Friday, June 04, 2004

Peace in the Middle East? : A Review

Chomsky's Peace in the Middle East?, which appears to have been published in the year following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, is not so much a systemic analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict as it stood at the time as it is, like most of his books, an elongated pamphlet. It consists of five essays written over the course of several years and mostly covering the period between the Six Day War in 1967 to the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and its aftermath, although most of them appear to have been heavily revised at the last minute in order to incorporate the latter confrontation, leading to some interesting inconsistancies and contradictions. Ultimately, Chomsky concludes that the solution to the Middle East conflict is in the dismantling of Israel in favor of "socialist binationalism", a binational state. He gives us little in the way of specifics as to how such a state would be constituted, but it seems to be someting along the lines of the Muslim/Christian Lebanon model, i.e. binationalism based on political parity for ethnic/religous collectives. Ironically, this book predates the collapse of the Lebanon system into bloody civil war by only a year or so. Chomsky also claims that the conflict is perpetuated by the Superpowers, especially the United States but, to a lesser degree, Russia, who see it as serving their imperial interests. He strongly hints, however, that an imposed solution will be forthcoming. The first four essays are essentially the same piece reprinted four times, and I will deal with them as an integrated whole, since they are nearly identical in all essential points. The final essay, Chomsky's defense against his Leftwing critics, deserves to be dealt with on its own, but I will say here that I found it remarkable in its brazen dishonesty and the violence of its rhetoric.

First, some general remarks. I must say that I was initially quite surprised at the tone of the book, since it lacks the embittered, violent tone of Chomsky's more recent writings on Israel. Chomsky's rhetoric is strident and often unnecessarily contemptuous, but the book, for the most part at least, does not read as a poison pen letter to Israel. He manages to avoid comparisons to Nazi Germany or labeling Israel a fascist state, although he sidles up to the line on occasion. Nor does he spew lists of atrocities with gleeful abandon as he often does today. There is a certain measure of indulgent generosity, at least towards the Israeli Left, and at least the recognition of the Zionist case, something very much lacking in Chomsky's current work.

When the target changes to the United States, however, the tone changes noticeably, and a more recognizable Chomsky emerges, all bitter denunciations and apocalyptic condemnations laced with a level of rhetorical bile so vicious and unnecessary that it quickly begins to raise questions as to the man's psychological health. This seems to bear out something I have long felt: that Chomsky's hatred of Israel stems as much from his loathing for the United States as from any feelings he may have towards Israel specifically. As the US-Israel alliance has grown stronger and closer over the years, Chomsky's ferocity has increased in kind, until now he relates to both countries as little more than two sides of the same demonic coin. Witness the following remarkable statement:

It is common these days to hear Israel described as a tool of Western imperialism. As a description this is not accurate, but as a prediction it may well be so. From the point of view of American imperial interests, such dependence would be welcomed for many reasons...The United States has a great need for an international enemy so that the population can be effectively support the use of American power throughout the world and the development of highly militarized, highly centralized state capitalism at home...Now that the Cold War consensus is eroding, American militarists welcome the threat to Israel. (p. 82)
I will not dwell on the merits of Chomsky's worldview here, it would take too long and those convinced of it are unlikely to be swayed by anything I might bring to the table. Suffice it to say that I consider Chomsky's assertions here to be those of a man who is at best deeply naive and prone to conspiracy mongering and at worst bordering on manifestly deranged. How Chomsky considers a country which pays for its oil to be dominating its producers imperialist-style, or why, if America were truly interested only in its economic interests, it would continue to oppose the Arab states' war against Israel, are elementary questions with which Chomsky appears inexplicably unconcerned. It is very clear, however, that Chomsky (and his devotees) believe devoutly in this theology. I don't think it is going too far to postulate that the trend which Chomsky elucidates here, the inevitable absorbtion of Israel into the imperial circle of the United States, is one which he now sees as consummated and complete. This is, of course, a type of political demonology, and of a particularly Manichean variety, one which seperates the world into absolute forces of good and evil. Or, in Leftist parlance, reactionary and progressive. The identification of Israel, through its alliance with the United States, with the world's forces of reaction and imperialism is, in the Chomskyite vocabulary, no less a charge of perpetual sin than the Christian Passion play. The ferocious hostility of the Chomskyite Left (and, more and more, the Left in general) towards Israel and Zionism, seeing in them an evil of a cosmic, metaphysical nature, would seem to have at least some of its origins here.

Needless to say, this is neither a scholarly, not even a particularly intelligent point of view. It is a religious one, propelled by an active, overarching monist faith and Chomsky's own very real cult of personality.

Secondly, as to the book's documentation, I can only say that it leaves much to be desired, although some of Chomsky's most blatant howlers are to be found tucked away in the end notes. This was my favorite:

To the editors of Dissent, withdrawal seems as inhumane as a war of attrition because it would almost certainly leave the country under communist control "and there would almost certainly follow a slaughter in the South of all those...who have fought against the Communists." They seemed oblivious to the likely consequences of a United States-Saigon victory... (p. 184)
Highly amusing (or horrifying, depending on your point of view) in the light of later developments in Vietnam.

