thought, if we could get a large international presence to come and stand with them, maybe outside of settlements and so on, we could be some form of protection. I would like your comment on that, and also one other thing I heard in Israel among the peace camp, which is being, in my view, you know, the silence that rains from that peace camp is very, very depressing, but I did have people say, well now that George Bush is going to be president, this was a couple of weeks ago, but they knew, things will be all right, because he will put this matter on the back burner and America won’t be so hands-on in its involvement. And if you could comment on that too, I’d be grateful.

Noam Chomsky: Well, direct involvement is a great thing, but, you know, it’s extremely hard. But there is direct involvement in Hebron, for example. There is a small Christian peacekeeper group in Hebron, which, since they are Christian Americans, the Israeli sources aren’t going to kill them, you know, so they kind of leave them alone, and they publish regular reports. In fact, one of the ways whoever it was, was asking me for information, their reports keep coming back from Hebron. But again, you’ve got to get them on the Internet, but they have had


some effect. The presence of some Americans tends to cut down the level of violence for the same reason I mentioned at the beginning – neither the United States nor Israel wants the terror to be too visible. Now the same was true in Central America, incidentally. That was a real breakthrough in the history of Imperialism and we should be aware of it. In Central America in the 1980’s, when the U.S. was carrying out a murderous war, primarily against the Catholic church in fact, but of course peasants were the ones who were mostly killed, for the first time ever in history as far as I know, North Americans went down there to live in villages in the hope that, you know, a White face would cut down the level of terror because they wouldn’t want to murder people as visibly if there are North Americans around. Actually, a lot of them came from Christian fundamentalist groups. This is not coming from the left particularly. Witnesses for Peace is an example. That is an astonishing achievement. It’s one of the most important events that never before happened in the history of Imperialism – Britain, France, U.S. in Vietnam, anything you can think of. And that was important, and it had an effect, but you have to think what the commitment is. I mean, you have to be willing to leave like a Third World person. It’s not so simple, you know. I mean, you can do it. They live like that, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy for us to live like that. We are used to a different level of privilege. And you are facing constant danger, and you’re giving up the rest of your life. Yeah, it can be done, and it’s extremely important, but it’s going to be small scale. There is something much more important to do, which we can do right here, and that is, break the silence here. You know, this has been done on issue after issue. I’m talking about the Middle East. It was exactly the same on Vietnam. It’s the same on El Salvador. It’s the same on Columbia right now. It’s the same on Turkey. You can run through a list of cases, A to Z, it’s always the same. And it takes a lot of effort, and organization, and educational works, and dedication to try to break through this. And over the years, you can do it. It is not easy. Just to mention one case which finally hit the headlines, East Timor - I mean, I myself was working on that for 25 years, you know. It’s very hard. Writing about it, you know, speaking all over the place, also a couple of other people were, so few that I could name them if you want. And this went on almost with no effect, you know, until finally there was, actually one very good guy, Charlie Scheiner, who managed to use the Internet to carry out


organization, which worked very effectively. Pretty soon there were organizations around, and it broke through, and so on. It was just really hard work no matter what the issue. And it doesn’t happen just like that. You know, you’ve got to devote yourself to it, a lot of time and energy. There are no magic keys. You’ve just got to keep at it. And it has to be done here. If it’s not done here, it doesn’t matter what the international opinion is. I mean, you know, Europe is marginal on this issue, on most issues. The rest of the world can talk if they want, but the U.S. isn’t paying much attention, and won’t, unless they are disrupted. But right here, there is a lot that you can do. Here’s the source of power. Here’s where we are. You’re privileged. That gives us an enormous range of things that we can do, but it doesn’t come cheap. You have to devote yourself to it. As far as the ‘peace’ camp in Israel is concerned, well, I don’t have to tell you that this term is used rather loosely. A lot of the people in the peace camp are kind of like American liberals. They want the Israeli occupation to work quietly, without killing too many people. That is called the peace camp. I mean, I can read a journal, like say Israel Horizons, which is the publication of the Meretz Party in the United States. Meretz is the kind of end of the extreme dovish party. I just happened to look at their last issue a couple of days ago. I mean, it’s the peace camp, in the sense that the New York Times was the peace camp in Vietnam in 1969. You know, it’s getting out of hand, it’s too bloody, they deny everything that is happening, and so on. We are very familiar with this. There are people who are authentically committed to justice - that would easily fit in this auditorium. It’s not all that different here or in other countries.

