The Middle East and the Intellectuals
To the Editor:
Carl Gershman’s article, “ ‘Matzpen’ and Its Sponsors” [August], is a truly exceptional piece. As a Matzpen activist in Israel, where the Zionist establishment has cultivated the arts of character assassination, innuendo, and misrepresentation of opponents’ ideas to a point surpassing that achieved by your Senator Joe McCarthy in the early 1950′s, I am used to seeing my words and the words of my comrades systematically misreported, misinterpreted, and even freely created by would-be reporters and analysts. I do not, however, believe I have ever seen quite so great a mass of distortion compressed into quite so small a space as in Gershman’s job. It would take a dozen pages to correct each of his, shall we say, misunderstandings. There are four, however, that are exceptionally important.
1) Gershman writes: “Far from opposing Nazism, [Bober] charged, Zionists were dependent upon it as a justification of their existence. That is why swastikas ‘filled them wth joy.’” Now what in fact I said was that Zionism has an ambivalent attitude toward anti-Semitism. And I explained this ambivalence as follows: On the one hand, Zionists of course hate and oppose anti-Semitism because it injures and threatens the survival of the Jews. On the other hand, the absence of anti-Semitism in the Gentile world seems to be conducive to Jewish assimilation and hence to threaten the survival of “Jewishness”—for Zionists the supreme value. At the same time, Zionists and anti-Semites tend to share one practical goal: the removal of the Jews from predominantly non-Jewish societies—the anti-Semites to be rid of them, the Zionists to concentrate them in the Jewish state.
I documented this ambivalence by referring to the practice of Zionist leaders in their relations with political anti-Semites from the Herzl-Plehve negotiations to the Kastner-Eichmann agreement. I also documented it by citing the words of Zionist publicists from Herzl to Uri Harary.
In particular, I cited an article by Harary in the February 9, 1969 issue of the Israeli paper, Yediot Aharonot. “It is, of course,” he wrote, “not customary for us to talk about it in public, but many of us felt a tiny bit of joy when we read newspaper reports about the swastika epidemic in Europe in 1960 or about the pro-Nazi movement in Argentina. Today, too, we have very mixed feelings when we read about the growing anti-Jewishness of Negro leaders in America.” Gershman misquoted my accurate rendering of Harary’s words, and he then attributed his twisted version of Harary’s words to me. So much for Gershman’s reportorial pretensions.
2) “Bober reiterated all the tired and tiresome left-wing platitudes about Zionism’s ties to colonialism and imperialism.” In the thick brew of Rhodesia, Algeria, Israel, and “the white man’s burden” that Gershman delivers up following this sentence, I don’t suppose any reader could have found any clear idea at all, much less any idea I expressed. What I in fact said was not, I think, so hard to reproduce briefly and accurately. The Zionist movement, I pointed out, was and is a colonizing movement that displaced and expelled the indigenous population of Palestine and that, with the State of Israel as its instrument, continues to do so today. Moreover, to carry out this colonization, the Zionist movement had to and did ally itself with the dominant big power in the region—first England and now the U.S.—which the masses of the whole Arab world were increasingly coming to regard—quite correctly—as their imperialist oppressors. The result is that today the Israeli-Jewish nation which was created by this colonization finds itself in a doubly antagonistic relation to the Arab world: it is a colonial oppressor of all the Arab masses. They must fight it as long as it remains in this relation to them. Gershman may regard all this as “tired and tiresome left-wing platitudes,” but these are the fundamental, massive facts about the Middle East, and no one can understand or do anything about the “Arab-Israeli” conflict who does not grasp them.
3) Gershman writes: “A popular view on the Left today is that a ‘fair’ settlement of the Middle East conflict requires the creation of a bi-national state in what is now Israel. [Noam] Chomsky supports this position, so does Al Fatah which has called for a ‘secular, democratic, pluralist Palestinian State,’ and so does Bober in calling for the ‘de-Zionization’ of Israel.” It is difficult to know how to begin to disentangle this weird amalgam. Chomsky and Fatah can speak for themselves; I only want to comment on Fatah’s position so far as it is necessary to define Matzpen’s.
We support the right of the Palestinians to fight against their national oppression by any means they think advisable. But this does not imply political agreement with any particular organization involved in that struggle. Our political goal—a socialist Middle East in which all national minorities, including the Israeli Jews, have the right of self-determination—differs fundamentally from the Fatah goal of a “secular, democratic Palestinian state.” For this slogan is based on the assumption that the Palestinian question can be isolated from the rest of the Arab world; on the assumption that the Israeli Jews are a religious rather than a national group; and on the assumption that the social character of a liberated Palestine—whether it is socialist or capitalist—is a matter of indifference. All three of these assumptions, Matzpen believes, are false.