Besides apologia for Southeast Asian communism, Chomsky's notes provide us with extraordinary reading material. Despite the deluge of footnotes, there is little in the way of actual documentation. Most of the sources are newspapers, a notoriously unreliable source of hard information, and certainly not one any reputable historian would make use of. Besides this, there are some references to a few books of which I have never heard, and I think I am reasonably conversant in the major literature on this subject (admittedly, we are some thirty years after the writing of this book, and the generally accepted source literature has certainly developed over that time). Added to this are several works by Arab writers and Israeli Leftists which may or may not be accurate, although I am inclined to believe that material credited to The Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut (a still-existant think tank linked to the PLO), or far-Left Israeli wingnut Israel Shahak, may suffer from a slight ideological bias.

Objectively speaking, one has to conclude that, whatever the merits of Peace in the Middle East? as propaganda, it would likely be rejected as a doctoral dissertation.

This book, at least in its first four chapters, is an attempt at geopolitical analysis and political history, and it is worthy to discuss its merits in those terms. There is no question that on both counts, the book is a miserable failure. While somewhat effective as polemic, it is wholly unconvincing as a scholarly work.

While it is possible that he may simply be highly ill-informed, it is difficult to believe, considering Chomsky's vaunted reputation, that many of the book's shortcomings are not a result of deliberate distortionism. There is no question, however, that Chomsky is an extremely naive and unsophisticated observer of international politics. For one, he has an absurdly exagerrated perception of Superpower influence. Overriding his analysis is the assertion that the Superpowers could (and probably will) impose a solution on the parties, but choose not to because the conflict serves their imperial interests, as though ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, or any other long term conflict for that matter, were as easy as flipping a switch on and off.

If the United States comes to the conclusion that the major premise of its poicy is now "inoperative", it can move towards an alternative policy option, and, with Russian support, impose a settlement along the lines of United Nations Resolution 242 of November 1967. (p. 127)
This plays into Chomsky's perception of all things being the result of conspiratorial manipulations on the part of enormously powerful actors working behind the scenes. As though the Arab-Israeli conflict were merely a gigantic gladiatorial event carried out for the edification of the world's secret aristocracy. It seems not to occur to him that the Superpowers may not be imposing a solution to the conflict because they cannot impose one. Or, at least, they cannot impose one without risking nuclear war and/or suffering military and economic damage they are unwilling to sustain. This prediliction seems to bear out the assertion of historian Richard Pipes that intellectuals, having no experience of power themselves, often have an extremely exagerrated idea of what it can accomplish.

Secondly, Chomsky seems remarkably ignorant of military matters and how to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of a nation's military capabilities. I am inclined to think this is, for the most part, not deliberate. Chomsky has no military experience and cites no works which might be termed military history or analysis. What he does give is page after page of newspaper articles citing various military deliveries to Israel from the United States, concluding from these that Israel has the military advantage over all its enemies by an overwhelming margin.

Israeli policy since 1967, and American support for it, have been based on the premise that Israel is a military superpower by the standards of the region and that its technological predominance will only increase. (p. 124)

It remains true that Israel is the most advanced technological society and the major military force in the region. (p. 128)

If these reports as correct, the Israeli military advantage in offensive weaponry is even greater than previously supposed. (p. 98)

The first [factor] is the Israeli military and technological predominance, already noted, which appears to be considerable and growing. (p. 96)
Chomsky's assertion of overwhelming Israeli military superiority, contradicating as is does the events of the then just ended Yom Kippur War, is most likely the result of Chomsky's ignorance of the subject itself. In examining the capabilities of any nation in the military sphere, the level of hardware acquired is only one of many factors. There are numerous others: how the weaponry is integrated into the existing forces, methods of training, the command structure, the geographical position of the nation in question, the relationship of the army to the economic/political structure of society, etc. Chomsky mentions none of these, and if it is not a deliberate omission, it is an indication of a serious incompetence regarding the most basic methods of military analysis. Chomsky seems to think that Israel has a massive military advantage so long as it continues to have and acquire large amounts of weapons. In truth, however, Israel's military advantages and weaknesses have always lain in other areas. Its advantages have always been in its unified command structure and meritocratic system. The Arab countries, being divided amongst themselves and given to handing out high military positions to the scions of bribery and nepotism, have always had a distinct disadvantage in this area. The Arab states partly overcame this weakness, with the help of Russian advisors, in the Yom Kippur War, with disastrous results for Israel in the war's opening days.