New Questioner, #8: Regarding breaking the silence, what do you recommend on specific issues? What can be done to break the silence? From your lecture you were talking about the important role of the army - of U.S. taxpayer money that is going toward the military. Is there anything that can be done about it or is it a waste of time?

Noam Chomsky: No, it’s not a waste of time.


Same Questioner, #8: The other thing is the media. You talked about talking, and your talks have been very important to spread the news, but maybe there is some other strategy to tackle the media, to get it to spread the word? And thirdly, what do you think about grassroots activism and how it is going to be mobilized into something effective, because grassroots mobilization has been there for many years. The core issue is how do you get the voice heard?

Noam Chomsky: Well, actually, the grassroots activism on this issue has not been here. I’ve also, Nancy has too, and others, have been trying for 35 years to try to get some grassroots activism on this issue and it has been very slim. As compared with other issues, virtually invisible, and as I mentioned in passing, the PLO has a lot to answer for in this respect, but the main problem is here. So grassroots activism is crucial, but is has to be started. And

there is very little of it. As for the media, they know exactly what they’re doing, you know? They understand what they’re doing when they don’t report that the U.S. is providing more advanced military attack helicopters to Israel right at the moment when they are being used to attack civilians. They understand that. I could tell you personal examples of meetings with editors, if you like. But they understand that. We don’t have to tell them. The way that they will begin to report it, is if they are under pressure, but now we’re back to grassroots activism and alternative media and things like that. Yeah, then they’ll start to report things. Also, there are people inside the media who would like to tell the truth about it and can’t because they need the backing of popular activism. It’s kind of a reciprocal relationship on a lot of these issues. You know, if something gets reported, it helps organize. If there is organization, it helps people report what they know. The journalists can’t expect to go too far and stay on, because a little bit out of the required doctrinal limits, they will be out, just like in academics, for that matter in most fields. It’s not all that different, but that has to be the source of the work. There has never been another way to do it on any issue. On the military aid, I think that is a point where you can really have an effect. I mean, most of the population overwhelming is opposed to giving military aid to Israel, but they have to know about it. Unless people know the kind of thing I was telling you, unless there is more than one opinion piece in the Raleigh, North Carolina paper in the whole country - which is


an astonishing degree of discipline, if you think about it. I mean that degree of discipline, to be able to suppress crucial news like that everywhere in the country, that is a real tribute to the intellectual community. I mean, you know, Stalin would have been impressed by that. But unless that kind of thing can be broken, there isn’t any hope. But on that issue, we have an open door. If people know that their taxes are going to send advanced attack helicopters to attack civilians, they are going to raise a riot - but they have to know. And, in fact, the provision of military aid, I think it’s a point that really ought to be at the focus of protests. This isn’t a matter of doing anything hard, it’s just a matter of withdrawing participation. It’s withdrawing participation in atrocities, and that would have a tremendous effect. And it’s very hard to resist, I think, if the news ever got out, which is why it’s so suppressed. The same on the whole diplomatic record. It’s suppressed because if it ever gets out, people are going to be enraged, but it has to get out, and now we are back to grassroots activism. There is no other way that anybody has figured out. Actually, the availability of the Internet gives a lot of options that weren’t around before, and can be used pretty constructively, and is. There is an awful lot of information about these things going on around a few web sites, including a lot of stuff from the Israeli press and from Palestinian sources, and from international sources, like for example, Bob Fisk, the guy I mentioned, and that material is very instructive.

Nitin Sawhney (MIT): I’m afraid we actually have to close.

Noam Chomsky: Well, why don’t we just finish these two -

Nitin Sawhney (MIT): If you could be very, very quick, without making a comment, I think we can accommodate it. Thank You.

New Questioner, #9:


You talked quite extensively about the U.S.’ interests in the conflicts, but you didn’t really mention why Israel is still refusing the peace process and refusing to give back the occupied territories. The two reasons that are usually given for this, is first, a strategic military reason, that if you consider the gap between Israel military forces and its neighbors -

Noam Chomsky: They know that there is no security –

Same Questioner, #9: – and the other is usually the question of water, but the United Nations just issued two weeks ago a report stating that giving excess water to everybody in the world would cost about the same as the ice cream budget of the European Union for one year.

