Noam Chomsky has an incomparable record of revealing the machinations and the deadly effects of United States foreign policy for decades. He has justly earned international respect, and even admiration, for his brilliant analyses and intellectual courage and integrity. It is only natural that many on the left wished to hear his response to a recent study by two prominent academicians in the United States, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, (henceforth, M-W) who caused a sensation by scrutinizing the exploits of the Israeli lobby in Washington. M-W had done an excellent job of describing the brutal antics of the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States and its central player, AIPAC.
I have no reason to believe that either M or W were ever considered leftists. Thus, it is no surprise that their critique of the pro-Israel lobby is based on the assumption that this lobby has succeeded in undermining and perverting a basically honest and fair minded, almost angelic, institution, US foreign policy. Is this a good way of looking at the problem? Does the M-W approach give us a full and accurate picture of the interaction between the different US administrations over the years and the pro-Israeli lobby?
Chomsky’s article appeared in ZNet (March 28, 2006). After noting that, “M-W deserve credit for taking a position that is sure to elicit tantrums and fanatical lies and denunciations,” Chomsky comments that “we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is?”
Chomsky proceeds to a nuanced analyses of the interaction between the two elements: ” “Notice incidentally that what is at stake is a rather subtle matter: weighing the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby.”
Chomsky easily demonstrates the determining and overriding role of U.S strategic-economic interests. But little did he know that he was incurring the wrath of Prof. Ilan Pappe from the University of Haifa (see ALEF, Academic Left Website in Israel – Pappe’s article is appended in full). Pappe uses this opportunity to expose any number of Chomsky’s serious failings. In a few short paragraphs of dense and strangely sloppy text, Pappe presents us with a serious indictment against Chomsky. (Text quoted from Pappe includes all the spelling and grammatical errors in the original).
The First Offense – A Sin of Omission
Pappe charges that “Chomsky never paid too much and enough attention to the impact of AIPAC on American policy.” Leaving off the problem of measuring “too much” and “not enough attention” , is there anyone, including Chomsky, who doubts the impact of AIPAC on American policy? Chomsky relates in his article to the question of the “relative” impact of the Israeli lobby and this makes it crystal clear that he pays ’sufficient attention” to AIPAC. Chomsky it appears is guilty of not stressing something that does not need to be stressed, for the simple reason that it is something which is known and totally uncontroversial, such as the role of AIPAC or the role of the Christian Zionists in supporting Israel. Pappe’s accusation is silly nit-picking. Just how much must Noam Chomsky repeat well known and uncontroversial facts to satisfy Pappe’s demand for ’sufficient attention’? Pappe blames Chomsky for not “highlighting” and “illuminating things” that are clear and simple unchallenged facts. Isn’t it completely reasonable that Chomsky should devote his main attention to more controversial elements of any issue, especially those usually hidden from the public.
Chomsky’s Cardinal Sins
At this point, Pappe, stops playing around and trots out the really important sins of Noam Chomsky: “Chomsky also claims that a two state solution is still viable and opposes sanctions on Israel. Intersting positions but hardly ones the invalidate the counter positions.” Aside from problems of grammar and spelling it is difficult to even understand these sentences. Chomsky did not deal with either of these two questions in his article on M-W! Pappe might mean that these two positions on the two state solution and sanctions do not prove M-W wrong. But Chomsky never made such a claim. The only possible explanation for this attack is that Pappe is grandstanding for a certain constituency where he occupies guru status. This way he can score some points in his own circles by making Chomsky appear anti-Palestinian.
At this point, Pappe tries to poke some holes in Chomsky’s evaluation of US policy ( “a remarkable success and quite similar to those pursued elsewhere”). Pappe has found two isolated instances that do not fit into Chomsky’s generalization of US success in ME policy. He cites a shift in the post-Kennedy period that doesn’t fit into Chomsky’s thesis and then denounces the whole approach (”utterly wrong”). Why, because US non- typically “alienated traditional allies”. Now this did happen, but the US didn’t leave its traditional allies out in the cold. After helping them to get used to the idea that they were on the same side as Israel, the US actually married Egypt and Jordan off to Israel in formal peace agreements.
Here is another Ilan Pappe “clincher”. Though the Saudis profited from the US-Israeli alliance, the rhetoric coming out of Saudia didn’t fit the real situation, namely that Israel was its de facto ally. Whether the Saudis understood this at the time is a moot point. If they did not, time and U.S. diplomacy soon wizened them up. Maybe the Saudis believed that Nasser disappeared, not because of the Israeli military victory over Egypt, but because he was “an infidel.”
