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Chomsky’s Immoral Divestiture Petition

Guest Column
Alan M. Dershowitz

Who is Noam Chomsky and why is he seeking to compel universities to divest from corporations that have ties to Israel? I have known Noam Chomsky for more than thirty years. I have debated him on numerous occasions, and I have written extensively about his zealous anti-Zionism and his flirtations with neo-Nazi revisionism and Holocaust denial. I was not surprised therefore to learn that he is the inspiration behind the foolish and immoral campaign for divestiture.

I first debated Chomsky in 1973, several weeks after the Yom Kippur War. Chomsky’s proposal at that time was consistent with the PLO party line. He wanted to abolish the state of Israel, and to substitute a “secular, binational state,” based on the model of binational “brotherhood” that then prevailed in Lebanon. Chomsky repeatedly pointed to Lebanon, where Christians and Muslims “lived side by side,” sharing power in peace and harmony. This was just a few years before Lebanon imploded in fratricidal disaster.

This is what I said about Chomsky’s hare-brained scheme in our 1973 debate: “Putting aside the motivations behind such a proposal when it is made by the Palestinian organizations, why do not considerations of self-determination and community control favor two separate states: one Jewish and one Arab? Isn’t it better for people of common background to control their own life, culture, and destiny (if they so choose), than to bring together in an artificial way people who have shown no ability to live united in peace. I confess to not understanding the logic of the proposal, even assuming its good will.”

My counterproposal was that “Israel should declare, in principle, its willingness to give up the captured territories in return for a firm assurance of lasting peace. By doing so, it would make clear what I think the vast majority of Israelis believe: it has no interest in retaining the territories for any reason other than protection from attack.”

Chomsky rejected my proposal out of hand. He characterized it as a mere return to the “colonialist status quo.” Only the dismantling of the colonialist Jewish state would satisfy the PLO, and only the creation of a secular, binational Palestine in “all of Palestine” would satisfy Chomsky.

My next encounter with Chomsky revolved around his writing an introduction to a book by an anti-Semite named Robert Faurisson who denied that the Holocaust took place, that Hitler’s gas chambers existed, that the diary of Anne Frank was authentic, and that there were death camps in Nazi occupied Europe. He claimed that the “massive lie” about genocide was a deliberate concoction initiated by “American Zionists” “and that “the Jews” were responsible for World War II. Chomsky described these and other conclusions as “findings” and said that they were based on “extensive historical research.” He also wrote that “I see no anti-Semitic implication in the denial of the existence in gas chambers or even in the denial of the Holocaust.” He said he saw “no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson’s work,” including his claim that “the Jews” were responsible for World War II. He wrote an introduction to one of Faurisson’s book which was used to market his anti-Semitic lies.

In a subsequent debate at the Harvard Medical School, Chomsky initially denied having advocated a Lebanon-style binational state for Israel, only to have to back down upon being confronted with the evidence. He also tried to dispute the fact that he had authorized an essay he had written in defense of Robert Faurisson to be used as the forward to Faurisson’s book about Holocaust denial, but again had to back down. Chomsky took the position that he had no interest in “revisionist” literature before Faurisson had written the book. When confronted by Robert Nozick, a distinguished philosophy professor who recalled discussing revisionist literature with him well before the Faurisson book, Chomsky first berated Nozick for disclosing a private conversation and then he shoved him contemptuously in front of numerous witnesses.

This then is the man who is leading the campaign for divesture against Israel. He is joined in this ignoble effort by some who would take the money now invested in the Mideast’s only democracy and have it sent to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Cuba, the Palestinian Authority, and others who support and finance terrorism. He is also joined by a motley assortment of knee-jerk anti-Zionists, rabid Anti-Americans, radical leftists (the Spartacist League), people with little knowledge of the history of the Arab-Israeli dispute, and even some of Chomsky’s former students who now teach in Israel.

There is no intellectually or morally defensible case for singling out Israel for divestiture, and I challenge Chomsky to debate me on the morality of this selective attack against an American ally that is defending itself -- and the world -- against terrorism that targets civilians. Universities invest in a wide array of companies that have operations in countries that systematically violate the human rights of millions of people. Nor are these countries defending themselves against those who would destroy them and target their civilians. Yet this petition focused only on the Jewish State, to the exclusion of all others, including those which, by any reasonable standard, are among the worst violators of human rights. This is bigotry pure and simple, and those who signed the petition should be ashamed of themselves and shamed by others.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University.