I thought (and hoped) that Noam Chomsky was on a path to redemption when he was one of the sponsors of the Russell Tribunal last month. His current trip to Gaza was also seen as a feather in his cap, but apparently that feather is a bit ruffled as can be seen in an interview he granted to the Electronic Intifada, where he spoke against the Academic Boycott against Israel. As an educator, it would be beneficial for all of us if he would help educate the American public as to the reasons behind the Boycott (as he himself suggests) rather than speak out against it.
Today, if you look at the people’s understandings and beliefs, a call for an academic boycott on Tel Aviv University will strengthen support for Israel and US policy because it’s not understood. There is no point of talking to people in Swahili if they don’t understand what you are saying. There could be circumstances in which a boycott of Tel Aviv would be helpful, but first you have to do the educational and organizational work.

Chomsky in Gaza: academic boycott “will strengthen support for Israel”

Rami Almeghari 

US scholar Noam Chomsky at the Islamic University, Gaza City, 20 October (Majdi Fathi / APA images)

Legendary MIT linguistics professor and political author Noam Chomsky has been visiting the Gaza Strip for a linguistics conference and as a demonstration of political solidarity.

The Electronic Intifada’s Rami Almeghari sat down with Chomsky in Gaza City to talk about his views on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, and what a political settlement in Palestine may look like.

Rami Almeghari: Your current visit to the Gaza Strip is said to be within your own attempt to help break the Israeli siege of Gaza. Why has it taken place now?

Noam Chomsky: It has been a matter of arrangements and you know I am here taking part in the linguistic conference for the Islamic University of Gaza and this is a good chance for me to help break the blockade of Gaza .

RA: Do you agree with the international and Palestinian calls to boycott Israel academically and economically?

NC: So, in the case of South Africa, for example, in which I was involved in the boycotts, they were highly selective and they were selected in a way which would lead to help for the victims, not to make us feel good, help for the victims. The same in the case of the Vietnam war, where I was involved, and I was imprisoned many times, I was involved in civil disobedience, organizing resistance and so on.

But we always had to ask ourselves, when we pick a particular tactic, what does it mean for the Vietnamese not what does it mean for us? And sometimes there are things you should do and sometimes there are things you shouldn’t do and in fact they were very helpful in that regard.

And the same is true with boycotts. If you call for an academic boycott of say Tel Aviv University you have to ask yourself, what the consequences are of that call for the Palestinians and there’s an indirect answer. When you carry out an act in the United States, you are trying to reach the American population and you’re trying to bring the American population to be more supportive of Palestinian rights and opposed to Israeli and US policies.

So you therefore ask yourself, will an academic boycott of Tel Aviv University have – you ask yourself what the effect would be on the American audience in the United States that you are trying to reach. Now, that depends on the amount of organization and education that has taken place in the United States.

Today, if you look at the people’s understandings and beliefs, a call for an academic boycott on Tel Aviv University will strengthen support for Israel and US policy because it’s not understood. There is no point of talking to people in Swahili if they don’t understand what you are saying. There could be circumstances in which a boycott of Tel Aviv would be helpful, but first you have to do the educational and organizational work.

Same with South Africa. The equivalent of BDS, the boycott and sanctions programs, they began really around 1980. There were a few before, but mainly around then. That was after twenty years of serious organizing and activism which had led to a situation in which there was almost universal opposition to apartheid. Corporations were pulling out following the Sullivan law, the [US] Congress was passing sanctions and the UN had already declared embargo. We’re nowhere near that in the case of Palestine. We are not even close.

RA: Do you agree or not agree, do you agree partially… ?

NC:You can’t agree or disagree, it’s meaningless. In the case of any tactic, you ask yourself, what are its consequences, ultimately for the victims, and indirectly for the audience you are trying to reach. So you ask, do the people I am trying to reach see this as a step towards undercutting US policy and freeing the Palestinians or do they see this tactic as a reason to strengthen their support for US policy and attacking the Palestinians. That’s the question you ask when you carry out any tactic, whether it is disobedience, breaking bank windows, demonstrations, whatever it is. Those are the questions you ask if you care about the victims, if you don’t care about the victims, you won’t bother with these questions and you just do what makes you feel good.

RA: [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas called on the UN to recognize Palestine as a non-member state of the UN. What do you think about this move amidst Israel’s ongoing unilateral actions on the ground that change facts on the ground?

NC: The question is whether this act will improve the situation of the Palestinians and it is independent of what Israel is doing on the ground, which is a separate issue. Abbas can’t change what Israel is doing on the ground.

He can, or Palestinians can, take steps which will improve their situation in the international arena, so we ask ourselves whether a move towards recognition of Palestine as a non-observer status would be of benefit to the Palestinians or not.

Well, I think it could be of some benefit. For example, there’s a good reason why the United States and Israel are so passionately opposed to it. The reason they are passionately opposed is that it would be of benefit to the Palestinians. For example, it would give them the status in which they might consider bringing criminal charges against Israel to theInternational Criminal Court.

Now that’s almost certainly not going to succeed but it could be an important educational step. And that’s what you think about if you care about the victims. As I said, if you don’t care about the victims you don’t ask these questions.

But if you care about the victims you ask what this action will have to do, how will it affect their fate. How will it affect the people of Gaza and the people of Palestine generally. In this case, I think it can have some mild positive effects. And we should pay attention to the fact that both US and Israel are passionately opposed, and if they are passionately opposed we should ask ourselves why? And they are opposed precisely because it could be of benefit to the Palestinians.