Israel's weaknesses, however, are clear to anyone who has looked at a map. Israel is a tiny country with a tiny population relative to its enemies. This has two manifestations: the geographic and the economic. Israel's tiny size demands that Israel strike quickly and immediately take the war on to enemy territory. This is difficult to achieve and is decided in a war's opening stages. If the initial advantage is lost, Israel is then in a very perilous situation however much hardware is brought to bear on the battlefield. In the economic sphere, the situation is even more delicate. Unlike the Arab states, which have populations sufficient to sustain a large army over an extended period, Israel's army consists largely of reserve units which must be moblized beforehand in order to face any invasion force. This consists of almost the entire adult male population and the country's economy effectively stops in the case of full mobilization. This means that any war Israel fights must be as short as possible. The Yom Kippur War was devastating to Israel's economy, as it dragged on for an extended period. Israel lost a full year's worth of GNP in that war, taking nearly a full decade to recover.

Chomsky nowhere mentions these facts in his book, facts which would provide a more balanced portrait of the relative military capabilities of the parties in question. Since at least some of these factors were widely discussed at the time, the economic effects of full mobilization probably being the most prominant, one must harbor the suspicion that there is at least some measure of intentional omission on Chomsky's part in order to prejudice the case against Israel and bolster his assessment of the country as a massive regional superpower armed to the teeth with American weapons of war.

Chomsky also makes much of statements made by various Israeli generals, mostly in the Hebrew press, boasting of Israel's military superiority. Chomsky regards these statements as being as flawlessly accurate as tactical reports. It seems not to occur to him that the generals in question may be making these statements in order to reinforce Israel's detterrance. No military man makes public statements without the knowledge that they will be read by the enemy and will have an effect on the enemy's perception of one's strength. Such statements, in any case, prove nothing.

There are several major omissions in Chomsky's analysis that are worth mentioning here. The first is the Khartoum Conference. After the Six-Day War, Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a platform which rejected all recognition and/or negotiation with the State of Israel. This event, noted by every reputable historian of the conflict as being of some significance, is mentioned nowhere in Chomsky's book. It is impossible that this is anything but a deliberate ommission. It is certainly an understandable one. For Chomsky to cite it would have destroyed his central thesis: that Israeli territorial intransigence is the major cause of the continuing conflict and not Arab rejectionism.

Chomsky also omits any mention of the Eshkol cabinet vote taken soon after the Six-Day War, which stated Israeli willingness to withdrawal from nearly all the occupied territories (Jerusalem was to remain united) in exchange for a comprehensive peace treaty. The Khartoum Conference rendered this offer moot, but it indicates an early willingness to engage in territorial compromise which runs against Chomsky's historiography of frustrated Arabs facing relentless Israeli "creeping annexation".

Chomsky's whitewashing of Arab policies and actions is most glaring in regards to the Palestinian national movement. His portrayal of the Palestinians is in keeping throughout with his early statement that they are "victims more than agents" (p. 9). An assertion which is wholly unsupportable by history. The Palestinians, after all, initiated the '48 War after rejecting the UN's Partition Plan, agitated to push Nasser into war in 1956 and 1967, and actively undertook infiltration into Israeli territory throughout the '50s. Furthermore, one can hardly call the wave of terrorist attacks inaugurated by Yasser Arafat's PLO in the 1970s, including the 1972 Munich atrocity, as being the acts of a people helpless before the winds of history. Chomsky also consistently refuses to mention Palestinian rejecion of any legitimacy to the Zionist movement and does not mention the more ferocious portions of the PLO charter, particularly the clause demanding that all Jews who immigrated to Israel after 1948 be deported. His comments on the use of terrorism by the Palestinians are couched in the most apologetic terms:

One continuing danger, recently emphasized by the brutal massacre at the Lod airport, is that of terror, a weapon of the weak and the desperate... (p. 107)
This quote is particularly ironic, since, unfortunately for Chomsky, the assassins at Lod airport were neither weak nor desperate. In fact, they weren't even Palestinian. They were Japanese members of a Leftist terror cell who had been contracted by the PLO and paid for with Soviet funds. In fact, Chomsky does not comment at all on the international and ideological nature of Palestinian terror, perhaps because it might implicate some people and groups dangerously close to home. Nor, indeed, is he willing to recognize any role whatever on the part of Palestinian nationalist ideology, particular its rejection of Jewish peoplehood and national rights, in acts of extraordinary violence. He is eminently willing to ascribe the sins of Israel to evils hardwired into Zionist ideology, but refuses to subject those with whom he is sympathetic to similar scrutiny.

