Monday, November 22, 2004

History's Landlord

Noam Chomsky, who can't seem to decide if he wants to praise or bury the Rais, has expended a fair amount of Al-Ahram’s presumably precious space in order to comment on the media/cultural conception of Yasser Arafat in the United States, with unsurprising results. It is always fascinating to hear a lifelong falsifier of history spending so much time and energy seeing the mote in his neighbor’s eye; but we must accept that the “ownership of history”, as he puts it in classic Stalinist terminology, is important to Chomsky, as it is to all totalitarians, and thus ought to read his eulogy and its attendant - and inevitable - digressions with a certain interest, since we are seeing as much a statement of intentions and principles are we are a lamentation for a palsied thug in a rented uniform.

We receive, before we even get to Arafat, a clear missive from on high as to exactly who is in charge here:
The fundamental principle is that "we are good" -- "we" being the state we serve -- and what "we" do is dedicated to the highest principles, though there may be errors in practice.
Chomsky then proceeds into a paragraph long, largely incoherent rant about the Vietnam War, which is completely out of context and totally unnecessary, except, of course, for a Chomskyite, and then it is completely understandable. For what it is, in fact, is an opening benediction, an acknowledgement that we will all now consent to the same mutual catechism. Chomsky the high priest is elucidating for us what is acceptable and what is not, what is history and what is not, what is true and what is not; and, as I have mentioned numerous times before, what is acceptable, historical and true is, quite resolutely, “owned” by Noam Chomsky. There is no mention, of course, of the nature of the Vietnamese government, or the million apparently unimportant human lives it extinguished – no doubt collaborators with US imperialism – or the fact that Vietnam was, in fact, a fully justified – and legal – war against the most oppressive and murderous form of government ever devised by man, a form of government for which Chomsky has been an unrelentingly bloodthirsty advocate and apologist for decades. Such facts, truths, “history”, one might even call them, are quite resolutely unincluded in Chomsky’s benediction, as well they might not be, since to acknowledge them would be to acknowledge the possibility of heresy, and no high priest can ever tolerate such offenses against the faith. It does not improve from here.