Noam Chomsky: That is true, but meaningless. I mean, you could say the same about, you know, the cost of curing AIDS all over the world would be, you know, you wouldn’t even notice it. Great powers don’t behave like that. First of all, it’s not true that the U.S. is refusing the peace process. Israel has accepted the peace process as defined by the United States. You cannot accuse Israel of violating the Oslo accords. They have not. They have lived up to the Oslo accords, which were designed in order to allow them to do exactly what they are doing. And that is a U.S. policy. Now, why doesn’t Israel want – just ask, how do they settle people in the territory. Are you Israeli? (Same Questioner, #9: No.) Well, if you want to know how they settle people in the territories, you should read the Israeli press. I mean these people are subsidized. You know, they live much better than people in the main settlement areas. I mean, they have ‘come-on’ ads. A lot of the West Bank is essentially suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It’s like people who live in the Western suburbs. Suppose you told people here, look, why don’t you give up the Western suburbs, you know, like Lincoln, Lexington, Concord, give it back to the Indians. It wouldn’t cost you much. There are plenty of places to live in Downtown Boston. Would anybody take it seriously? It doesn’t have anything to do with strategic interests or anything else. You know, you got something that you won by force and you’re going to keep it, unless you are forced not to


keep it. There is nothing special about Israel. You can say the same thing right here. I mean, how much money would it take to turn, you know, say Roxbury into a livable place. I mean it’s so little that we wouldn’t even notice it in our tax bills. Is anybody going to do it? No, that means giving up something. If you’re a rich, privileged person and you’ve gotten something, ultimately by force, you just don’t give it up unless you’re forced to. That is the story. We’re very familiar with it. We don’t have to speculate about Israel. Wherever you come from, I’m sure it’s true in your hometown.

Same Questioner, #9: But wouldn’t the fruits of peace be more important than just these territories for Israel internal?

Noam Chomsky: Important in what respect?

Same Questioner, #9: Just in terms of wells, or anything.

Noam Chomsky: Well, you know, you could say the same – well, what is the advantage to Americans, you and me, people here, of spending, you know, about half of the disposable part of the budget on the military? Wouldn’t we be better off if we didn’t do that, and we put it into medical care? Well, who would be better off? People who get medical care would be better off, but the computer industry wouldn’t be better off. These things are done for reasons. Policies are not undertaken because they benefit the population. That is why you don’t have elections in which people participate. Oh, we just went through kind of what is called an election. But if you look closely, there were no issues. In fact, the most important fact about this election, which ought to strike any MIT student instantly, is that it came out a statistical tie. If you pick any set of issues, pick them at random, you know, any set of issues you can imagine and think of the probability that millions of people will end up in a statistical tie on that set of issues - it’s


miniscule. The only way a thing like that can happen is if people are voting for, let’s say, who should be the next president of Mars, or something like that. Then it will come out 50-50. But if there is anything at stake, it can’t possibly come out 50-50. And it was, in fact, a tie, you know, which tells you right off there is only one plausible model for it, people were voting for something that they regarded as irrelevant. You know, this guy has a nice smile, or this guy looks too arrogant, or something like that. And that is the overwhelming fact. There wasn’t an election - period. Six weeks have been spent in massive commentary, by everyone from law professors to journalists, trying to persuade us that there was an election, and that it mattered what technical device you picked to resolve the statistical tie. The answer is, it doesn’t matter. You know, the easiest thing would be to flip a coin if it’s a statistical tie and it was meaningless in the first place, but then it would be obvious that there was no election. Well, this is part of the way of marginalizing the public. The policy is not made for the benefit of the public. So, your questions are correct, but they go deep into the nature of what’s called functioning democracy and what is true here is also true there in Israel.

Nitin Sawhney (MIT): We actually do have to close, but just to be fair, we will take your last question.

New Questioner, #10: I was wondering if you could briefly talk about the true relationship of the Christian Lebanese and the SLA and the influence there.