This becomes most glaring in regard to the war between Jordan and in the PLO in 1970. Chomsky refers obliquly to this brutal conflict, in disarmingly neutral terms:

There are tensions, which in 1970 erupted into a bloody war, between Palestinian Arabs and the largely Bedouin forces of Hussein. (p. 90)
He has little more than this to say on the issue, as well he might not, since the destruction of the PLO in Jordan was entirely the fault of the PLO and the destabilizing effect of the campaign of international terrorism it undertook from Jordanian bases. This campaign culminated in an attempt by the PLO to assassinate King Hussein and take over the kingdom. Even this did not tempt Hussein to retaliate, and only when Arafat turned down an offer from Hussein to form a coalition government, with Arafat as Prime Minister, and a Palestinian terror group blew up three jets in Amman airport, did Hussein proceed to crush the PLO and its subsidiery organizations. Seemingly desperate to evoke sympathy for the movement, Chomsky declares the following:

[T]he Palestinian guerrilla movements appear to have been severely weakened, if not virtually destroyed...The commander of the Palestine Liberation Army stated in an interview in Beirut that "the PLO is about to be destroyed. Its offices, establishments, and apparatus ghave been all but paralysed, and its exitence has been rendered only symbolic." (p. 98)
This passage was written simultaneously with the PLO relocation to Beirut and the Bekaa Valley with large infusions of Soviet financial and military aid, where it became, if anything, even more powerful. Chomsky is most certainly aware of these facts, he omits them in order to continue his illusory assertion that the Palestinians are the perpetual victims of the Middle East conflict, pure of heart and motive and relentlessly wronged by powerful and ruthless collaborators with American imperialism.

Chomsky's most glaring omission, however, and this is most certainly deliberate, is his lack of emphasis on Soviet imperialism and its relationship to pan-Arab nationalism. He concentrates mostly on American and other Western "imperial" interests (I have already expressed my contempt for this particular term in this context, but none the less it is necessary to use it if only to illustrate Chomsky's point of view), saying nothing much of consequence about Soviet influence in the region.

During and after World War II, the United States took over the dominant role in controlling these [oil] resources, displacing Great Britain...We may assume, with fair confidence, that the United States will make every effort to ensure that this great prize will be available, and to the extent possible, under the control of American oil companies. (p. 9)

A third factor is that the Soviet Union appears to have rather limited ambitions in the Middle East, so far as can now be determined. Evidently, it wants the Suez Canal opened, and it will no doubt attempt to maintain its dominant position in Egypt, but there is no indication that it is intending to initiate or support further military action in the Middle East. (p. 98)
This is, of course, extraordinary balderdash. The Soviet Union's ambitions in the Middle East were as they were elsewhere: expansion and dominance. The Soviets engineered both the 1956 and 1967 Wars, the former by supplying Nasser with a massive, and thus highly destabilizing, arms deal, and the latter by deliberately feeding the Syrians false intelligence about Israeli troop movements. They sponsored Nasser's bloody invasion of Yemen and both funded and armed the PLO and its related groups, a fact that Chomsky also never deigns to mention. Indeed, the Yom Kippur War would have been impossible without Russian arms and advice, which essentially built the Egyptian and Syrian armies anew from the bottom up. One would think that, considering their role in starting two wars and aiding and abetting mightily in another, not to mention sponsoring the most powerful terrorist organization in the region, Chomsky might have a bit more to say on the subject of Soviet brinksmanship.

Furthermore, Chomsky seems totally uninterested in the pan-Arab movement in its entirety. A shocking omission, considering its centrality to the conflict with Israel from the middle fifties onward. Gamal Abdel Nasser is mentioned a handful of times, Assad is not mentioned at all. The nature of pan-Arab ideology, with its expansionist doctrine and total negation of Israel, is also left unexplored. Not altogether surprising, since that might also prejudice the reader in Israel's favor, were the extent of Nasser's imperial ambitions to be made explicit.

So much for Chomsky as geopolitical analyst. As a political historian, he fares no better. And in this case, we are certainly dealing with deliberate distortionism, as Chomsky has longstanding family and institutional connections to the Zionist movement, as he never tires of reminding us.

I grew up with a deep interest in the revival of Hebrew culture associated with the settlement of Palestine. I found myself on the fringes of the left wing of the Zionist youth movement, never joining because of certain political disagreements, but enormously what I saw as a dramatic effort to create...some form of libertarian socialism in the Middle East. (p. 45-46)
Chomsky's recounting of his personal history is most likely accurate. His recounting of Zionist political history is not. He portrays the Zionist Left as wholly opposed to the idea of Jewish statehood, with only Vladimir Jabotinsky's dread Revisionists (the villians of choice for all Leftwing historians of Zionism) insisting upon it, due to their "semi-fascist" ideology.

In opposing the Revisionist demand for a Jewish state in the 1930s, Ben-Gurion, a labour leader as well as a spokesman for Jewish nationalism, was also expressing a very different conception of what kind of society the new Palestine was to be. (p. 40)

[T]he centrist socialists in the Zionist movement had abandoned any interest in a solution based on political parity by the early 1940s, and the Revisionist demands became the official position of the Zionist movement. (p. 42)
Chomsky's claims here, that the socialist Zionists did not want a Jewish state and essentially adopted the Revisionist position due to "the complex internal strife in Palestine in 1936-9, World War II, and the realization of the meaning of Nazi success for the Jewish communities in Europe." (p. 42) are completely false, and in my opinion, quite obviously deliberately falsified.

