Commentary Magazine

The Future of Israel

To the Editor:

In reviewing my book, Peace in the Middle East? [Books in Review, February], Edward Grossman was dealing with material that he finds offensive and objectionable. He tried, with partial success, to be fair in his comments, and is to be commended for that. But there are, to borrow his terms, some “extended and crucial lapses” in which he “violates his intellectual’s responsibility to a standard of truthfulness.” Most of his strictures are too vague for comment. In a few cases he does attempt to back up what he says. I will keep to these, dismissing the rest.

The most revealing of Mr. Grossman’s lapses appears in his comments on a paragraph describing a possible distant future “based on the fundamental principle, already cited, ‘that whatever the number of the two peoples may be, no people shall dominate the other or be subject to the government of the other.’” According to Mr. Grossman, this description, which he quotes, bears a “remarkable similarity” to Arafat’s UN speech and “chills much like Arafat’s” version. The first of these claims is plainly false. The description he quotes includes Jewish “self-governing national institutions” and the right of Jews to return to their “national homeland.” Arafat’s, crucially, does not. Furthermore, Mr. Grossman neglects to mention that every essential element in the picture that so offends him is drawn from the mainstream of Zionism—not a small oversight. The cited “fundamental principle” is quoted from Nahum Sokolov as he was elected President of the World Zionist Organization in 1931. The remainder of the paragraph reiterates the critique of a possible Jewish state by Ruppin, Katznelson, Ben-Gurion, and other Zionist leaders whom I cite. Thus the vision that Mr. Grossman finds so chilling—“a modest proposal,” no less—is not Arafat’s. Rather it is that of a major component of pre-war Left-liberal Zionism. There were, of course, those who found this picture as offensive as Mr. Grossman does; namely, the extreme right-wing elements who left the Zionist Organization over the issue.

The world has changed greatly since that time, and will change again. Still, the traditional Zionist principles that arouse Mr. Grossman’s horror have not lost their essential validity and may suggest the way toward a better future. One may agree with this judgment or not, but it is hardly honest to characterize these explicit references to a major element in classical Zionist thought merely as “remarkably similar” to Arafat, with no mention whatsoever of their actual source.

The reader will discover that most of what Mr. Grossman finds so chilling in the paragraph he quotes is merely a reiteration of normal principles that are unquestioned (as principles, that is) in any democratic society. This observation brings me to a second major lapse in Mr. Grossman’s account. He states that “Chomsky becomes assertive, cavalier with proofs and definitions, if not yet polemical, whenever he confronts the fact, ugly to him, that Israel is a national community where Jews are the majority.” Thus I judge Israel “by different standards from those applied to other nations” (as is done “universally,” he claims).

These statements are all false. Far from regarding it as an ugly fact that “Israel is a national community” with a Jewish majority, I discuss the fact that Israel is plainly not a national community at all, a matter to which I will return directly. I nowhere express the slightest objection to a Jewish majority in Israel, nor do I argue that Jews should not be a national community there—on the contrary, I insist throughout that they should be. I never judge Israel by other than universal standards. Mr. Grossman is misrepresenting the following observations: (1) “If a state [with non-Jewish citizens] is Jewish in certain respects, then in these respects it is not democratic”; (2) “If the respects are marginal and merely symbolic . . . the departure from democratic principle is not serious. If the respects are significant, the problem is correspondingly severe”; (3) in Israel, the “respects” are significant. I emphasize that the general points (1) and (2) hold as well of an “Arab state,” a “white state,” etc.

Mr. Grossman does not take issue with the factual statement (3); fortunately, because it is true. The source of his complaints is that I barely defend the conceptual points (1) and (2). He is correct in observing that I did not argue these trivial points. I failed to appreciate the irrationality of American Zionist opinion, and therefore presented the truisms (1) and (2) without troubling to elaborate. It has been interesting to see how reviewers have attempted to evade the obvious. Mr. Grossman’s method, as just noted, is to attribute to me views that I reject while ignoring what I actually say.