Chomsky’s historiography regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is, per usual, as relentlessly ahistorical as humanly possible, and not at all difficult to analyze, since its themes are consistant throughout: the Arabs are always seeking peace, Israel is always rejecting it out of its relentless expansionism - and racism, of course, where would we be without racism? - and the United States is, naturally, the chief villain behind it all. Complexity is, of course, what makes history difficult, and history – or difficulty for that matter – is most decidedly what the good professor wishes here to avoid. I have dealt with the details of Chomsky’s relentless falsifications before and I will not enter into them again in detail. However, I feel I must once again point out a few of Chomsky’s most egregious lies:
Let's turn to the second example: Sadat's reaching out to Israelis and thereby gaining the Sinai in 1979, a lesson to the bad Arafat. Turning to unacceptable history, in February 1971 Sadat offered a full peace treaty to Israel, in accord with then- official US policy -- specifically, Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai -- with scarcely even a gesture to Palestinian rights.
In fact, Sadat did not offer anything, he demanded an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai as a pretext to any negotiations with no guarantee of a treaty or even recognition at the end of them (keep in mind that Egypt, at this point, did not even recognize Israel’s existence); in other words, it was a non-offer offer, and one which no country would have accepted under such circumstances.
Turning to unacceptable history, during the year prior to the Israeli invasion the PLO adhered to a US-brokered peace arrangement, while Israel conducted many murderous attacks in south Lebanon in an effort to elicit some Palestinian reaction that could be used as a pretext for the planned invasion. When none materialised, they invented a pretext and invaded, killing perhaps 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, thanks to US vetoes of Security Council resolutions calling for ceasefire and withdrawal. The Sabra-Chatilla massacre was a footnote at the end. The goal that was stated very clearly by the highest political and military echelons, and by Israeli scholarship and analysis, was to put an end to the increasingly irritating Arafat initiatives towards diplomatic settlement and to secure Israel's control over the occupied territories.
In fact, as any reader can find out from a piece of "acceptable history" – as in researched, competent, and not created for the purposes of salving the egomania of fanatical pseudo-prophets – called Israel’s Lebanon War, by Zev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, the Lebanon War was the product of the Lebanese Civil War and its effect on the longtime alliance between Israel and Lebanon’s Maronite Christians, who had been subjected to a brutal campaign of occupation and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the PLO and their Muslim neighbors, particularly Syria, which has always had imperial designs on Lebanon and does not recognize its sovereignty. The “pretext”, as Chomsky calls it, for the invasion, was not "invented"; it was the very real assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to England, which left the man permanently disabled, by Palestinian terrorists. The larger pretext for the war was the growing PLO mini-state in South Lebanon which was metamorphizing under Soviet tutalage and funding into a conventional armed force which any country would find unacceptable sitting on its borders. It was clear that the "peace arrangement", as Chomsky calls it, which was in reality an informal ceasefire, could not hold and was not intended to hold, but rather was being exploited by Arafat to buy time to consolidate his new army and eventually resume the war. This was, at any rate, the Israeli analysis, and a hardly unreasonable one considering the brutal campaign of mass murder undertaken by Arafat in Lebanon to consolidate his power and the long campaign of PLO terror attacks on Israel's Northern border, which had caused strategic destabilization, mass flight from population centers and substantial economic damage. Unlike tenured charlatans, military and political leaders have to make decisions in which the lives of their citizens are at stake and Israel’s leaders felt that a PLO army on its Northern border was an unacceptable risk and acted accordingly. As for the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, Israel did not commit it, nor allow it to be committed, nor desire for it to be committed; the killings - committed by the Maronite Phalange militia - were of a piece with a long and bloody mosaic of tit for tat massacres between Christians, Muslims, and Palestinians that had marked the Lebanon Civil War as one of the most brutal in modern history. To make mention of the massacre – as so many do – without this context is to engage in ghoulish exploitation for the sake of scoring political points; nothing unusual, of course, for Noam Chomsky, although we can happily note that, in this case at least, he acknowledges that this particular mass murder actually happened. As for “Israeli scholarship and analysis”, the Lebanon War is still highly controversial, and no such consensus as Chomsky describes regarding the origins, intentions, and outcomes of that war exists. Chomsky has a nasty habit of making definitive claims on subjects about which he knows nothing, such as politics, history, and anything to do with the Israel-Arab conflict. He should stick to linguistics.
Meanwhile the NYT refused -- the word is accurate -- to publish the fact that through the 1980s, Arafat was calling for negotiations which Israel rejected. The Israeli mainstream press would run headlines about Arafat's call for direct negotiations with Israel, rejected by Shimon Peres on the basis of his doctrine that Arafat's PLO "cannot be a partner to negotiations".
Chomsky here is involved in the fairly standard practice of Palestinian apologists, i.e. pretending that Palestinian nationalist ideology does not exist. Until the Oslo Process, the PLO did not and would not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, nor amend its stipulaton that Zionism was a form of imperialism, that the Jewish state was racist and had to be destroyed, or that, after this destruction, all post-1948 Jewish immigrants would be expelled - i.e. ethnically cleansed - from the country. Nor would the PLO renounce terrorism or cease its attempts to use terrorism (witness the Achille Lauro atrocity). Thus, Israel concluded that peace gestures from Arafat were merely a tactic, in keeping with his own “Plan of Phases”, a post-Yom Kippur War plan which involved using negotiations as a prerequisite to resuming the armed struggle; a plan which, it now appears, Arafat was in fact following throughout the ‘90s. This impasse between the two sides ended, or appeared to end, during the Oslo process, when the PLO at least verbally acknowledged Israel's right to exist; which is why Israel, under pressure to end the riots and general mayhem of the first intifada, agreed to negotiate with the PLO at that point, a risk which now seems to have proved a massive blunder. Perhaps Israel should never have allowed international pressure and internal manipulation from its own extreme Left to foist Arafat upon us, although at the time it seemed worth taking the chance. There is more than enough blame to go around for this, but it was a miscalculation, not a sinister attempt at manipulation, as Chomsky would have us believe.
Miller carries the story on in the same vein, leading to the standard denouement: at Camp David, Arafat "walked away" from the magnanimous Clinton-Barak offer of peace, and even afterwards refused to join Barak in accepting Clinton's December 2000 "parameters", thus proving conclusively that he insists on violence, a depressing truth with which the peace-loving states, the US and Israel, must somehow come to terms.

