[Marxism] Noam Chomsky and 'Left' Apologetics for Injustice in Palestine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 25 17:53:56 MDT 2004

Noam Chomsky and 'Left' Apologetics for Injustice in Palestine
by Noah Cohen, 8/21/04

(member of the New England Committee to Defend Palestine)


It's particularly interesting in the case of Palestine to see where US 
intellectuals and progressives decide that it's necessary to be "realistic" 
and where "principled;" where they choose to accept more or less the 
general media consensus about "the boundaries of acceptable discourse" and 
where they reject it. In the case of Palestine, people who are generally on 
record as calling for forthrightness and honesty in the demand for justice 
in political discourse, who criticize a false "pragmatism" oriented toward 
the corporate media and academic political consultants and who question 
generalizing statements about popular consensus, suddenly become believers 
in pragmatism and the limits of what the discourse will allow. An interview 
with Noam Chomsky published on Znet under the title "Justice for 
Palestine?" (Znet, March 30, 2004) is an exemplary contribution to this 
genre of left apologetics. Since it contains so many of the arguments 
generally advanced to legitimize some form of continued existence for an 
Israeli system of colonialism and Apartheid--and to shore up rear-guard 
support for it among US progressives--it is worth examining in full.

In general, the argument rests on two pillars:

1) Israel's history of colonial occupation and expansion must be separated 
from all other colonial histories as a special case and special 
consideration must be given to Zionist colonial settlers as a historically 
vulnerable group;

2) Since this "historically vulnerable group" also has massive military 
power, nuclear weapons, and U.S. military and economic support, calling for 
an end to the colonial regime is unrealistic; it only hurts the colonized, 
and should be redirected to more useful activities.

The first is a tortured attempt to meet arguments about justice; the second 
is an attempt to make them moot by arguments about realism.

These essentially are the two arguments that Chomsky advances against calls 
for democracy and equal rights for all the people of historic Palestine. In 
this case, their particular form runs as follows: a democratic Palestine, 
in all of historic Palestine, with equal rights for everyone would only end 
up making Jews an oppressed minority (moral argument); such calls are 
unrealistic in any case, and will only be used by Zionist extremists to 
further justify their program of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians 
(pragmatic argument). Palestine is thus not like South Africa morally, 
where in the discourse against Apartheid the fact that whites were a 
minority was not supposed to give them the right to maintain special 
privileges by military force--they were a colonial-settler regime, and 
special privileges were exactly what the anti-Apartheid movement was 
opposing. Somehow in the case of the "Jewish state" a colonial-settler 
minority is supposed to be able to maintain a privileged status by force on 
land seized through military aggression. Palestine is not like South Africa 
pragmatically, since calls for an end to the colonial-settler regime are 
doomed to failure because they will never get sufficient international 
support to be effective.

As in the famous case of Freud's "leaky-pot logic" of dreams, one should 
ask oneself whether these two arguments don't rather cancel each other 
out--the first providing the unspoken assumptions and motivations of the 

full: http://www.antiimperialista.com/en/

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