Addressing an overflowing room with about 300 Harvard students and community members, Chomsky faced an audience composed of many supporters of Israel’s Middle East policy.
Representatives of the Land of Israel Committee at the Boston Jewish Russian Center in Brighton distributed anti-Chomsky materials at the door and the Harvard Students for Israel sat against the back wall holding Israeli flags.
Chomsky’s speech, part of the Social Anthropology Colloquium, focused on his version of the conflict in the Middle East since 1967.
Chomsky is known as a vocal proponent of radical politics. His writings have been featured in The Nation and his most recent book, 9-11, blames United States foreign policy for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Steven C. Caton, acting chair of the anthropology department, introduced Chomsky as the inheritor to the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, Class of 1837.
“Like Thoreau, Chomsky went to jail when he refused to pay taxes during the Vietnam War,” Caton said.
Chomsky began his speech by defining the problem in Middle Eastern policy.
“There are two groups that claim the right of national self-determination in the same territory, the indigenous population and the settlers from elsewhere,” he said.
Chomsky attacked Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz for his stance on Israel and called him a “racist.”
“People like Alan Dershowitz are delighted to have more violence against Palestinians,” he said.
Chomsky read Dershowitz’s quotes about the conflict, replacing the word “Palestinians” with “Jews” to demonstrate that racism toward Palestinians is acceptable, while anti-Semitism is not.
“There is a lot of racism on the Harvard campus and it’s pretty serious, but it’s not anti-Semitism,” Chomsky said.
He also referenced an Israeli military commander in 1948 who said, “one million bullets were fired, one for each Palestinian child.” Much of audience rose and booed in response.
Some members of the audience were disruptive during the speech and continually interrupted Chomsky, despite the attempts of most of the audience to silence the room.
The most frequent interruptions came from a group of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Some in the audience were bothered by the audience disruptions and questioned Harvard’s policy of allowing the public to attend speeches.
“I was appalled by the tactics of some of the characters sitting in the audience who tried to shout down Professor Chomsky and several verbally assaulted me, calling me a Jewish self-hater,” said Judith Koffler, a graduate of Harvard Law School.
After most of the audience left, brief shoving matches erupted between vocal members of the audience.