News | Academics

Chomsky offers charged picture of Middle East, in speech at Barnard

See also Spectator's coverage of Dershowitz's speech.


Painting the world in stark dichotomies, famed linguist Noam Chomsky explained the Israel-Palestine conflict in simple terms to a crowded audience in LeFrak Gym: “Israeli Jews are people and Palestinians are ‘unpeople.’”

Sponsored by the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University, Chomsky’s speech “America and Israel-Palestine: War and Peace” was a harsh critique of American foreign policy in Israel. Professor of Linguistics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chomsky is one of the foremost American intellectuals to speak against American foreign policy concerning Israel and Palestine.

In a speech that read like a laundry list of Israeli-Palestinian history, he returned to the people/unpeople theme many times to explain Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and America’s acquiescence.

“Remember, these are all ‘unpeople,’” he said. “So naturally, no one cares.”

In addition to his psychological analysis, Chomsky focused on what he considers to be the greatest obstacle to moving forward in the peace process: the United States. The United States is one of Israel’s last allies, offering political and financial support to the country despite decades of criticism from the international community.

“Israel offers a lot to the United States,” Chomsky said, referring to American investments in Israel—especially in military capital and military technology—and its role as a strategic American ally in the Middle East. He also referred to “cultural” similarities, saying that both the United States and Israel share a history of removing indigenous peoples from their lands. “We did it, so it’s got to be right. Jews are doing it, so it’s got to be right,” he said.

In the end, Chomsky said there are two simple options: that things continue the way they are or Israel and the United States allow for a two-state solution.

“If you’re opposed to a two-state settlement at this point, you’re telling the Palestinians to get lost," he said. “Of all the problems in the world, this has to be the easiest to solve,” he said.

Following his speech, questions ranged from aggressive attacks on his political positions to practical inquiries about the details of his proposal for peace.

One student challenged Chomsky’s claim that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak walked away from a peace settlement during the 2000 Camp David Accords, saying it was Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat who refused Barak’s offer to give Palestinians all of Gaza and most of the West Bank. But Chomsky said that the terms of the agreement were unworkable from the beginning. “Clinton recognized that no Palestinian, no Arab, would ever accept the terms that they proposed,” he said. “There’s no need to discuss it.”

He also questioned the veracity of many students’ facts. “There is an official story, which is true, but like most official stories, it falls apart quickly if you look at the facts,” he added.
Despite enthusiastic applause through much of his talk, Chomsky’s wording attracted a crowd of mixed opinions.

“When he says ‘unpeople,’ what he means the audience to understand is racism,” said Ryan Arant, SIPA. “But what I think he’s describing are traditional power dynamics between the powerful and the powerless.”

“There are real things to talk about,” Arant added. “But calling Israel and the West racist is not one of them.”

But others considered the event a valuable learning experience.

“It was a good way to get a view of it from a well-informed source,” said Yaas Bigdeli, SEAS ’14. “I was impressed,” she said, adding that she was drawn to Chomsky by his fame and a desire to learn about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

But as Bigdeli noted, the notably dry Chomsky did end on a positive note.

“I think it’s kind of optimistic,” he said. “Because it means that the future is in our hands.”

katie.bentivoglio@columbiaspectator.com

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Anonymous posted on

I believe that Professor Chomsky's comments are a conservative and understated picture of the situation that Palestinians face today. They cannot budge for more than a few miles in any direction. Gaza is a bombed-out wasteland packed with a blockaded people. Is it any wonder that Columbia just finished a Palestine solidarity conference which pushed for divestment, boycott, and sanctions against Israel?

Video on the panic that boycott is causing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Boycott is a very peaceful response to a very violent occupation.

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Anonymous posted on

"informed source"? look at the references he makes in his books... quotes from Al-Jazeera reporters posted as truth while dismissing respectable historians who doesn't fall into his way of thinking.
He's definitely a brilliant man in the field of linguistics... his political agenda however is far from being "informed" or anything but simple hatred to the country his father came from (maybe there's a connection here, many immigrants have some load of hatred to their origin countries because their lives there weren't as easy as they expected).

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Anonymous posted on

N.B. dont_buy_the_bs: Noam Chomsky's father was born way before the state of Israel was formed so he couldn't have been born there (he was actually from a part of the Ukraine that was then part of Russia). I don't know if Chomsky hates the country of his father (that would be the Ukraine) but like me I know he hates injustice.

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Anonymous posted on

then look into the injustice of his misrepresentation of the conflict. I also hate injustice and therefore disagree with Chomsky

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Anonymous posted on

Exactly what is his misrepresentation? I've read numerous articles of his on the subject and they're all detailed and objective.

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Anonymous posted on

Lefrak gymnasium! Sam must be turning over in his grave.

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Anonymous posted on

Everything he said was accurate.

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Anonymous posted on

No, you agree with everything he said.

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Anonymous posted on

this man is a senile fool...anyone who buys into his bull is just sippin the koolaid

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Anonymous posted on

Nonsense. His research into the subject goes back decades. You just don't want to agree with him.

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Anonymous posted on

you can research something all you want and still have ridiculous opinions. One is sensory and the other motor, anything you want can happen in between

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Anonymous posted on

Nah, he was always crazy; senility had nothing to do with it. 

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Anonymous posted on

The attacks on Chomsky are uniformly ad hominem and baseless.  I'm still waiting for a substantive rebuttal of his lecture or any part of it.  This has been a flood of empty B.S.

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Anonymous posted on

I concur ... the comments so far are emblematic of the situation in occupied Palestine: intransigent and illogical

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Anonymous posted on

A cunning linguist.

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Anonymous posted on

Where is the full video?

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