Democratic principle requires that citizens be equal before the law, that the state be the state of its citizens, not of some privileged class of citizens. But Israel is not the state of its citizens, even in principle. It is not “a national community where Jews are the majority,” but a “Jewish state,” something quite different. Israel within the green line has an Arab minority of close to 15 per cent. But, as the courts have consistently held: “The state of Israel was established and recognized as the state of the Jews . . . this is the sovereign state of the Jewish people” (Eichmann trial judgment). And as the courts held elsewhere in a decision that I cite: “There is no Israeli nation apart from the Jewish people, and the Jewish people consists not only of the people residing in Israel but also of the Jews in the Diaspora,” Correspondingly, there is a complex of legal structures, quasi-official bodies operating in the name of the Jewish people, discriminatory administrative practices, and so on, which function so as to guarantee Jewish domination and privilege.

As Mr. Grossman’s own remarks make clear, it is he, not I, who insists that Israel be judged by unique standards. Thus he regards the truisms (1) and (2) as being somehow inapplicable to Israel, and fulminates over the fact that I apply them to Israel as to any other state. He alleges that by citing universally applicable standards (1) and (2) and noting the facts in Israel (3) I am implying that Israel has no “right to exist.” The conclusion is his, not mine. I reject it. Israel has the same right to exist as other discriminatory states; and furthermore, it might evolve to overcome the fundamental departure from democratic principle, thus losing its character as a “Jewish state,” except perhaps in symbolic respects, though it must be admitted that this would require radical changes in institutions and ideology for which there is, at present, virtually no support. Or, Israel might evolve, perhaps jointly with a Palestinian state, in directions indicated by the Left-liberal Zionist critique of the notion of a “Jewish state,” which I discuss, a possibility that is no less remote.

Mr. Grossman’s further comments reveal clearly how his critique applies to himself, though not to me. Thus he argues that “the right to make immigration policy within the boundaries of their state is the ordinary sovereign exercise [of] the Jewish community in Israel” (which Arabs challenge). That is like saying that the right to make immigration policy within their state is the ordinary sovereign exercise of the white community in the U.S. Of course, we do not regard the “white community” as having any legitimate “sovereign exercise,” ordinary or not, in “their state.” Were the “white community” again to use its voting power to pass racist immigration laws, liberals would deplore the fact; it would be far worse were it seriously claimed that this is the “ordinary sovereign exercise” of this “community” in “their state.” But Israel is not constructed on the model (however imperfectly realized) of the Western democracies. In the “sovereign state of the Jewish people,” the Jewish community exercises sovereignty, a fact that has significant ramifications throughout the society. Similarly, an urban-development plan for the express purpose of preserving the “Jewish character” of Jerusalem passes without objection, though a comparable plan to preserve the “white character” of New York would be abhorrent. The same is true of other examples that I cite, and many more that I did not. Mr. Grossman takes all of this for granted, as his comments (and his silence with regard to examples that I cite) clearly indicate, though I do not doubt that he would be appalled by comparable examples elsewhere. Thus the charge that he falsely levels against me applies directly to him.

The point is simple. Nowhere do I express any objections of the sort that Mr. Grossman attributes to me. Rather I apply to Israel exactly the same standards that I apply to the Arab states (including a potential “Palestinian state,” as I repeatedly insist), or any others. Mr. Grossman, in contrast, insists on unique standards for Israel. If he can come to understand this point, he will no longer complain that “Israel is universally judged by different standards from those applied to other nations.”

Mr. Grossman asks why I “require more of Israel than [I] would of other nations at war,” and speculates on possible answers. He could have saved himself the speculations by noticing that his assumption is false. Most of my comments on departures from democratic principle have nothing to do with the state of war (e.g., the urban-development plan just cited). As for the rest, he fails to mention that I repeatedly stress that these departures might be defended not only on grounds of the state of war, but also by virtue of the severe problems inherent in any effort to construct a democratic multinational society. Thus, “one might argue that the essentially flawed democracy of a Jewish state (equivalently, an Arab state) is the least unjust solution available, given the objective realities.” What I deplore, however, is the effort “to bury difficult and uncomfortable facts in a heap of invective,” something which I document at length, though Mr. Grossman makes no mention of the fact.