In reality, both the Left Zionists (with the exception of HaShomer HaZair and a handful of other groups on the extreme Left of the Kibbutz Movement) and the Revisionists favored Jewish statehood from the beginning. The question was not if but when and how. To understand their disagreement, one has to look to the founder of Zionist ideology, Theodore Herzl. Herzl advocated a full-scale evacuation of Europe's Jews to the Land of Israel. Literally, a wholesale transfer in one fell swoop. Obviously, this was quickly recognized as unrealistic by almost all but Herzl, who spent the rest of his life trying to obtain an imperial charter to this end. The opposition to Herzl, led by the likes of Chaim Weizmann, proposed a slow colonization of the land. This would be accompanied by the building of various institutions, the revival of the Hebrew language and culture, and a host of other endeavors of renewal and rebirth. Eventually, this Jewish society would ascend to sovereignty. This state would have a Jewish majority and would be open to unlimited Jewish immigration from around the world. It was hoped and believed that, by the time statehood occured, the Arabs, having seen the benefits brought by the Zionist settlement, would have reconciled themselves to Jewish statehood. Ben-Gurion later extended this concept to include the integration of the Jewish state into the united Arab Middle East which everyone thought was coming in the thirties and forties. Essentially, it would be a completely sovereign Jewish Commonwealth within a loose federation of Arab states. (The best information on Ben-Gurion's positions in this regard are to be found in his very interesting book, My Talks with Arab Leaders, which Chomsky seems to have skipped in favor of scouring back issues of The Guardian.)

Jabotinsky, a far more radical and uncompromising nationalist (his writings often remind me of Malcolm X), was having none of this. He believed the Jewish situation in Europe was catastrophic and that time could not be wasted in slow colonization. He revived Herzl's mass evacuation plan and that remained the position of the Revisionist Movement until Jabotinsky's death in the 1940s. He was also completely opposed to any partition of the land, and desired to include Jordan as part of the Jewish state which would be founded in the wake of the Jewish transfer. At no time did the socialist Zionists adopt the Revisionist's mass evacuation plan or any of Jabotinsky's territorial demands.

In short, Chomsky is full of it on this point. And rather obviously so. His motives are fairly transparent. As an advocate of "socialist binationalism", in other words, the end of the Jewish state, he seeks to disarm his critics by attempting to place himself within the mainstream of Zionist opinion. This is nothing less than breathtakingly dishonest. There were sections of the Zionist Movement which advocated binationalism, but they were, as is Chomsky, on the fringes of the movement, and with the founding of the state quickly faded into history. It should be noted that when the time came to sign Israel's Declaration of Independence, these factions did not hesitate to do so, along with all the other major political parties, Zionist and non-Zionist.

There is, of course, a great deal more, but these are the major flaws in Chomsky's analysis. As to the big picture, this is, of course, a matter of opinion. I personally find Chomsky's point of view that Israeli militarism and American imperialism are the major stumbling blocks in the way of a peace settlement in the region to be absurd on their face. Others may well disagree with me, but to prove their points, they would have to display a great deal more knowledge and perception than the amateurish gadflyism on display in this volume.

The fifth chapter of Peace in the Middle East?, the only one which differs in a substantial way from the others, is essentially a long polemic by Chomsky against his critics and, it seems at times, the entire Jewish Left-Liberal population of the United States. Chomsky is not a man well suited to debate, and his rhetoric jumps from strident to hysterical in a fascinatingly short time. Clearly, we are dealing here with a surprisingly fragile ego for a man of his accomplishments. There is also a remarkable amount of outright lying in this chapter, far more so then the others, where Chomsky's sins are mostly ones of omission and bias rather than outright falsification. Chomsky has a bizarre tendancy (which continues to this day) to argue that he did not say what, in fact, he quite clearly did say and was rather emphatic about. This relentless bad faith that typifies Chomsky's style of argumentation strikes me as a combination of cowardice and arrogance. Chomsky seems to be both terrified of having to defend some of his more grotesque conclusions, and to be simultaneously convinced that he is demonstrably smarter than everyone else and none of us will be swift enough to catch him in his rhetorical sleights of hand. I think this may be due to Chomsky's perception of himself as preaching to two audiences. One, the radical Left audience who come to Chomsky specifically for his uncompromising extremism; and the second, a more mainstream audience before whom he fears being discredited by that same extremism. This attempt to speak in two voices leads to some fascinating moments of cognitive dissonance and outright, baldfaced lying. Taken all together, this final chapter displays a Chomsky more recognizable to us today than the one we meet in the previous essays: petulant, patronizing, insulting, and almost spectacularly dishonest. It isn't pretty stuff, but it says a lot about what can happen when men begin to believe the rumors of their own genius.