Turning to actual history, the Camp David proposals divided the West Bank into virtually separated cantons, and could not possibly be accepted by any Palestinian leader. That is evident from a look at the maps that were easily available, but not in the NYT, or apparently anywhere in the US mainstream, perhaps for that reason. After the collapse of these negotiations, Clinton recognised that Arafat's reservations made sense, as demonstrated by the famous "parameters", which, though vague, went much further towards a possible settlement -- thus undermining the official story, but that's only logic, therefore as unacceptable as history. Clinton gave his own version of the reaction to his "parameters" in a talk to the Israeli Policy Forum on 7 January 2001: "Both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat have now accepted these parameters as the basis for further efforts. Both have expressed some reservations..."
This is quite simply a pack of outright lies. Although negotiations broke down before borders were finalized, the offer on the table at Camp David included a continguous Palestinian state, with shared soveriegnty over Jerusalem, that would be connected to Gaza by means of an elevated highway. Chomsky’s claims in this regard are merely echoes of the standard Palestinian propaganda line – as is typical, during the Cold War he routinely cited pro-communist propaganda as though it was objective reportage – and have no basis in the realities of the negotiations whatsoever. Of course, this is to be expected, since to acknowledge the reality of what was offered would be to acknowledge the reality of what was turned down, and would not only destroy the sacred cow of eternal Palestinian innocence, but would also collapse Chomsky’s fervid and desperate indictment of Israel and his own country, with dire consequences indeed for a man so dedicated to his own capacity for rhetorical violence and moral obfuscation.
The statement is interesting from several points of view. The linkage reveals, once again, the obligatory visceral hatred of Castro. There have been shifting pretexts as circumstances changed, but no information to question the conclusions of US intelligence in the early days of Washington's terrorist attacks and economic warfare against Cuba: the basic problem is his "successful defiance" of US policies going back to the Monroe Doctrine. But there is an element of truth in the portrayal of Arafat in the Globe think-piece, as there would have been in a front-page report during the imperial ceremonies for the semi-divine Reagan, describing him as one of the iconic group of mass murderers -- from Hitler to Idi Amin to Peres -- who slaughtered with abandon and with strong support from media and intellectuals. Those who do not comprehend the analogy have some history to learn.
I suppose there is no point in citing the real reason for Washington’s opposition to Castro – his communist ideology and former status as a Soviet military pawn and imperial underling, as well as his distinction of being one of the most murderous and oppressive dictators in the world – nor the unintentional hilarity of jumping from Castro to Arafat to Reagan without saying anything meaningful about any of them, nor the moral and intellectual bankruptcy inherent in placing Reagan and Peres in the same arena as Hitler, since such calculated dissonance - perhaps stupidity is a more accurate term - is typical of Chomsky, who has always been far more fixated on his own childish resentments than upon genuine analysis. But I digress, since, having learned some history, I can safely say that, on the subject of mass murder at least, Chomsky does have some expertise, if only as an accessory after the fact.
The NYT published one major op-ed on the Arafat death, by Israeli historian Benny Morris. The essay deserves close analysis, but I'll put that aside here, and keep to just his first comment, which captures the tone: Arafat is a deceiver, Morris says, who speaks about peace and ending the occupation but really wants to "redeem Palestine". This demonstrates Arafat's irremediable savage nature.

Here Morris is revealing his contempt not only for Arabs (which is profound) but also for the readers of the NYT. He apparently assumes that they will not notice that he is borrowing the terrible phrase from Zionist ideology. Its core principle for over a century has been to "redeem The Land", a principle that lies behind what Morris recognises to be a central concept of the Zionist movement: "transfer" of the indigenous population, that is, expulsion, to "redeem The Land" for its true owners. There seems to be no need to spell out the conclusions.
Typically, threatened by the opinions and conclusions of real historians – as in, people who do actual research on primary documents and can footnote a book with references to someone other than themselves – Chomsky resorts to slander rather than real evidence. As a former student of Professor Morris, I can testify that the only thing for which he has “profound contempt” is the Palestinian nationalist movement, on which he has done extensive study, and which he considers congenitally irredentionist, violent, uncompromising, totalitarian, and dangerously prone to blaming all its missteps on outside machinations rather than engage in self criticism; a perfectly reasonable and, in my opinion, accurate, assessment. It is my belief that Chomsky’s lies regarding Morris are gleaned from Ilan Pappe, a Chomskyite Israeli historian who, upon receiving a devastating review by Morris of one of his recent books, promptly, in classic Chomskyite fashion, chose to call Morris a racist rather than defend his work, since, in equally classic Chomskyite fashion, his work was indefensible. Of course, Morris’s personal opinions are irrelevant, since I doubt Chomsky has ever met Morris, and such claims can only be based on hearsay in any case; so the issue is whether contempt for Arabs exists in any of Morris's texts. Having read all but one of Morris’s books, I can testify to this as well: it does not. In fact, in Morris’s earlier work – during his post-Zionist heyday as the darling of the "New Historians", leftist Israelis who rewrote Israeli history to fit their ideology – there is a great deal more contempt for Israel itself, and especially the 1950s and '60s Labor Party elite, than for anybody else. One also wonders at Chomsky’s capacity for projection, since contempt, and outright racism for that matter, towards Jews – as well as his patronizing, Eurocentric, Rousseauvian fetishization of the Third Worlders he claims to support, which is undoubtedly a form of contempt – is one of the outstanding constants of his work and has been for decades.
Morris is identified as an Israeli academic, author of the recent book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. That is correct. He has also done the most extensive work on the Israeli archives, demonstrating in considerable detail the savagery of the 1948- 9 Israeli operations that led to "transfer" of the large majority of the population from what became Israel, including the part of the UN- designated Palestine state that Israel took over, dividing it about 50- 50 with its Jordanian partner. Morris is critical of the atrocities and "ethnic cleansing" (in more precise translation, "ethnic purification"): namely, it did not go far enough. Ben-Gurion's great error, Morris feels, perhaps a "fatal mistake", was not to have "cleaned the whole country -- the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River".