Mr. Grossman refers to Cyprus as an indication that my long-range hopes for binationalism are unrealistic. This is a typical but quite irrational move. Cyprus was not a “binational state” in the traditional Zionist sense of this term, which I adopt. Prior to last summer, Cyprus was rather like Israel within the green line. If this state, with its 17 per cent Turkish minority, was unviable, as Mr. Grossman alleges, then so is Israel. A Jewish state can become a democratic state in one of two ways: by eliminating the structures that grant a privileged status to the Jewish majority and becoming a “national community,” the state of its citizens; or by expelling the foreign body. That much, I am afraid, is obvious.

Mr. Grossman argues that it is “illogical” for me to support national-liberation movements such as the PLO (or Zionism: characteristically, he omits my support for the latter), while deploring many of their practices. This is illogical, he claims, because I “detest nationalism.” Again, he has utterly failed to comprehend what I insistently stress: people have the right of association in national groups, with their own self-governing national institutions. That nationalism is not my personal cup of tea is another and irrelevant matter. Under the federal or socialist binational alternatives that I discuss, these rights would be guaranteed. No question of “logic” arises.

Mr. Grossman notes that at one point I permit myself “some slight degree of optimism” with regard to a statement from the Palestinian Left, and considers the question whether I should therefore “be taxed with crimes committed and gloried in” by such groups. He chooses not to mention that I have repeatedly and explicitly deplored the terrorist acts on both sides, and that I went on to emphasize, in a speech before an Arab audience (chapter 2 in my book), that the program of the PLO is not only suicidal but “intolerable to civilized opinion.” He claims, falsely again, that I am “ready to blink at means of hastening the millennium” (namely, terrorism), making no mention of my repeated emphasis that no socialist goal “can be achieved, or even imagined, if the means proposed is armed struggle by one society against another.” As to what the point of this persistent falsification may be, I leave it to others to ascertain. Note further that if the “slight degree of optimism” I voiced makes me responsible for the Arab terrorism that I consistently deplore, then, a fortiori, Mr. Grossman’s position with regard to Israel makes him responsible for the repeated acts of state terrorism: Qibya, Kafr Kassem (with its grotesque judicial after-math), etc.; bombs in movie theaters, post offices, and American installations in Egypt in 1954 (with a hero’s welcome for a returned terrorist in 1967); shooting down of a civilian airliner; killing of hundreds of civilians in bombing raids on villages and refugee camps in Southern Lebanon (e.g., in el-Kfeir, where two children and two adults were murdered two days before Maalot); etc. Anyone who is aware of the facts knows that Israel has played its part in the cycle of terror and response. Mr. Grossman’s self-righteousness on this matter is remarkable. My opposition to terror on all sides is clear and explicit, on both moral and political grounds; for this reason alone his charges are groundless. But his own position, judging by this review, affords him no right to criticize even those who justify Arab terrorism or remain silent with regard to it.

Mr. Grossman’s most serious lapse is to be found in his discussion of my comments on Daniel Berrigan’s address. His emotions run so high on this matter as to blind him to the text before his eyes, and he presents a crude falsification accompanied by a diatribe that is better left unmentioned. According to Mr. Grossman I want to show how “‘hysterical’ reaction is when Israel is discussed in the U.S. in language . . . Israelis use daily in Israel,” and I cite Berrigan’s speech as “the example . . . of such a discussion” that I “wish there could be more of, for the good of Israel.” In Mr. Grossman’s view I claim that Berrigan “even-handedly admonished Jews and Arabs” while giving “not the faintest hint” of his extreme and unfair criticisms of Israel.

Turning now to the facts, I did not select Berrigan’s address as “the example . . .” but cited it as one of many. I did not say that it was “evenhanded” but rather quoted Berrigan’s own statement that he would not “take sides” (he did not take sides, but condemned both harshly, though not even-handedly; Mr. Grossman muddles these totally distinct notions). Typically, Mr. Grossman fails to mention that I stated that critics were right to condemn “Berrigan’s unremitting denunciation of Israeli society and his failure to find any good in it—in particular his assertion that Israel has failed ‘to create new forms of political and social life for her own citizens.’” So much for my giving “not the faintest hint. . . .” Of course, I never made the proposal that there should be more of such discussions, but rather criticized Berrigan for failing to “give a balanced appraisal of Israeli society, any more than he gave a balanced account of the policies of the Arab states”; and I never suggested that such discussions as his are common in Israel. I also made the general point that criticisms of Israel on the part of the New Left and “peace movement” are not “beyond criticism—far from it,” and added that “I find myself in strong disagreement with much of the peace movement and the Left over these issues,” referring to discussion elsewhere in the book.