Our demand for the de-Zionization of Israel we conceive precisely as a step toward this goal. It means 1) the abrogation of all laws and practices conferring on Jews (whether Israeli Jews or Jews of the Diaspora) privileges at the expense of the Palestinians—especially the Law of Return; 2) the repatriation of all Palestinians who want to return and the compensation for their losses of all those who do not want to return; 3) the rupture of all economic and political ties with the capitalist countries and Jewish communities who are, in fact, hostage to those powers. The realization of this program would, for the first time, manifest the Israeli Jews’ willingness to live with, instead of against and at the expense of, their neighbors; it would end the Israeli-Jewish nation’s double antagonism toward its neighbors.
4) Gershman failed to give a single hint about the main emphasis of my talk. Indeed, by including me among “those who want to destroy Israel,” he suggests the exact opposite of everything I said. I insisted that, in the long run, the real question is, How can the Israeli Jews—a tiny minority in the region—survive in the Arab East? If the Israeli Jewish masses are not split from Zionism, if they will fight to the end for the Zionist state which makes them the colonial oppressor of the Palestinians and a partner in the imperialist oppression of all the Arab masses, if they do not find their way to a joint struggle with the Arab masses against Zionism, imperialism, and Arab reaction—then there will be another Holocaust. Eventually, the Arab revolution is going to win; if the masses of the Israeli Jews are not incorporated in it, they will necessarily be consumed by it.
If three million more Jews perish, some part of the responsibility will lie with those writers like Gershman who obscure for [their] readers . . . this stark truth.
We know that the Israeli Jewish masses can be split from Zionism, simply because it has failed to accomplish its own goals. It has not concentrated the Jews of the world in Palestine. It has not ended Jewish persecution. It has not incorporated the Oriental Jews as equal partners in the Jewish homeland. It has not created a free, independent, open society but an oppressive ghetto utterly delivered over to the tender mercies of the rulers of the United States. It has not guaranteed the physical safety of the inhabitants of the Jewish state; it offers them no future but unending warfare and eventual annihilation. If there is time, therefore, we, the Israeli Jewish revolutionaries will be able to persuade the great majority of our people that their only future lies in a joint struggle with their Arab brothers and sisters against the common oppressor.
The only reconciliation between Arab and Jew in the Arab East will be a revolutionary reconciliation.
National Committee Member
Israeli Socialist Organization
New York City
To the Editor:
The main burden of Carl Gershman’s “observations” on the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East seems to be that Noam Chomsky, acting in collusion with the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers party—of which I, the Committee’s secretary, am a member—duped a number of respected individuals into sponsoring a speaking tour for Arie Bober of the Israeli Socialist Organization, with whom many of them would not wish to have been associated if they had been informed by Chomsky or me of his real views. Most of these sponsors are, however, not completely innocent. One of them, David Deitch, for example, devoted two of his Boston Globe columns to Bober without informing his readers that he is a sponsor of the Committee. (One must wonder, incidentally, why Gershman, who is so concerned that everyone involved in anything lay all his political cards on the table—he is also very careful to “expose” me as a Trotskyist—does not indicate his own political affiliations.) What is worse, though, is that many of these dupes “would probably agree with the substance of Bober’s position, finding fault, if at all, only with his harsh rhetoric.” Or in other words, according to Gershman these people were duped into supporting a position they agree with!
But Gershman has it all wrong. No one was duped into anything. Chomsky’s description of Matzpen in his letter inviting others to join him in sponsoring the Committee is about the most accurate one-sentence statement possible of Matzpen’s complex position—though, it is true, no one could guess that from the fantasy Gershman tries to palm off as a report on Bober’s Columbia University meeting. As for the sinister “unsigned letter” written on Committee stationery—it too is factually accurate, though Gershman may disagree with its characterization of Bober personally. (Incidentally, this “letter” was not a letter but a leaflet, and leaflets are not usually signed. As secretary of the Committee, I am, of course, responsible for its contents. And it was designed not to attract sponsors but as big an audience as possible to a specific meeting.)
Chomsky’s letter clearly stated that its recipient was being asked to sponsor the Committee for the Bober tour and that any further activities would require the concurrence of each of the sponsors. This has been strictly adhered to. The Committee has taken no position on anything. It has issued no statement, leaflet, or letter except those directly connected with organizing the Bober tour. The only literature it has announced plans to publish is the transcript of Bober’s talk; the only other literature it has mentioned is ISRAC, the English-language publication of Matzpen members and supporters abroad, which Bober made available to his audiences and which I brought to the attention of those on the Committee’s mailing list.
