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Chomsky, Shahak, and Story All Wrong on Israel

It is unfortunate that the reporter lacked the necessary background to properly understand and report the latest episode in the Chomsky-Shahak road show ["Chomsky, Shahak Discuss Jewish Fundamentalism," Nov. 8].

Let me cite two simple examples: Not even Shahak would claim, as the article does, that "Palestinians account for 70 percent of Israeli citizens"; the real number is around 17 percent.

Also, Jewish fundamentalists, those who believe in an unchanging and unchangeable faith, believe that a Jewish state cannot come into existence until it is established by the Messiah. They avoid any relationship with the Israeli government. Thus, the notion that Jewish fundamentalists run the country is an absurdity.

With a more appropriate background, the reporter might also have identified the following systematic errors in the approach taken that evening.

First, Israel Shahak engages routinely in anachronism, asserting that something can happen when it is not yet possible. Let me cite the example he used of the non-democratic nature of Jewish communal governance in 17th century Poland. Since there were no functioning democratic governments anywhere at that time, the theoretical bases for democracy were just being put into place; it is hardly surprising that a minority community didn't have one. Yet Shahak regards this failure as permanently damning, a curious notion for someone so thoroughly secular.

Second, both Chomsky and Shahak extrapolate from the localized to the general without bothering to determine whether these leaps make any sense. For Chomsky, the fact that the United States has subsidized some dictators is enough to prove that anyone who receives a subsidy from the United States must be a dictator.

Shahak makes the same leap when he asserts that Israel has become a theocracy because some Jewish religious laws have become laws of the state. These claims are of a type with an argument offered in a student paper years ago that sought to demonstrate that all people are gorillas because a picture of a gorilla was included in the freshman picture book.

Third, Shahak's fixation on a bill passed by the Israeli Parliament that bans the import of non-kosher meat indicates that he doesn't understand how democracy, in whose name he claims to speak, actually works. This law was not imposed by the rabbinate on the rest of the state. It is the result of log-rolling, a time-honored practice in any legislative body. Shahak sees it as a violation of democratic values, but it was produced by the normal workings of democracy.

For him, as for Chomsky, "democracy" is when his desired outcome prevails. In the name of democracy, they reserve the right to denounce people for having values different from theirs. This is a very strange notion indeed.

There are also some matters of fact. For example, most American aid to Israel was designed to help defray the costs of redeploying the Israeli military out of the Sinai, an outcome we desired for our own reasons.

The amount pales in comparison to what we spend on NATO, which serves American interests in Western Europe in a similar fashion. As proven in the Gulf War, U.S. military plans for the region are not based, as Chomsky would have it, on having Israel act as the "local cops on the beat."

Shahak's claim that Israel treats Palestinians the way Christians treated Jews in Europe is simply not true. Whether he knows this or not is another matter.

Palestinians have fared better under Israeli occupation than they did when they were ruled by Jordan (life expectancy is way up). They have been treated better than Islamic society treats dhimmis, the status Islam assigns to Jews and Christians under Islamic rule, and it is generally agreed that dhimmis usually fared better than Jews in Christian Europe.

Lastly there is Shahak's claim about Jews as Nazis. Use of the term "Nazi" by Shahak and others has devalued this term so much that it has ceased to mean what it meant 50 years ago. People on the left these days are too quick to label their opponents "Nazis;" in reality many Nazi values have been adopted, essentially unchanged, by groups on the left (the assignment of the Nazis to the right is itself attributable to people on the left, but that is a different issue).

Shahak uses it as a generic pejorative in full recognition of the emotional overtones it will evoke. As a survivor of the Nazi period, he should have a much better understanding of what Nazis really are than he has exhibited.

Yale M. Zussman '74