I should make it clear that, as a libertarian, I don’t support sanctions against any country. I wouldn’t have supported sanctions against South Africa, didn’t support them on Iraq, and don’t support them on Israel. However, targeted boycotts against specific, responsible parties (journalists, academics, government officials, businessmen or military officials directly involved in genocidal crimes or in their cover-up) would be defensible under international law. General sanctions only impoverish people and undermine resistance.
So my problem here is less with Chomsky’s position on divestment – whatever it is – so much as his apparent double-standards on the issue – one standard for South Africans…… and another for Israel.One for Israel…and another for Palestine. One for the US…and another for Israel.
If the Jews deserved a homeland, and they did, the Palestinians surely deserved land that was already their home and had been their home for centuries…
Original Post [all varieties of emphasis – underlines, capitals, and italics – are mine, not Blankfort’s]:
The indefatigably brave and honest Jeff Blankfort analyzes Noam Chomsky’s writings on Israel and Palestine. I’ve been very conflicted about Chomsky’s blind-eye on 9-11 for some time now. What to think about it? This analysis convinces me finally that Chomsky’s bias is not simply an emotional blind-spot, but a deliberate obfuscation that in such a prominent, sophisticated, and powerful voice, must be called out and questioned closely.
“His reluctance to label Israel’s control of the Palestinians as “apartheid” out of concern that it be seen as a “red flag,” like describing it as “inflammatory,” was a red flag itself and raised questions that should have been asked by the interviewer, such as who would be inflamed by the reference to ‘apartheid’ as a “red flag” in Israel’s case and what objections would Chomsky have to that?
A more disturbing exchange occurred later in the interview when Chomsky was asked if sanctions should be applied against Israel as they were against South Africa. He responded:
“In fact, I’ve been strongly against it in the case of Israel. For a number of reasons. For one thing, even in the case of South Africa, I think sanctions are a very questionable tactic. In the case of South Africa, I think they were [ultimately] legitimate because it was clear that the large majority of the population of South Africa was in favor of it.
Sanctions hurt the population. You don’t impose them unless the population is asking for them. That’s the moral issue. So, the first point in the case of Israel is that: Is the population asking for it? Well, obviously not.”
Obviously not. But is it acceptable to make such a decision on the basis of what the majority of Israelis want? Israel, after all, is not a dictatorship in which the people are held in check by fear and, therefore, cannot be held responsible for their government’s actions. Israel has a largely unregulated, lively press and a “people’s army” in which all Israeli Jews, other than the ultra-orthodox, are expected to serve and that is viewed by the Israeli public with almost religious reverence. Over the years, in their own democratic fashion, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have consistently supported and participated in actions of their government against the Palestinians and Lebanese that are not only racist, but in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Chomsky made his position clear:
“So calling for sanctions here, when the majority of the population doesn’t understand what you are doing, is tactically absurd-even if it were morally correct, which I don’t think it is. The country against which the sanctions are being imposed is not calling for it.”
The interviewer, Lee, understandably puzzled by that answer, then asked him, “Palestinians aren’t calling for sanctions?
Chomsky: “Well, the sanctions wouldn’t be imposed against the Palestinians, they would be imposed against Israel.”
Lee: “Right… [And] Israelis aren’t calling for sanctions.”
That response also disturbed Palestinian political analyst, Omar Barghouti, who, while tactfully acknowledging Chomsky as “a distinguished supporter of the Palestinian cause,” addressed the issue squarely:
Of all the anti-boycott arguments, this one reflects either surprising naiveté or deliberate intellectual dishonesty. Are we to judge whether to apply sanctions on a colonial power based on the opinion of the majority in the oppressors community? Does the oppressed community count at all? 
For Chomsky, apparently not……
………In an exchange with Washington Post readers, Chomsky was asked by a caller:
Why did you sign an MIT petition calling for MIT to boycott Israeli investments, and then give an interview in which you state that you opposed such investment boycotts? What was or is your position on the proposal by some MIT faculty that MIT should boycott Israeli investments?