Without departing so flagrantly from the truth, Mr. Grossman might have said that I did not give what he regards as adequate attention to the errors and excesses in Berrigan’s address. But this would not have justified the accompanying tirade. Even this would have been incorrect, however, because of another fact that Mr. Grossman barely mentions: the chapter was not devoted to Berrigan, the peace movement, or the New Left, but rather to allegations with regard to them on the part of a substantial segment of Left-liberal opinion. I analyzed quite a range of these, demonstrating that there were serious errors of fact and reasoning, outright lies in some cases, substantial misrepresentation, and a remarkable stream of slander and abuse for which no justification was even attempted. In the special case of Berrigan, I analyzed two representative responses, showing that with the exception just noted, the criticisms offered were based on severe misrepresentation, distortion of fact, and vulgar apologetics of a sort far more serious than the worst of Berrigan’s excesses. I then offered a possible explanation for the phenomenon I was discussing, partially in terms of developments within American society. The views of Berrigan and others were discussed only in the context of the reaction to them. These views I presented accurately. Where they were wrong, I noted that fact, contrary to what Mr. Grossman falsely asserts. It is interesting that Mr. Grossman nowhere takes exception to anything that I actually say, but only claims (falsely) that I failed to criticize these views where they were wrong.

Mr. Grossman would no doubt have preferred that I write a different chapter; namely, a detailed analysis of the views with which, as I explicitly stated, I often disagree. A reviewer, however, has the obligation to deal with the author’s topic, not pretending that he was discussing something else. And he certainly has no right (to borrow Mr. Grossman’s phrase) to “shamelessly misrepresent” what was plainly written, in the manner just described.

Interestingly, Mr. Grossman criticizes this chapter as overly “polemical,” while never once mentioning the scandalous nature of the attacks that I was analyzing. How one can respond to lies, slander, and gross misrepresentation without being “polemical,” he does not inform us. As to my response, it seems to me adequately qualified, entirely accurate, and complete. Perhaps Mr. Grossman secretly agrees, judging by the fact that he entirely evades the actual content of this chapter.

Consider finally Mr. Grossman’s account of my views on Vietnam. According to him, I wrote as a “polemicist” who described the war as an attack on the Vietnamese “for the purpose of destroying a national-liberation movement by genocide,” while describing the enemy as “the Children of Light” (he allows that I did not use the term, but claims that I depicted them in this manner). This extremism, this “black-and-white” portrayal, he distinguishes from the “more tentative” approach in the present essays, and seems to find it offensive. But he overlooks a slight difficulty. This characterization of my views and rhetoric is false from beginning to end. I never stated that the purpose of the American attack was “genocide.” Furthermore, as distinct from Mr. Grossman, I take the term “genocide” seriously, and therefore never used it at all in discussing the Vietnam war. My only reference to the matter is in commenting on some remarks by Townsend Hoopes, where I note that “It is correct, but hardly relevant, to point out that the United States has stopped short of carrying ‘its strategic logic to the final conclusion, which is genocide’ (Hoopes). Thus one cannot compare American policy to that of Nazi Germany, as of 1942.” Thus I explicitly reject the characterization that Mr. Grossman attributes to me. I went on to note that “it would be more difficult to argue that American policy is not comparable to that of fascist Japan, or of Germany prior to the ‘Final Solution.’” That happens to be correct, as I explained in an essay on Japanese imperialism.

