Friday, November 18, 2005

Noam Chomsky

The Guardian has published an apology and removed its hatchet job interview with Noam Chomsky. What remains to seen is if Harry's Place and Oliver Kamm (google him if you wan't to find the link: I find him too odious to link to) will make this fact known. They ought to, considering the chortling that followed on their websites after the interview was published.

On the other hand Israeli (left leaning) newspaper Haaretz has a good interview with Chomsky (although it still gets some stuff wrong).


Chris said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Terence said...

woops...accidentally hit the delete button...

Neal said...


The problem with Chomsky is that he says only sort of says things and thus invites contraversy. Thus, he supports the right of avowed Holocaust deniers to publish but when he is challenged on the ideology of the deniers, he never can quite say he disagrees with the people whose right to publish he supports. Now, there is nothing wrong with supporting the right to publish. But, when a famous person lends support, they are not merely supporting the right to support. So, in fact, he is rightly taken to task for not saying his view on the publication.

I might add, the likely reason that Chomsky does not speak clearly on Holocaust deniers is that his audience includes a large number of Antisemites. He would loose a chunk of his audience were he to be up front by saying (a) "I support the right to publish even odious things" and (b) "The Holocast deniers are publishing odious things."

That would not be difficult for him at all. Instead, he insists he has not studied what the deniers claims (a point I tend to doubt) and so he say that other - not Chomsky - say such views are odious. Then, for example, he will go on to attack those who challenge him as being supporters of Israel who want to silence Chomsky, not the Holocaust deniers.

When he does that, he makes a logic error called tu quoque. Which is to say, he does not challenge the position of those who disagree with him but, instead, accuses them of doing to him the thing he is trying to defend.

I might add that his attack is also a piece of ad hominem attack, which is also a logic error.

I might note, lastly, that a close examination of Chomsky's views will discover that logic errors pervade. In fact, I do not think his positions have very much appeal to those who think an argument must be logically valid.

Terence said...

Hi there Neal,

How's things? I hope you have a read of the Haaretz article on Chomsky.

As for your comments; I don't entirely disagree with you, but I mostly do :)

1. Re: the Faruson (sp?) affair - I agree Chomsky should have come out more strongly in criticism of Farusson. He could have at least attemted to read some of his stuff and then made comment. Still, I don't think his defence of Faursson was motivated by anti-semitism (Chomsky, after all, is the son of a famous Hebrew scholar; did his dissertation on Hebrew; has lived in Israel; and has commented on the anti-Semitism in the US that existed after WW2); instead I think his defence was genuinely motivated by free speach principles. Personally, I think that Chomsky's ho-humming on the issue was motivated by the fact that he doesn't take criticism at all well (and I'd imagine that you and I would be the same if we had put up with years of attacks similar to those in the hatchet job Guardian article). there's a reversal me attacking the Guardian; perhaps you could start defending it :)

2. As for Chomsky not speaking about the Holocaust or anti-Semitism because his audience includes a large number of anti-Semites. Personally, I think you are wrong. Chomsky speaks pretty clearly on the Holocaust in the Haaretz article; and he has said quite a lot about anti-Semitism (particularly that which he experienced as a young man). Furthermore, I don't agree with your assertation that his audience is largely anti-Semitic. In the US and New Zealand (the two country's I have expereince with) I have never met an overtly anti-semetic lefty. (I have encountered one person on the internet who was borderline though; but that's a pretty small minority). In New Zealand a couple of years ago; when the National Front surfaced; guess who it was who campaigned against them: the left (in one great moment television cameras beamed to the nation skinheads fleeing into police protection, being chased by a rather tough looking bunch of women). Perhaps the situation is different in Europe; but I am not that inclined to think so. In saying this I'm not denying that anti-Semitism is a real problem (it is of course; particularly in Europe); but I don't think that a huge proportion of Chomsky's audience anywhere is anti-Semitic.

3. Although not in the circumstances you describe, I don't dispute the fact that Chomsky makes errors or engages in ad hominem attacks. I think he let's himself down greatly when he does thinks like comparing Johann Hari to a Stalinist (then again Johan was little better saying that Chomsky "mocked" survivers of Pol Pot).

Ok enough from me.

Neal said...

1. You might be right that he does not take criticism very well. My main point in this regard is not his support of the right to publish garbage - which I generally agree with - but his failure to realize that his support means something a bit different than my support - because he is famous and I am, other than to my friends, unknown -. When the famous Professor Chomsky supports someone's right to publish, it is taken by a large segment of the public as Chomsky's support for the cause of the writer, not merely of the writer's right to publish.

1 and 2. It had not occurred to me to think Chomsky an Antisemite. I think you misread what I wrote. I said that his writing has a great deal of appeal to Antisemites. In this regard, I have the definition of Bernard-Henri Lévy in mind. As he writes:

