Chomsky Speaks Softly on Israel, Palestine

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Julia A Sokol

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With over 200 people filling the Emerson Hall lecture hall before him, a debate-mongering Harvard Law School (HLS) professor set to speak after him, and members of a pro-Israel student group leafletting his event outside, the renowned MIT linguist and noted anti-Zionist Noam Chomsky delivered a remarkably soft 45-minute chronology of Israeli-Palestinian history yesterday.

Chomsky walked audience members through a careful timeline of Israeli actions against the Palestinians, issuing academic criticisms of the United States and various scholars for their attitudes on the subject. About half of the event’s attendees had filtered out by the middle of the question-and-answer session that followed Chomsky’s remarks.

“I expected it to be more heated,” said moderator and HLS student Nimer Sultany after the event.

Chomsky did take one shot at law professor Alan M. Dershowitz, with whom he has had previously publicized disagreements concerning Israeli-Palestinian relations, and who, after being rebuffed in a late appeal to the Nakba committee for a debate, was set to speak after Chomsky at another venue.

“The deceit is normal and uninteresting,” Chomsky said, referencing a chapter in Dershowitz’s book “The Case for Israel” and moving on to elements of Dershowitz’s book that he believed supported his own claims of Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.

Toward the end of his speech, Chomsky offered some analysis of what he said he believed are American policies that perpetuate oppression of the Palestinians.

“Israel’s policies resonate with deep-seated currents in American history,” he said, drawing parallels between the establishment of the Israeli state and the American takeover of Native American and Mexican territory.

The speech was part of a week of events sponsored by the recently-formed Nakba Committee, a cross-school coalition of students whose mission, according to Sultany, is “to promote awareness about the plight and experience of the Palestinian people in 1948.”

“Nakba”—the Arabic word for tragedy—is used by Palestinians to denote their displacement in the middle of the 20th century by the founders of the Israeli state.

Yesterday’s event drew the attention of Harvard Students for Israel (HSI), the members of which stood at the entrance to the lecture hall distributing single sheets of paper with controversial Chomsky quotations on one side and an article attesting to the “True History of 1948” on the other.

HSI had previously approached Nakba on Dershowitz’s behalf in an unsuccessful attempt to have the law professor debate Chomsky.

“Chomsky always needs to have a truth squad following him around, and I offered to debate him on the Nakba, and apparently the Nakba refused to do that,” Dershowitz said in an interview.

After the event, Chomsky said that Dershowitz’s attempt to join in a debate—coming only a day before the scheduled event—was meant to be rebuffed in order to provide a point of complaint for the Dershowitz camp, and therefore constituted an “infantile method of harassment.”

“He approached [us] at the last minute, but we already had our program set,” Sultany said, confirming Chomsky’s statement. “And it was obvious that they were trying to get a cheap shot, where we would be in a position to have to say no.”

—Staff writer Christian B. Flow can be reached at



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