The inflamed rhetoric to which Mr. Grossman objects is his, not mine. I never use it. The same is true of his reference to “the Children of Light.” In fact, I had very little to say about the nature of the forces that the U.S. was trying to crush, except in reporting interpretations on the part of sources close to the U.S. government. Reporting my own first-hand investigations, I used exactly the tentative and cautionary terms that Mr. Grossman falsely claims are missing in this discussion. Similarly, Mr. Grossman states that I describe the Vietnam war as “the logical, necessary expression of American foreign policy.” False again. The war may have been a “logical expression” (whatever that means; it is not my term), but I argue repeatedly that it was by no means “necessary.” The actual analysis and qualifications that I give, repeatedly and at great length, have escaped Mr. Grossman’s attention, so it seems. His only brush with fact is in characterizing my attitude toward apologists for imperialist intervention and violence, whether the issue is American aggression in South Vietnam with its murderous sideshow in surrounding areas, Japan in China, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, or other events that I describe in the same terms.

There is no reason for Mr. Grossman to be familiar with my writings on Indochina and U.S. foreign policy. Plainly, he either is not, or chooses to disregard them in favor of an invention of his own, attributed to me. The reasons for this might be explored. In a chapter of the book under review, and elsewhere, I have commented on the rewriting of history in which segments of the Left-liberal intelligentsia are engaged, and the reasons for it. Knowing nothing of Mr. Grossman’s work, I cannot comment further, except to remark that his falsifications in this regard illustrate a common pattern for which a plausible explanation can be offered.

This exhausts the charges that are clear enough to deserve comment. . . .

Noam Chomsky
Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics
Cambridge, Massachusetts



Edward Grossman writes:

The way Noam Chomsky runs on is the thing that might strike the innocent reader as strange, but I can imagine how some might take it for proof of commendable seriousness. At any rate, in dealing with his letter, I shall not again mention his wordiness, though I will try to keep my own remarks on the comparatively brief side.

I was impressed to see how touchy he is about being quoted in context or paraphrased fairly. He will actually deny having written something when apparently there would seem to be no need and nothing to be gained. Take the matter of his views on the Vietnam war. In the introduction to my review I said that for him it was “a criminal attack by the U.S. on a small, inoffensive people, for the purpose of destroying a national-liberation movement by genocide, in order to protect an imperialistic stake.” I added that Mr. Chomsky considered the war a natural expression of American foreign policy since World War II, not a freak or an accidental sidestep into a quagmire.

This synopsis, Mr. Chomsky claims, is “false from beginning to end.”

Whatever the motive for such an astonishing declaration, it supposes a high level of ignorance among the readers it is addressed to. Mr. Chomsky’s writings on the war are famous; anyone who attended to the debate and polemic over it, and who has half a memory, knows what Mr. Chomsky wrote. For him to say that there is no reason for me to be familiar with what he wrote sounds like false modesty. I assumed a rudimentary familiarity when, for reasons having to do with my consideration of the book under review, I alluded to these writings without bothering to quote.

Now to show a man from Mars that I didn’t misrepresent Mr. Chomsky, the best thing I could do would be to tell him to go and read Mr. Chomsky’s books. I certainly have no intention of quoting in extenso hundreds of pages here. Even to quote several sentences goes against the grain—ought to be unnecessary—but I will, anyway.

From For Reasons of State: “It would be accurate to describe the Vietnam war as a struggle between human will and advanced technology.” “[The Pentagon Papers reveal] the continuity of policy and the persistence of basic assumptions over a quarter-century.”

From American Power and the New Mandarins: “It is conceivable that American actions in Vietnam are simply a single outburst of criminal insanity, of no general or long-range significance. . . . It is difficult, however, to put much credence in this possibility.” “It is tragic that the United States should have become, in Toynbee’s words, ‘the leader of a worldwide antirevolutionary movement in defense of vested interests.’”

From At War with Asia: “[The Song My Massacre] was no isolated atrocity but the logical consequence of a virtual war of extermination directed against helpless peasants.” “Is it an exaggeration to suggest that our history of extermination and racism is reaching its climax in Vietnam today?”

I am hard put to understand why Mr. Chomsky would in effect deny what he has written, “from beginning to end,” especially as even some of his extreme statements do not, in the light of available evidence, appear to be indefensible, and still should be pondered nowadays when most Americans are satisfied to think of Vietnam as ancient history. For example, I believe that to a Vietnamese on the ground in what was called a “free-fire zone,” the distinction between genocide and what was happening must have seemed academic.