As is well known in Cambridge, of anyone involved, I” was the most outspoken opponent of the petition calling for divestment, and in fact refused to sign until it was substantially changed, along lines that you can read if you are interested. The “divestment” part was reduced to three entirely meaningless words, which had nothing to do with the main thrust of the petition. I thought that the three meaningless words should also be deleted… On your last question, as noted, I was and remain strongly opposed, without exception — at least if I understand what the question means. How does one “boycott Israeli investments”? (Emphasis added). 
I will assume that Chomsky understood very well what the caller meant: investing in Israeli companies and in State of Israel Bonds of which US labor union pension funds, and many states and universities have purchased hundreds of millions of dollars worth. These purchases clearly obligate those institutions to lobby Congress to insure that the Israeli economy stays afloat. This isn’t something that Chomsky talks or writes about.
The caller was referring to a speech that Chomsky had made to the Harvard Anthropology Dept. shortly after the MIT and Harvard faculties issued a joint statement on divestment. It was gleefully reported in the Harvard Crimson by pro-Israel activist, David Weinfeld, under the headline “Chomsky’s Gift”:
MIT Institute Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky recently gave the greatest Hanukkah gift of all to opponents of the divestment campaign against Israel. By signing the Harvard-MIT divestment petition several months ago—and then denouncing divestment on Nov. 25 at Harvard—Chomsky has completely undercut the petition.
At his recent talk for the Harvard anthropology department, Chomsky stated: “I am opposed and have been opposed for many years, in fact, I’ve probably been the leading opponent for years of the campaign for divestment from Israel and of the campaign about academic boycotts.”
He argued that a call for divestment is “a very welcome gift to the most extreme supporters of US-Israeli violence… It removes from the agenda the primary issues and it allows them to turn the discussion to irrelevant issues, which are here irrelevant, anti-Semitism and academic freedom and so on and so forth.”  …….
Chomsky’s rationalization of Israel’s criminal misdeeds in The Fateful Triangle should have rung alarm bells when it appeared in 1983. Written a year after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, in what would become a sacred text for Middle East activists, he actually began the book not by taking Israel to task so much as its critics:
In the war of words that has been waged since Israel invaded Lebanon on June 6, 1982, critics of Israeli actions have frequently been accused of hypocrisy. While the reasons advanced are spurious, the charge itself has some merit. It is surely hypocritical to condemn Israel for establishing settlements in the occupied territories while we pay for establishing and expanding them. Or to condemn Israel for attacking civilian targets with cluster and phosphorous bombs “to get the maximum kill per hit.” When we provide them gratis or at bargain rates, knowing that they will be used for just this purpose. Or to criticize Israel’s ‘indiscriminate’ bombardment of heavily-settled civilian areas or its other military adventures, while we not only provide the means in abundance but welcome Israel’s assistance in testing the latest weaponry under live battlefield conditions... .In general, it is pure hypocrisy to criticize the exercise of Israeli power while welcoming Israel’s contributions towards realizing the US aim of eliminating possible threats, largely indigenous, to American domination of the Middle East region.[ 21]
First, the PLO was seen as a threat by Israel, not by the United States in 1982, particularly since it had strictly abided by a US-brokered cease-fire with Israel for 11 months, giving it a dangerous degree of credibility in Israeli eyes. Second, whom did Chomsky mean by “we?” Perhaps, President Reagan and some members of Congress who gently expressed their concern when the number of Palestinians and Lebanese killed in the invasion and the wholesale destruction of the country could not be suppressed in the media. But he doesn’t say. It certainly wasn’t those who took to the streets across the country to protest Israel’s invasion. Both political parties had competed in their applause when Israel launched its attack, as did the AFL-CIO which took out a full page ad in the NY Times, declaring “We Are Not Neutral. We Support Israel!” paid for by an Israeli lobbyist with a Park Avenue address. The media, in the beginning, was also supportive, but it is rare to find an editorial supporting US aid to Israel. It is rarely ever mentioned and that’s the way the lobby likes it. So is Chomsky creating a straw figure? It appears so.