Noam Chomsky: Well, that is a long, complicated story. I think probably not. The SLA is a mercenary force. It was partly Christian, partly Shi’ite. It was a mercenary force created by Israel to occupy the Southern region. They drove out a huge number of people and these were the people who somehow survived by collaborating. But since Israel withdrew, they just disappeared. It’s like other mercenary armies that have been established to try to control the population. They’re okay as long as the ruling power is there. I mean, just ask yourself what happened to the Black mercenaries in the Bantustans after Apartheid broke down. You don’t


hear anything about them anymore. I mean, if people were kind, they didn’t get murdered, and got absorbed back into the society.

Same questioner, #10 Out of curiosity, did the Christians invite the Israeli invasion of 1982?

Noam Chomsky: No, the Maronites. First of all, there are many different Christians. The Maronites, which is a separate group, were in favor of the Israeli invasion, and there is a long MaroniteIsrael connection that goes back to the 1940’s. You know, Ben-Gurion had this idea of a Maronite state that would be an ally of Israel and it’s all kind of crazy stuff. And the Maronites hoped, and Israel intended in fact, to impose a Maronite regime, a right-wing Maronite regime on Lebanon. That was one of the goals of the invasion. That fell apart pretty fast. But the internal politics of Lebanon are a horrendous mess. It’s cut all sorts of ways. The original Syrian intervention in Lebanon back in 1976 was with the backing of the United States and Israel, because they were going to attack the Palestinians, which they did. If you really look into it, it’s an awfully complicated and unpleasant story.

Noam Chomsky: Okay, can we do one more?

New Questioner, #11 In your lecture, Professor Chomsky, you don’t relate directly to Zionism and to the fact that they actually established a system of apartheid. But for the last 50 years, I mean, from the establishment of the state of Israel, but for the last 100 years - a situation in which rights are given by a region by blood, by ethnic consideration, but not -

Noam Chomsky: You’re right, but if you could get to the question –

Same Questioner, #11


All the Americans know that civil rights are not assured to all of their citizens, but according to region by blood, and what is your relations to the idea of a non-secular democratic state in Palestine, maybe the only reasonable solution?

Noam Chomsky: Well, if anybody were in favor of a secular democratic state, I think it would be a good idea, but nobody is in favor of it. The PLO talked about it for years, but they didn’t believe a word they were saying. When you look at the PLO documents of the 1970’s about a democratic secular state, what they meant was (and if you look at the footnotes they spelled it out) an Arab state, in fact an Arab religious state, in which Jews would be granted a temporary right as a religious minority. That is not a democratic secular state. This was just lies. A democratic secular state is a nice idea, but there are very few in the world. Israel was founded pretty much on the European model, which is different from the U.S. model. The European model is one of essentially nation states. You know, so the state is owned by a nation, and other people are kind of marginal to the nation. It’s not a pretty system. I mean, it took Europe 500 years of mutual massacre and murder to establish that horrible system. They are now slightly beginning to extricate themselves from it. The European Imperialism tried to impose it on the rest of the world, with horrifying results, and a lot of the awful conflicts going on around the world are the effect of, you know, the effort to try to deal with the legacy of the European nation state system that was imposed on parts of the world where it makes no sense. In fact, the Middle East is a good example. I mean, the Ottoman Empire wasn’t the most beautiful thing in the world, but it was attuned to the realities of the Middle East in a way that nothing since has been. I mean, under the Ottoman Empire there were corrupt rulers in Turkey, who fortunately were so corrupt that they didn’t know what was going on most of the time, which is a good thing. But, they kind of left groups alone, so there was a lot of local autonomy for religious groups, ethnic groups, and so on, and that actually fits the character of the region. In a way, it was very free. You could travel anywhere. Throughout the Ottoman Empire, you didn’t have to cross a customs booth, you know, you could go anywhere you like. I mean, I’m not suggesting it was a pretty system. It wasn’t. It was ugly. But it had a certain realism about it, and ultimately, I think that is the


kind of realism that should exist in Europe, and the Middle East, and other places, but to try to construct it is extremely hard.

Nitin Sawhney (MIT): Thank you Professor Chomsky, and thank you all for coming today and staying so long. If you would like to get more information on what action is going on in the grassroots here, in the back there are some tables with some flyers, and thanks again for coming.
Updated: Feb 18, 2001