Gershman asserts, without offering a particle of evidence, that “most of the sponsors would probably agree with the substance of Bober’s position”—though he seems not quite able to make up his mind about it. I simply do not know. Most of the sponsors haven’t written anything on the Middle East, at least that I have read, and I don’t know most of them personally. I do know that neither Chomsky nor I ever asked any potential sponsor about his or her position on the Middle East or anything else. There is no “political test” you have to take to become a CO-NAME sponsor. The sponsors agree necessarily on only two things: Bober’s right to speak in this country and the importance of his point of view being heard here.
Contrary to what Gershman claims, the purpose and effect of the chairman of meetings reading a partial list of the Committee’s sponsors was not to confer “implicit legitimation on what Bober was about to say.” It could not accomplish this because it was always accompanied by a specific disclaimer: that the sponsors do not necessarily agree with Bober or with one another. What it was expected to do was confer quite explicit legitimation on Bober’s right to speak and on the importance—not necessarily truth—of his message.
In fairness to two individuals, one consequence of Gershman’s generally incompetent journalism requires specific correction. Murray Kempton and Carey McWilliams were not, when I spoke to Gershman on the telephone, sponsors of CONAME, and I did not tell Gershman they were. They did host a reception for Bober, and that is what I said. I am happy to be able to report, however, that since Gershman’s hatchet job appeared, Murray Kempton has decided to become a sponsor of the Committee.
Secretary, Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East
New York City
To the Editor:
It was with horror that I read Carl Gershman’s “‘Matzpen’ and Its Sponsors.” I know nothing of Arie Bober, but if what Mr. Gershman reports him to have said is true, then I wish to repudiate utterly and completely any association with such views and the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East. Furthermore, if Professor Chomsky was aware of Bober’s views I believe some explanation from him is forthcoming. A copy of this letter has gone to him with a request to remove my name from the list of sponsors.
Princeton, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Carl Gershman’s article is inaccurate in several respects. As the title indicates, Mr. Gershman seeks to convey the impression that the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East is a “sponsor” of the Matzpen group. However, he provides sufficient information to refute his own assertion. Thus he quotes a letter which states clearly that the Committee will “take no specific stand on the Middle East.” Rather, the letter continues, the Committee “will try to encourage discussion and debate of fundamental issues in the present Middle East crisis, and specifically, try to introduce left-wing voices that are rarely heard in the United States.” Furthermore, “association with the Committee as a sponsor does not entail agreement with the political position of Matzpen. . . . Rather, it indicates only a belief that these voices should be heard.”
With this purpose, the Committee sponsored a speaking tour for Arie Bober of Matzpen as it will, I hope, for others whose views may be quite different from his. Mr. Gershman apparently cannot see the distinction between advocating certain views and advocating that such views be heard. The distinction, however, is a clear and crucial one.
Gershman’s failure to comprehend this distinction is revealed in his account of Bober’s lecture at Columbia. He writes that “the reading of the names of the sponsors” by Professor Edward Said “served as an implicit legitimation of what Bober was about to say.” In fact, the reading of the names (as Said correctly stated, “a widely divergent list with many different views represented”) served as a “legitimation” of Bober’s right to be heard. Specifically, sponsorship clearly implies the belief that it would be valuable for his views to be heard, which implies neither support for his views, nor acceptance of “some measure of responsibility for his views,” as Gershman illogically concludes, in direct conflict to the explicit statement of the letter from which he quotes.
The Matzpen group, as I understand its position, holds that the Israeli people “now constitutes a national entity,” as do the Palestinian Arabs (ISRAC, 1970, No. 2). Each group has the right of self-determination and of separation (though Matzpen does not advocate that that right be exercised). Thus they propose a bi-national structure in a socialist Palestine in which the national rights of both groups will be recognized. As international socialists, they oppose the policies of Israel and the Arab states, and look forward to a socialist transformation of the Middle East. Such a position, as Mr. Gershman correctly states, “involves the dissolution of the State of Israel” as presently constituted, and the dissolution of the Arab States, as well. The same is true (with regard to Israel and Jordan) of any bi-national or even federal approach, for example, those discussed sympathetically by Norman Bentwich, formerly Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University, in New Outlook, March-April 1970. Mr. Gershman apparently finds such views horrifying, as is his right. To me it seems that they should be openly and freely discussed.
There are several factual inaccuracies in the article. Mr. Gershman states that Matzpen “has expressed its full support for the ‘resistance’ of Palestinian terrorists to ‘Zionist oppression.’ . . .” In fact, Matzpen “recognize[s] the right and duty of every conquered and oppressed people to resist occupation and to struggle for its freedom,” but “reject[s] the positions of both Al-Fatah . . . and the Popular Front. . . .” (ISRAC, No. 2, 1970). It therefore supports the right of resistance to occupation and oppression but not the political programs or the specific actions of the Palestinian groups. More generally, it supports “the revolutionary struggle for a new society in the Middle East, including Israel.”