Most of the chapter is spent denouncing a series of specific figures on the American Left, almost all of them Jews, and disparaging their criticisms of Chomsky and his fellow travelers on the subject of Israel. Chomsky does not spend time beating around the bush, he calls them all a bunch of damn liars and keeps doing so for thiry-odd pages:

Irving Howe wrote [of New Left doctrine on Israel] that "Jewish boys and girls, children of the generation that saw Auschwitz, hate democratic Israel and celebrate as revolutionary the Egyptian dictatorship." ...He gave no examples of any celebration of the Egyptian dictatorship. In fact, he did not refer at all to the scanty New Left literature on the subject he was discussing. Nathan Glazer went still further: "It is clear", he asserted, "that the New Left has an overwhelming and unbendable tendency to support the Arabs and to oppose Israel." Glazer presented no evidence whatsoever to support this categorical judgement and was unpurterbed when presented with substantial evidence showing that it was false. (p. 132)
We are presented with only Chomsky's word on this "substantial evidence", and on the exagerrative quality of Howe's comments. Considering the plethora of balderdash encountered in the previous four chapters, I am afraid I am not prone to giving Chomsky the benefit of the doubt on this one. At any rate, Chomsky's assertion offends the common sense. The idea that the New Left would be anything other than hostile to Israel, as an ally of the United States and enemy both of Third World radicalism and Soviet expansionism is a categorical absurdity.

More hilarious, however, is the following:

[I.F] Stone and I, according to [Seymour] Lipset, have

"a commitment which currently involves defining the al-Fatah terrorists as 'left-wing guerrillas' and Israel as 'a collaborator with imperialism', if not worse. One doubts whether even the most sophisticated presentation of Israel's case could ever regain their support."

Note the quotation marks around the phrases "left-wing guerrillas" and "a collaborator with imperialism", the implication being, presumably, that these phrases were taken from our writings...All of this is complete fabrication. The alleged quotations do not exist. I have discussed Fatah, not identifying it as a left-wing movement, which would be nonsensical, but pointing out that it contains left-wing elements, as, of course, it does...Neither Stone nor I have ever written anything expressing the commitment Lipset attributes to us (without reference), though it is easy enough to find explicit refutations of these views. (p. 132-133)
This has to be the most incompetent use of the straw-man argument I have ever witnessed. Firstly, Lipset's use of quotation marks is, in my opinon at least, quite obviously intended to mock the ludicrousness of such ideas and not to imply that they are a direct quotation from the works of either Stone or Chomsky. In any case, Chomsky is hardly one to be accusing anyone of not correctly sourcing their writings. Secondly, when Chomsky claims he has never written what Lipset says he wrote, he is lying outright. Not only has he written such things, he has written them in this book.

In particular, [Safran] fails to see the significance of the rise of El-Fatah, which many observers believe to be a genuine expression - the first - of the national consciousness of the masses of Palestinian Arabs...

The explicit goal of El-Fatah is to involve the masses in struggle, now that they have recognized the futility of looking to the Arab states for salvation...

In short, it seems accurate to say that Israel now faces a liberation movement modelling itself consciously on others that have proven successful...a conscious mass-based liberation movement... (emphasis mine - Benjamin) (p.61-64)
Chomsky then proceeds to analogize Fatah to the Vietnamese communist guerrillas. Now, it may be that Chomsky considers "mass-based", popular, anti-imperialist, FLN-styled Third World liberation movements to be conservative in nature, but I am inclined to doubt it.

As to Israel as a "collaborator of imperialism", while Chomsky has stated (as I quoted in the introduction) that such a description is "not accurate", I must say that, while this may be his ideological position, in practice it is clearly a bad faith argument. Chomsky is quite explicit about considering America an imperialist power. He also hands us reams of pages describing America's military and political support for Israel, support which he explicitly states as serving America's interest, i.e. the interests of an imperial power. How this does not qualify as accusing Israel of being a "collaborator of imperialism" is beyond me.

Without question, this section is the low point of the book, a deplorable piece of deliberate falsehood combined with a heady dose of character assassination. I think only Noam Chomsky could convince himself that he could write such lies and get away with it when the evidence to refute them is contained in the same book. Perhaps he thinks we're all too dumb or lazy to flip a few pages back and check out his claims for ourselves. At any rate, it certainly is no testament to the man's alleged genius that he feels the need to engage in such obvious lying in order to buttress his arguments.

Chomsky is, if anything, even more brazen in the footnotes to this chapter, denying outright the existence of anti-semitism among black radical groups.

...I did comment on the zeal with which some American Zionist sociologists seek out statements in obscure periodicals to 'prove' that the black groups are anti-Semitic, and I noted the exagerrated conclusions that are drawn as to the significance of these instances...I have yet to see any instances of anti-Semitism or even anti-white "reverse racism"... (p. 180)
It is unclear to me how Chomsky manages to define The Autobiography of Malcolm X or Soul on Ice as "obscure periodicals". One can only conclude from this astonishing paragraph that Chomsky is either lying, willfully blind, or so self-hating that he is simply unable to recognize anti-semitism when he sees it. Reading passages like this, it is not hard to see how Chomsky in his later years became so sanguine about the subject of Holocaust denial.