RA: Some call for a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel, while others call for aone democratic state solution. Which is more workable for you?

NC: It is not a choice. I have been in favor of the what’s called a one-state-solution or binational state solution for seventy years and, so ok, I’m in favor of it. I am also in favor of peace in the world and … getting rid of poverty. There’s a lot of things I’m in favor of.

But if you are serious, you say, “how do we get from here to there?” That’s the question. We can all say it’s a wonderful idea. In fact I don’t think one state is a good idea, I think there should be a no-state solution that should erode the imperial borders. There’s no reason to worship French and British decisions on where to draw borders. A no-state solution would be much better, but again we ask, how do we get there?

Over the past seventy years I have been involved, there have been different ways in which you could move to that direction. Circumstances change, so your tactics change and under current circumstances, in fact since 1975, there is only one way that has ever been proposed, and that is in stages, through a two-state solution as the first stage. If there’s another way, nobody’s told us. They can say “I like this outcome,” but they don’t tell us how we get there. Now that’s as interesting as someone [who] says I’d like to have peace in the world.

RA: Thank you very much.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

Written FOR (Click on link to hear transcripts of the interview)


  1. Greg Burton said,

    October 22, 2012 at 18:07

    There is no doubt that Chomsky is a brilliant semanticist. An expert on who understands how public relations works: that it is meant to be a mind control industry. A man who knows that this industry has now grown completely out of control, fabricating completely illusory realities to the masses through the media.

    This same media has created a whole artificial realities in the wake of 911…an artificial reality that has generated shadow enemies, illegal wars, the pretext for shredding of our constitutional rights, torture, a police state where most of the crimes that support this structure could only have occurred with the assistance of agent provocateurs, laws passed to de-regulate and make business less transparent, tax cuts that have re-created a hereditary class and the looting of Wall Street and America: hiding the reality of economic disaster and environmental debacles.

    It is self-event to any sentient being that 911, by itself, has been the biggest single false reality created and designed to manipulate public opinion. Yet Chomsky, this “brilliant semanticists”, can’t bring himself to conclude that this signal event of modern history, this terrorist attack, could have been staged, despite the overwhelming evidence indicating such, and that there should be a new and thorough 911 investigation to truly identify who was behind and who benefited from 911; saying only that “911 doesn’t matter” or that “there was an alternative” that confirms the official myth, the Osama bin Laden lie, while maintaining we reacted wrong, completely ignoring the growing evidence of a global oligarchy using false-flag terror and the police state to loot the world. Pffft!

    There is something serious awry here with this man. He has been labelled as gifted and a person who has no peer, so it can’t be for lack of intellect. It can only be from Chomsky willfully averring from what is as plain as the nose on his face: 911 was an inside job; and I for one am now labeling him for what his is: Agent. But an agent for whom?

    Hey, Noam. 911 was an inside job.

  2. est said,

    October 22, 2012 at 22:16

    intellect in the service of evil
    an affront to god and creation

    this man was given the tools
    yet look what he has built

    more shame more temporizing
    and more death and destruction

    did he do it personally perhaps no
    but his arguments help to allow it

  3. hp said,

    October 23, 2012 at 01:20

    “Chomsky would have us all believe the Romans crucified Jesus for oil.”


  4. Lee said,

    October 23, 2012 at 05:03

    I would not call this man, brilliant, instead, skillfully and artfully evasive. Both vague and ambiguous. He belongs in the courtroom to confuse, cloud, and discount the main issue.

    He almost redeemed himself, but did not. He had a chance to be a member of humanity, but chose to be a monster. He elegantly and philosophically defused the plight of the Palestinian people who are systematically being genocided. Instead, he strongly suggests that a public education program be first implemented before any academic boycott.

    The most offending statement was his “you can’t agree or disagree, it’s meaningless”.

    This is the very essence of evil.

  5. james said,

    October 23, 2012 at 06:23

    Brilliant minds can make great errors of judgement, all the more so because of the influence they may have on others.
    I have no problem with Chomsky’s explanation on this topic. He argues it well, asking the essential question: “Will it have a positive affect on the American consciousness, regarding the rights of the Palestinians?” One may argue the point, but he at least invites a coherent discussion.
    On the subject of 9-11, he’s a huge disappointment; yet he’s not alone amongst the more-dedicated, principled “leaders” on “the left,” (even Pilger and Greg Palast) and it would be wrong to call him “an agent” of the state.
    Chomsky (et al) is not questioning the official story around 9-11 because he thinks it’s unnecessary, (and a distraction) from an imperial game that (he thinks) SHOULD already be obvious.
    He said the same thing about the JFK assassination… refused to give it a serious examination, claimed it “devastated the resistance movement” of the 60’s. The (widespread) assumption is that such “wild conspiracies” divides us.

    While I’m sympathetic to the view that the suffering humanity is having to endure already SHOULD be reason enough for (still-privileged) American citizens to say, “no more”; in sad fact it’s not; and the unwillingness to risk alienating and scaring the population even more, (by asking questions about 9-11, JFK) is weakening “the left” still further.
    The expanding crisis continues to give people like chomsky, goodman, taibi, etc. a modicum of credibility; yet in truth, we’re watching our society slow-stampeding off the cliff while these “brilliant” intellectuals continue to spout the same old criticism of a sick system, merely adding to the noise.

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