To Israel's credit, his stand on this matter has been bitterly condemned. In Israel. In the US he is the appropriate choice for the major commentary on his reviled enemy.
In fact, Morris has not been “bitterly condemned”, as opposed to the dream castle of the Chomskyites, Israel is a free society where opinions are debated and not condemned. Moreover, Chomsky’s claim that Morris’s opinions regarding transfer are born out of his fealty to the “terrible” ideology of redemption of the Land is simply a total fabrication (unless Chomsky is, in fact, largely ignorant of Morris’s work, which is certainly a strong possibility). In fact, Morris’s position is the opposite of what Chomsky claims it is. Morris believes that the events of ’48 became inevitable because of the refusal of the Arabs to accept the principle of partition as the Zionist Movement did. In other words, the war was caused not by Zionist lust for the redemption of the land, but by Arab unwillingness to give up at least a part of their territorial maximalism, and, on top of that, choosing a war of annihilation against the Jewish residents of then-Palestine as the alternative, thus leaving the Jews with no moral or practical alternative then to answer with all the means at their disposal, including expulsion. Thus, Morris believes that the events of ’48 occurred not because of Zionist territorial ambitions, but in spite of the willingness of the Zionist movement to compromise on those very ambitions and the refusal of the Arab side to reciprocate. Nor does Morris’s lament the fact that Ben-Gurion did not “finish the job”; he merely states that, if one assesses the Arab rejection of Jewish nationhood as an inevitable and likely indefinitely ongoing phenomenon, one is confronted with the question of what is more moral: to relent from a total expulsion and thus leave the problem unresolved with perhaps fatal consequences or commit a complete expulsion and perhaps thus ensure stability and peace for all concerned through greater suffering in the short term. A brutal equation, no doubt, but an honest one, and one born, it must be remembered, out of a distinctly bloody and cruel historical situation. In my opinion, whatever one thinks of his theories, Morris deserves credit for his desire to confront difficult, if not impossible, moral questions in all their complexity, and not to engage in shallow slander and vicious negation in the hopes of reaching simple and demagogic conclusions where none are possible; something which has always been beyond the capabilities of Noam Chomsky.

Of course, regarding Chomsky's central theme, his assault on the American media, it is superfluous to point out the fact that the media coverage of Arafat's death was, for the most part, scrupulously deferential to the rais, going so far as to refrain from even a mention of his numerous victims, paticularly when said victims happened to be Jews. As for Arafat's political failures and the nastier details of his ideology, these are matters of fact, and to ignore them in favor of yet another frenzied indictment of Israel and the US would have been difficult even for the most liberal of journalists - although some certainly gave the task their level best. If there is a general consensus among the mainstream media elite, it seems to be that Arafat was a successful terrorist and a failed stateman; something which no doubt vexes Chomsky, since, as a Palestinian nationalist whose ideology seems to lie somewhere to the right of Hamas, he no doubt disapproves of Arafat's failure to push the Jews into the sea, but this hardly warrents a sputtering and largely confused lecture on history as real estate.

But in the end, what we are dealing with here is not a debate over the ownership of history, but a violent, and fairly juvenile, tantrum from a man who is, first and foremost, incensed at the world's failure to acknowledge his own genius. Who are you? he is asking. Who are you not to acknowledge my ownership of history? Who are you not to acknowledge my obvious intellectual and moral supremacy? We are privileged to witness a form of intellectual narcissicism so profound that it renders its victim unable to understand how anyone would dare to rise up against his divine truths, and how anyone finds the courage not to defer to the blinding light of his revelation. We are witnessing what happens when the smartest kid in his kindergarten class never grows up; nothing more or less, in fact, than a classic example of the authoritarian personality as it manifests itself in the intellectual, and one must stop and wonder at the potentialities inherent in a man who believes that he, and he alone, is the true owner of history.

Thanks to the good folks at Blue Octavo Notebooks for the link.