If Mr. Chomsky now chooses to deny all that, is it out of pure contrariness? Perhaps. But a better reason may be that he doesn’t want to be cast as a polemicist and inveterate moralizer, especially when it comes to the Middle East, which is what his book and my review were about.

I alluded to Mr. Chomsky’s Vietnam writings, and characterized them, so I could contrast them with the more scrupulously tentative and presumably balanced strategy he deploys in writing about the Middle East, which is yet marked (as I showed) by significant passages in the old style, which is heavily moralistic. I said that the most important thing about Mr. Chomsky’s new book is that in it, having weighed the Jewish state on his scales of morality, “Chomsky lends his prestige to calling into question the right of Israel to continue to exist as a state.” Thus the title of my review, “A Modest Proposal.” Mr. Chomsky proposes politicide. Nothing he has to say in his letter leads me to believe I misread him—on the contrary. I want to return to his crucial theme, but first several of his other complaints can be disposed of.

Mr. Chomsky objects to my comparing his “binationalist” vision of Arabs and Jews living peacefully together, to the “secular, democratic” vision Arafat had in front of the UN General Assembly. Any imputation of similarity is “plainly false,” he says in that unconditional manner of his that leaves him so vulnerable, and besides, he was only reiterating principles laid down by Zionists like Sokolov, Ruppin, Ben-Gurion, et al.

In the first instance, he is too literal; in the second, a shade disingenuous.

Of course, Mr. Chomsky’s vision is not a carbon copy of Arafat’s, and I never said it was. Mr. Chomsky is a Western Jewish intellectual steeped in the literature of anarchism, pacifism, and Communism, while Arafat is a Muslim, a nationalist, and a practicing politician—there are bound to be differences in the way they express themselves. Yet there remains a striking similarity here. Mr. Chomsky and Arafat have at least three things in common when they “dream” in public: (1) they both know better than any Israeli does what is best for the Israelis; (2) they both say a Jewish state is intolerable and want to dismantle it and replace it with something that defies description; (3) their tone is millenarian, chiliastic, and its very dreaminess is what chills, for one knows from experience that lovely visions of the distant future are typically the excuse for unlovely actions committed right now.

As for Mr. Chomsky’s plea that he was only restating principles of “classical Zionism,” I marvel at the gullibility this implies in the audience it is meant to sway. “The traditional Zionist principles that arouse Mr. Grossman’s horror have not lost their essential validity and may suggest the way toward a better future,” Mr. Chomsky writes in his letter. “It is hardly honest to characterize these explicit refererences to a major element in classical Zionist thought merely as ‘remarkably similar’ to Arafat, with no mention whatsoever of their actual source.”

No mention?

I quote from my review: “[Chomsky's] prescription, then, is for ‘a binationalist state that preserves some degree of communal autonomy’ for both peoples in it. Accurately he recalls that this was the hope, and to some extent the vague program, of a section of the Zionist movement, until the Holocaust.”

I will refrain from citing numerous other examples of Mr. Chomsky playing fast and loose with texts; suffice it to say that he is in the habit. But a word in defense of the Zionist luminaries he enlists unwillingly to his cause is in order. Ruppin and the rest are dead and can only spin in their graves when tendentiously used. Thus, it is not the “traditional Zionist principles” that arouse my “horror.” What troubles me is Mr. Chomsky’s selective quotation, in 1975, of things some men said in 1931, and which he knows full well every one of them went back on permanently a few years later, after much thought and tortured reconsideration. Arthur Ruppin’s repudiation of binationalism in the face of Hitler, appeasement, and Palestinian terrorism and total opposition to Jewish immigration, is especially well-known. If Mr. Chomsky were more formidable he would have grappled with the facts of Ruppin’s disillusionment, and would have explored the question whether the world has become a less nasty place in 1975 than it was forty years ago. For my part, I can detect scant change for the better. However, I must emphasize that, as I look at it, the argument between Mr. Chomsky and me is not a theoretical dispute in an ivory tower over human nature between an ever-hopeful perfectionist and a sour skeptic. Mr. Chomsky’s weird style aside, it is a fight between one who for moralistic and political reasons wants to put an end to the Jewish state, and one who for moral and practical reasons wants to see that state endure.