Nothing, however, echoes with more resounding bad faith than Chomsky's self-martyrization in the face of his critics.

Were American resisters and deserters enemies of the United States, or were they defending the interests of the American people and their professed ideals? The semantic trap is obvious. Apologists for state power are always quick to identify opposition and resistance to state policy as an attack on the society and its people. In the case at hand, support for policies of the Israeli state may or may not be "support for Israel" in any reasonable sense of this notion, and criticism of these policies must also be analysed on its merits. (p. 155)
This is a familiar argument to anyone who has argued with an anti-war protestor. They are not anti-American, they claim, they simply disagree with their government's policies. By the same token, they say, someone who criticizes Israel is not axiomatically anti-semitic. This is, in my opinion, a monumentally dishonest argument, particularly in Chomsky's case, for the simple reason that Chomsky is not criticizing specific policies but rather arguing that the existence of Israel is, within itself, unjust and the country ought to be dismantled. In the same manner of war protestors who proclaim their country a racist, imperialist monster from its origins and then claim to be only criticizing specific policies, Chomsky's stance on Israel is not political but existential.

In the essays that follow and elsewhere, I have argued that socialist binationalism offers the best long-range hope for a just peace in the region. (p. 33)

Under any agreement that can be imagined for the near future, Israel will remain a Jewish state - that is, a state based on the principle of discrimination. (p. 37)

[T]here is, perhaps, a slender hope...This can only mean a programme of socialist binationalism, which might take various forms. (p. 129-130)

Israel is a Jewish state with non-Jewish citizens. By law and administrative practice it must be - and is - a state based on discrimination and exclusivism. (p. 153)

Like many other left-liberal American Zionists...Howe always skirts the crucial question...How can a Jewish state with non-Jewish citizens be a "democratic state", let alone a socialist society? (p. 161)
Chomsky is eminently clear on this point: Israel as it is currently constituted is an insult to universal principles of justice and human rights. He desires it to be destroyed in its current form and reconstituted as a utopian binational entity. His criticisms, therefore, are precisely the opposite of what he claims they are. They are, in fact, "an attack on the society and its people", for he does not believe that Israeli society is worthy of continued existence. The fact that he claims to be shocked and dismayed that some of his fellow Jews, and liberal Gentiles for that matter, might disagree with demolishing a society of several million people for the sake of ideological abstractions simply cannot be taken seriously. As for his sniveling and petulent attempts to weasel his way out of acknowledging the extremism of his own statements, I can only say that I have rarely seen such undignified cowardice in an intellectual of standing. His statements are shameful enough, the fact that he makes them and then lacks even the requisite courage to stand by them under public criticism and argue their merits in good faith is nothing short of obscene.

For my own edification, I must note my objections to Chomsky's stance on this matter. It does us no good to ignore such assaults. I live in Israel and feel obliged to defend its right to exist against its critics, however foolish I may believe them to be. There is no question that there are issues with Israel's Arab citizens and their place in a Jewish state. There is racism and there is discrimination. It is not Apartheid by any stretch of the imagination. It is also nothing particularly unusual in states with large national minorities. Particularly when, as in Israel's case, that minority considers itself an inseperable part of a hostile regional majority. I would gladly put Israel's record in regards to its Arab minority up against that of any of the states of Europe or Asia, or even the United States, and certainly against the record of the Arab states, many of whom brutally persecute their national or religious minorities if they have not exprelled them outright.

I also violently disagree with Chomsky that Israel is a state based in discrimination. It is a state based on identification with the Jewish people. Contrary to Chomsky, I do not see this as a cosmic evil fundamentally different from France, Japan, Turkey, or a multitude of other countries, including our myriad Arab and Muslim neighbors. Indeed, in comparison to many other countries Israel is immensely liberal, granting its minorities substantial legal and religious autonomy. I am not naive, however, it is very difficult to be an Arab in Israel, especially at moments like this, when the conflict is so inflamed and bitter. There is no question that aspects of Israel's culture and society will and ought to be changed. I believe this can happen within the framework of a Jewish state. Israel can fulfill the human rights of its minorities while also expressing the national rights of the Jewish people. I would argue, furthermore, that Israel's existence is essential to both the national and human rights of the Jewish people. I agree with Hannah Arendt that the experience of the Jews in World War II bears out the position that the guarantee of human rights is impossible without first the guarantee of national rights. Were the Arab peoples living in a single Arab state surrounded by twenty-odd Jewish ones, I rather think they would feel the same way.