If we follow Chomsky’s “logic,” it would be an injustice to bring charges of war crimes against Indonesian, El Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Haitian, or Filipino officers, soldiers, or public officials for the atrocities committed against their own countrymen and women since they were funded, armed and politically supported by the US. Perhaps, General Pinochet will claim the Chomsky Defense if he goes to trial.
He pressed the point of US responsibility for Israel’s sins again in his introduction to The New Intifada, noting that as one of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, “It is therefore Washington’s responsibility to prevent settlement and expropriation, along with collective punishment and all other measures of violence… .It follows that the United States is in express and extreme violation of its obligations as a High Contracting Party.” 
I would agree with Chomsky, but is the US refusal to act a more “extreme violation” than the actual crimes being committed by another signatory to the Conventions, namely Israel? Chomsky would have us believe that it is.
It is a point he made clear at a talk in Oxford in May, 2004, when he brought up the killing a week earlier of the Hamas spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin by the Israeli military as he left a Mosque in Gaza. “That was reported as an Israeli assassination, but inaccurately” said Chomsky. “Sheikh Yassin was killed by a US helicopter, flown by an Israeli pilot. Israel does not produce helicopters. The US sends them with the understanding that they will be used for such purposes, not defense, as they have been, regularly.”
Chomsky is correct to a point. What is missing from his analysis is any reference to the demands from Congress, orchestrated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s officially registered lobby, to make sure that the US provides those helicopters to Israel to use as its generals see fit. (In fact, there is not a single mention of AIPAC in any one of Chomsky’s many books on the Israel-Palestine conflict). What Chomsky’s British audience was left with was the conclusion that the assassination of Sheik Yassin was done with Washington’s approval.
While its repeated use of helicopters against the Palestinian resistance and civilian population has been one of the more criminal aspects of Israel’s response to the Intifada, absolving the Israelis of blame for their use has become something of a fetish for Chomsky as his introduction to The New Intifada  and again, in more detail in Middle East Illusions, illustrates:
On October 1, [at the beginning of the Al-Aksa Intifada] Israeli military helicopters, or, to be more precise, US military helicopters with Israeli pilots, sharply escalated the violence, killing two Palestinians in Gaza… . The continuing provision of attack helicopters by the United States to Israel, with the knowledge that these weapons are being used against the civilian Palestinian population, and the silence of the mainstream media is just one illustration of many of how we live up to the principle that we do not believe in violence. Again, it leaves honest citizens with two tasks: the important one, do something about it; and the second one, try to find out why the policies are being pursued. (Emphasis added) 
What to do Chomsky again doesn’t say, but he does try to tell us why:
“On that matter, the fundamental reasons are not really controversial… It has long been understood that the gulf region has the major energy sources in the world… ” 
Chomsky then goes on for two pages explaining the importance of Middle East oil and the efforts by the US to control it. It is the basic explanation that he has repeated and republished, almost verbatim, over the years. What it has to do with the Palestinians who have no oil or how a truncated Palestinian state would present a threat to US regional interests is not provided, but after two pages the reader has forgotten that the question was even posed. In his explanation there is no mention of the lobby or domestic influences.
Chomsky does acknowledge that “major sectors of American corporate capitalism, including powerful elements with interests in the Middle East [the major oil companies!]” have endorsed a “two-state solution” on the basis that
the radical nationalist tendencies that are enflamed by the unsettled Palestinian problem would be reduced by the establishment of a Palestinian mini-state that would be contained within a Jordanian-Israeli military alliance (perhaps tacit), surviving at the pleasure of its far more powerful neighbors and subsidized by the most conservative and pro-American forces in the Arab world… .This would, in fact, be the likely outcome of a two-state settlement.” 
Such an outcome would have little direct influence on regional Arab politics, except to demoralize supporters of the Palestinian struggle in the neighboring countries and around the world, a development that would clearly serve US interests. It would, however, curb Israel’s expansion, which is critical to Israel’s agenda, not Washington’s. Chomsky also fails to recognize a fundamental contradiction in his argument. If the support of Israel has been based on its role as protector of US strategic resources, namely oil, why does not that position enjoy the support of the major oil companies with interests in the region?…”
(Lila: My emphasis)