Understandably, Mr. Chomsky is not pleased at having the implications of his plans for Jewish “communal autonomy” spelled out—recent politicides (Biafra, Kurdistan) have made liberals, even some radicals, uncomfortable. He is at great pains in his letter to deny that his critique of the Jewish state strips it of its right to exist, winding up, “Israel has the same right to exist as other discriminatory states.” That is big of him. It is not, however, what he said in his book. There he showed by moral logic-chopping that a state that is Jewish in any but trivial respects must always be undemocratic, whether it is at war or at peace with its neighbors, now and forever. “In a Jewish state,” Mr. Chomsky wrote, “there can be no full recognition of basic human rights.” This is demonstrably untrue, unless the replacement of the one Jewish state by the umpteenth Muslim state is redefined to be a “basic human right.”

As I commented in my review, “to declare a state undemocratic by nature, not circumstance, is fairly to damn it,” especially in liberal circles. But Mr. Chomsky does worse than throw Israel into the same disreputable bag as Saudi Arabia. Israel is the only member of the UN whose dissolution is proposed to the acclamation of the General Assembly. We are talking about real threats; this is not an academic exercise. The excuse is invariably the same: a Jewish state is “undemocratic,” “racist.” By repeating this libel, Mr. Chomsky assists Arafat in his work.

Immigration policy is the heart of the matter. For Mr. Chomsky as for Arafat, the Law of Return is “racist.” Both would have it repealed at the earliest opportunity. Note the analogy Chomsky resorts to—the Law of Return is like the U.S. laws passed after World War I effectively restricting entry of Jews and Southern Europeans. This is a prime example of his operating procedure.

The fact is, of course, that anyone (except a Palestinian) can enter Israel, apply for citizenship, and live undisturbed. I am acquainted with Gentiles who have done so. It is also true that only a Jew can claim citizenship as of the moment he arrives, and that he will be given preference by the bureaucracy in finding a house and job, though a non-Jew will by no means be excluded. Mr. Chomsky and others seize on this as a sign of discrimination so vile as to vitiate Israel’s birthright. From a different perspective, I see it as a reflection of historical necessities and severe economic limitations—Israel has enough trouble coping with its Jewish immigrants, fervent or footloose; should it advertise for Gentiles too?

Finally, regarding terrorism: I fear Mr. Chomsky takes me for his favorite game, a liberal. When he speaks of terrorism in his letter (as when he compares a “Jewish” Jerusalem to a “white” New York, as if New York had been surrounded, split in two, bombarded, threatened with internationalization, its synagogues vandalized), he sets up and exploits inconsistencies that would certainly fluster a liberal. But he has me wrong. I do not deplore terrorism in any of its forms. If the Pope, Noam Chomsky, Kurt Waldheim, and Yasir Arafat all unequivocally “deplore terrorism” (as they do), this smothers any urge I might have to raise my voice in public and “deplore” it too. I only brought terrorism up in my review in an effort to keep Mr. Chomsky, who bestows the laurels of a “national-liberation movement” on the PLO while “unequivocally deploring terrorism,” honest. You can have it both ways on this only if you evade the central dilemma of our times, which Mr. Chomsky does here and did in his Vietnam writings, where, it will be remembered, he insisted, incredibly, that the Vietcong, a party to a civil war, committed no atrocities.

I freely admit that the Israelis have been responsible for their share of dirty tricks and state stupidities, and a few atrocities. I deny, of course, that this is because Israel is a Jewish state. I reject the idea that because of this the Israelis deserve to have only “communal autonomy.” The killing by bombs dropped from a Phantom jet during a retaliation raid does not, as far as I am concerned, place in jeopardy the right of Israel to exist. Israel shouldn’t need to be a light unto the nations to justify itself. With the creation of their imperfect little state, the Jews have rejoined the human race somehow, and if the price of continuing membership is some actions that shock liberals and Noam Chomsky, I am willing (considering the alternative) to have the price paid, without pleasure.


About the Author

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
for full access to
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
Don't have a log in?
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.