Pappe’s final summation is a gem of fogginess and malice and is quoted here in full :”
“It is not that Israel is a sui generis case. But due to the Zionist Lobby and Jewish money in the US it appears to be so and no other regional case of the many cases we learned so much from Chomsky’s ecxellent journeys into the past has ever constitued such a place in US policy. You probably have to be on the receiving end of the US-ISrael speical alliance to understand why it is not a typical American stance and why for re-formulating that policy you need a special campaign and effort; one that is focused on the unprecedented power Jews and Zionists have on America policy in the Middle East in general and Palestine in particular. Unpleasant maybe, but nonetheless the only valid target if indeed one believes US policy should change before peace can come to this area.”
Pappe wanders about in a cloud of confusion. First: “It is not that Israel is a sui generis case.” But his whole argument is precisely that it is just that. He writes: “But due to the Zionist Lobby and Jewish money in the US it appears to be so [sui generis]. Pappe says “appears” when he wants to say that in reality it is just that.
Indeed his argument is the same as that of M-W, but couched in a vulgar and irresponsible language. No serious public intellectual could conceive of using the phrase “unprecedented power Jews and Zionists have on America policy in the Middle East in general and Palestine in particular.” This description of the Jews (not some Jews, not many Jews, but the Jews - is indistinguishable from and easily understood as “all the Jews”). According to Pappe, the Jews, the Zionists and Jewish money have a stranglehold on the US establishment. This thesis is not only inaccurate and grossly exaggerated. It is also formulated in a wild and irresponsible language. But even more important, the very essence of the argument is wrong in that it ignores the overriding force and factor, United States hegemonic interests and imperial domination.
Pappe concludes his short, distortion-packed article, with the most amazing and startling piece of advice. He writes: “If we want to fight US policy we must focus on the only valid target, the unprecedented power of the Jews and the Zionists.” Not just one of the targets. The only valid one!
The Pappe Article
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2006 23:43:06 +0200
Subject: Fwd: Re: [alef] Chomsky: The Israel Lobby?
So what do we learn from the Chomsky reaction?: We can find out what Noam has missed in his analyses in the last twenty years - as this was clear before the LRB article: Chomsky never paid too much and enough attention to the impact of AIPAC on American policy. He identified other factors and grounds, but failed to highlight something which was next door. Nor did he ever write anything of signficance on the Christian Zionists and only recently came to appreciate their role and still did not illuminate their connection to AIPAC. Chomsky also claims that a two state solution is still viable and opposes sanctions on Israel.
Intersting positions but hardly ones the invalidate the counter positions.
Now the most strange para. in his argument is ‘When we do investigate (1), we find that US policies in the ME are quite similar to those pursued elsewhere in the world, and have been a remarkable success, in the face of many
difficulties: 60 years is a long time for planning success. It’s true that Bush II has weakened the US position, not only in the ME, but that’s an entirely separate matter’.
Now this is utternly wrong - the US position shifted in the ME since Kennedy’s death, whereas it remained the same elswhere. Only in the ME did the US alienate regimes that were pro-American and were supported by all the traditonal groups that inform and form US Policy.
The rest of the arguments seem to stem from this faulty assumption and hence comes another unsubstantiated assumption that the ‘As noted, the US-Israeli alliance was firmed up precisely when Israel performed a huge service to the US-Saudis-Energy corporations by smashing secular Arab nationalism, which threatened to> divert resources to domestic needs’.
Performed or was seen to perform? Nobody thought in Riyad that this is what Israel was doing - in fact the Saudi stance became more anti-Israel at that time. It was AIPAC that made it seem like it.
It is not that Israel is a sui generis case. But due to the Zionist Lobby and Jewish money in the US it appears to be so and no other regional case of the many cases we learned so much from Chomsky’s ecxellent journeys into the past has ever constitued such a place in US policy. You probably have to be on the receiving end of the US-ISrael speical alliance to understand why it is not a typical American stance and why for re-formulating that policy you need a special campaign and effort; one that is focused on the unprecedented power Jews and Zionists have on America policy in the Middle East in general and Palestine in particular. Unpleasant maybe, but nonetheless the only valid target if indeed one believes US policy should change before peace can come to this area.