Thus, I must dissent from Chomsky's position that only socialist binationalism is a just solution to the conflict, as it would deny the Jewish people the sole expression of their national, collective rights, and thus also their essential rights as human beings. Furthermore, seeing as how no socialist binational state has ever existed in history, let alone between two warring ethnic groups with a history of violent enmity, I am not inclined to trust to the feasibility of such a project, even if argued in the best of faith and by the most airtight logic. On both counts, Chomsky fails miserably.

I have spent the better part of the last two years studying the history of Israel, the Jewish people, and the Israeli-Arab conflict at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. I am not an expert by any means, but I am at least as qualified as Noam Chomsky (who, after all, holds no credentials in this area of study) to comment on the issues at hand at reach some conclusions as to the value of Peace in the Middle East? as an analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Firstly, this book needs to be seen for what it is: a collection of polemics, not a work of competent scholarship. Though heavily footnoted, its sourcing is shoddy and its methodology dishonest. It is advocacy and not objective historical/political analysis.

Secondly, it is clear that the real villian of this peace is not so much Israel as the United States. Chomsky's obsession with American power and the dark intentions which govern it overshadow everything he writes in this book. His hostility towards Israel is real, but it strikes me as inextricably connected to his demonization of the US. This becomes manifest in the final chapter where he tries to link American intellectual support for Israel to the Vietnam War, a bizarre attempt that smacks of paranoia and delusions of persecution. Ultimately, he concieves of most of the world's events as in some way the result of the machinations of American and, to a much lesser degree, Soviet foreign policy, or lack thereof. Either way, his conception of Superpower omnipotence remains.

That this is a simplistic and unnuanced view of things has been noted by many of Chomsky's critics before. In my opinion, Chomsky's worldview is not so much simplistic as it is an overarching, Manichean theology in which the United States, and, by extension, Israel, are forever guilty and their victims, i.e. the Palestinians, Third World revolutionary movements, international socialism, etc., are forever innocent, whatever their actions or ideologies. I have already noted Chomsky's considerable use of willful distortionism matched with his professional incompetance as a political/historical/military analyst. I would add to this that one cannot read this book without realizing that all these manipulations point in the same direction: towards indicting Israel and the United States and absolving the Arab states of all responsiblity to end the conflict. Nowhere does he suggest that the Arab states, as the more wealthy and numerous party to the conflict, may have a responsiblity of their own to lessen tensions and undertake peace initiatives. Nor does he recommend that the first step towards such a goal may be the Arab states' acceptance of Israel's right to exist. Indeed, he cannot do so, as he does not accept it himself.

Such a stance is, needless to say, not merely one-sided, but also grotesquely unfair and unjust. Criticism of Israel is one thing, negation is quite another. In this sense, there is little light between Chomsky and the most maximalist of Israel's enemies, only the details of Israel's eradication are at issue. Chomsky does attempt a moderate tone, and his vocabulary is redolent with words like "justice", "peace", "co-existence" and a host of other terms rendered Orwellian by the service to which he puts them, for his purpose is not to turn Israel into a place of serenity but a desert of Jewish dreams. Putting aside the dishonesty of his style, I must seperate from Chomsky even in absolutely objective terms. He believes a utopian socialism will be sufficient to ameliorate the sufferings and needs of the Jewish people. I believe this is an idea already relegated to the ash-heap of history. I am not a Zionist because of my contempt for other peoples, I am a Zionist because I believe that a just world is impossible without justice also for the Jewish people, a justice which will not be obtained with pie-in-the-sky dreams of a socialist paradise, nor with reckless appeals to the goodwill of our enemies. It is my hope that, sooner rather than later, Israelis and Arabs will settle into a tense but bloodless mutual contempt which, with time, may dissapate into some form of mutual rapproachment. Any other solution is, I believe, naive and foolish. Rewriting history in an attempt to prove otherwise will only obscure our ability to comprehend ourselves and others, and perpetuate that fruitless dissonance which is so much a part of the political life of the Middle East. Chomsky's irresponsibility and intellectual violence serve the good of no one. Peace can only come through mutual recognition, negation will not help us cross that Rubicon. As someone who values truthful historiography, I can regard Peace in the Middle East? as merely contemptible. On a moral level, I am appalled by it. This is a work which does nothing to remove the question mark of its title. It is a fractured mirror which only reinforces the bitterness and greivances of a single side, and thus perpetuates this war which can only end through the replacement of negation by acceptance. A bitter, unwanted acceptance, perhaps, but an acceptance nonetheless, and one which silences guns and unclenches fists, if only from opposite sides of a wall between two states composed of angry and nightmare-plagued refugees and their children. For such a consummation, Chomsky has nothing but contempt and scorn. A contempt and a scorn which we must regard, perhaps, as tragic, for he can clearly concieve of no just solution but self-immolation. But a contempt and a scorn which are also, for those of us who must live with the reality of the violence which for Chomsky is but a matter of words, a bitter and unnecessary contribution to a conflict which has already had its fill.