And then, finally, there's a third reason. Pearl was a Jew. He was a Jew in a country where Judaism is not a religion, and even less an identity, but another crime, another sin. He was a positive Jew. He was a Jew in the way Philip Roth or Albert Cohen are Jews. He was proud of it. Affirmative. Didn't one of his colleagues tell me the story of this scene in Peshawar, an Islamist fiefdom, where, in a group of journalists asked about their religion, he placidly replied "Jewish," which turned the atmosphere glacial. He was a Jew like his father, like his mother. He was a Jew like one of his grandfathers, Chaïm Pearl, who gave his name to a street in B'nei Brak, Israel. He was this sort of Jew able, at the moment of supreme martyrdom, to proceed in the sanctification of the name of Jew. And he is most surely a victim of modern anti-Semitism, the anti-Semitism that starts, in fact, with B'nei Brak, ties the name of Jew to the name of Israel and, without renouncing any of its timeworn clichés, readapts them to a new set of charges, reintegrates the whole thing into a system where even the name of Israel has become a synonym for the worst of this world-making the figure of the actual Jew the very face of crime (Tsahal), of genocide (the theme, trotted out ever since Durban, and even before then, of the massacre of the Palestinians), of the desire to falsify history (the Shoah as a lie designed to conceal the reality of Jewish power). From Durban to B'nei Brak, the clothing of hatred. From "one Jew, one bullet," chanted by some NGO members in Durban, to the Yemeni knife that actually murdered Daniel Pearl, a sort of a sequence. Daniel Pearl is dead because he was a Jew. Daniel Pearl is dead, victim of neo-anti-Judaism that is blossoming before our eyes. I've been talking about this neo-anti-Judaism for the past twenty-five years. There are a few of us who have sensed the processes of legitimization of this ancient hatred are being profoundly reworked, and who have written about this fact for the past quarter century. For a long time, the rabble said the Jews are hateful because they killed Christ (Christian anti-Semitism). For a long time because, on the contrary, they invented him (modern, anticlerical, pagan anti-Semitism). For a long time it was because they are supposed to be a race who will always be foreigners in any land and this race must be erased from the face of the earth (birth of modern biology, racism, Hitlerism). Well, my sense is that that's all over. I have a feeling we will hear less and less that the Jews are hateful in the name of Christ, the anti-Christ, or racial purity. And what we see is a reformulation, a new means of justification for the worst which, as in France during the Dreyfus Affair, but on a more global scale this time, will associate hatred of Jews with the defense of the oppressed-a terrifying stratagem. That, against the backdrop of the religion of victimization, using this transformation of the Jew into executioner and the Jew-hater into the new Jew (that's right, the rabble is intimidated by nothing, slander is nothing new to them, they can well lift towards real Jews the pure image of a victimized "Jew" now embodied by others) will legitimize the murder of a Jew as the henchman of Bush and Sharon: "Busharon" as they would say. Again, Daniel Pearl died, of this.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, at 392-394. The key language is "And what we see is a reformulation, a new means of justification for the worst which, as in France during the Dreyfus Affair, but on a more global scale this time, will associate hatred of Jews with the defense of the oppressed-a terrifying stratagem." That is to say, the world has found a new intellectual vehicle to promote hatred of Jews and, in the end, violence against Jews. And Chomsky's language fits in nicely with people who see things exactly like that.

3. My view is that Chomsky is not much of a scholar, once he leaves his area of expertise. I think he gives opinion - which is his right - but they are just that, opinions, not fonts of wisdom. I note in particular that I had a fairly substantial email debate with him. My view is that he makes elementary mistakes in evaluating historical events of the type that a freshman college student would make. So, frankly, I do not take him all that seriously - other than as a linguist.

Genius said...

Er Neal said it all I think.
Although personally I dont like his approach to linguistics.
I think it is a sad thing about the media that poeple like chomsky ae the peopel who are most able to sell articles because it is indignant shallow analysis that is required to sell articles to people who will only apply shallow analysis in search of a reason to be indignant.

having said that the critics of chomsky tend to do the same things - shallowly analysing his speaches searching for a reason to be upset.

Terence said...

Hi Neal,

I don't deny that anti-Semites use criticism of Israel as a cover for their anti-Semitism; but it doesn't follow that all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. While many of Chomsky's fans may be critical of Israel, I don't think that they are anti-Semites (I certainly haven't encountered any). So I think you are off the mark here.


Chomsky's had two Op-Eds in the NYT in about 30 years and about as many in the Guardian. What was your point again?

Neal said...


I did not say or claim that all criticism of Israel is Antisemitic (or Antizionist). Please read what I said. My point was a bit different. Clearly, within reason, people have the right to be critical of Israel, just like they have the right, within reason, to criticize New Zealand and Australia.

The issue, so far as I am concerned, is not about using Israel as a cover for Antisemitism - as that has rather no meaning other than the obvious that most Antisemites hate anything involving Jews including Israel -. What concerns me is when people adopt eliminationist positions. At the moment, the eliminationist viewpoint is called Antizionism. See also "How I became an 'unconscious fascist'," By Fiamma Nirenstein at with reference to how issues involving Israel are the very heart of modern day Jew hatred.

Those, by contrast, who prefer not to have Jews to their homes for dinner parties or at their exclusive clubs more generally, while noxious, become important in today's world basically only when they adopt an eliminationist philosophy. And, as I said, the current form of eliminationism is Antizionism. It is among today's worst cancers and, in today's world, it is worse than mere Antisemitism.

And, frankly, Chomsky's audience widely holds such views. Which was my point.

Genius said...


Yes that was my point - Chomsky is very good at what he does. Much better than me or almost anyone else in the world. But dont kid yourself that selling the most articles means you are the most iformative - the left can look at anne Coulter or the right can look at Chomsky for proof there!

I would suggest that surely in far left or far right circles being too informative gets in the way.

Terence said...

Hi Neal,

I'm keen to avoid getting into this arguement/debate with you again as, last time it happened, it got quite heated, and I regret that, and am keen to avoid it again. Also I'm willing to admit that you will know much more about anti-Semitism than me.

So my final comment is this link; I think the column is quite sensible on the matter (hat Tip Alex Higgens way back on JH's website):,2763,656655,00.html

Terence said...

Oh Neal,

One more final comment . While I am always arguing with you on these things. I do appreciate your opinions; and I do take them into account. And they've helped me shape my perspective on the always-complicated Middle East.

So thanks for that.


Neal said...


Life would be boring if we all agreed on everything. I also learn from you. So, a dialogue is a good thing.