Mr. Gershman states that Al Fatah supports the creation of a bi-national state. All Fatah statements that I have seen explicitly reject bi-nationalism. To my knowledge, among the Palestinian Arab organizations the Democratic Front is unique in recognizing Jewish national rights. Mr. Gershman also asserts that the program of Fatah is to “expel all Jews above the number that lived in Palestine before 1917.” The Palestine National Covenant (published with an analysis by Y. Harkabi in Maariv, December 12, 1969), might be interpreted in this way. In contrast, the journal Fatah (Beirut, November 20, 1969) states that the Palestinians “are redefining their objectives and are finding the goal of creating a new Palestine that encompasses them and the present Jewish settlers a very desirable one.” In a continuation of this article (January 19), it is stated that “The revolution rejects the supposition that only Jews who lived in Palestine prior to 1948 or prior to 1914 and their descendants are acceptable” and asserts that “all Jewish Palestinians—at the present Israelis,” including “non-Arab Jews (Western Jews),” may be citizens in the “new Palestine” (which will have Arabic and Hebrew as official languages). I am not at all sure how to evaluate these statements. However, given the available information, I do not see how Mr. Gershman can be so certain as to what the Fatah program is, particularly when his interpretation is explicitly contradicted in at least some statements of Fatah. In fact, there has been an interesting evolution in the ideology of the Palestinian groups, and although I do not personally believe that they offer a viable program at present, I think that this evolution is a healthy sign, and perhaps suggests some possibility, still unfortunately remote, of peaceful reconciliation.
Mr. Gershman also reports on Bober’s talk at Columbia. Since I was not present, I cannot comment on the accuracy of this report. I think some skepticism is legitimate, given his errors where an independent check is possible.
I write this letter with some reluctance, fully expecting that those who cannot distinguish inference from free association will interpret what I have just said as support for Fatah or Matzpen or will conclude irrationally that I am a spokesman for the Committee mentioned earlier, since I commented on misrepresentations of its goals and possible functions. Personally, I am in favor of broadening the range of discussion of the Middle East in the United States, and will gladly encourage and (if it will be helpful) sponsor speaking tours, debates, etc., involving Israelis, Arabs, and others whose views I do not necessarily share. I hope that others will agree that this is a worthwhile enterprise, and will not accept the fallacious argument that to provide a forum is necessarily to support the views expressed or to take responsibility for them. Those who are totally convinced that their views represent absolute and unchallengeable truth will see no necessity for further discussion, but others who feel that many fundamental issues are still debatable may be pardoned if they reject such dogmatism.
Department of Linguistics Massachusetts Institute of Technology
To the Editor:
I plead guilty to unintentionally having neglected to inform readers of my sponsorship of the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East. It’s a pity that Carl Gershman didn’t display his own affiliations along with his biases. Or does he believe that the requirements of writing a newspaper column are somehow different from writing for a Zionist magazine? Readers of my advocacy columns in the Boston Globe for almost three years know perfectly well that I have made no attempt to hide my political biases behind the mask of the specious objectivity demanded by Gershman for others but not himself.
You might be interested to know that no article I’ve written on any subject has drawn to me such an organized response of unmitigated hatred and personal harassment as the two-column interview with Arie Bober. Unsure of my own feelings about Zionism six months ago, but believing it perfectly logical that Bober deserved a hearing in the United States, I find that the experience I’ve gone through since publication of the Bober interview has done much to make up my mind. Gershman’s piece is just another symptom of the hysterical chauvinism affecting Zionist Jews in so many places.
I also find interesting Gershman’s claim that sponsorship of the Bober tour confers “implicit legitimation on what Bober was about to say.” On two occasions I offered Israeli students who came to see me an opportunity to debate Bober on the crucial issues, to be tape-recorded and published in a series of articles under my by-line. They refused, indicating that they had no wish to dignify Bober’s position by appearing on the same platform with him.
To the Editor:
I listened attentively to various formal lectures given recently by Arie Bober and had the opportunity to discuss informally with Bober the substance of his and Matzpen’s philosophy, and I am distressed by Carl Gershman’s article. Mr. Gershman not only offers an incomplete analysis of what Bober said and has said, he even quotes and cites Bober out of context. I am not necessarily surprised, however, by Mr. Gershman’s misleading and unfair treatment of Bober’s lecture(s) and the Matzpen position. Mr. Gershman’s real intent seems to be to dissuade some of those who sponsored the Bober lecture tour from sponsoring future lecture tours of those who disagree radically with the official Zionist position. . . .
Central Connecticut State College
New Britain, Connecticut
To the Editor:
I attended Bober’s meeting at Columbia University. If he was guilty of some polemical exaggeration, so is Mr. Gershman in his description of the meeting—I would say: even more so.
New York City
To the Editor:
In response to Carl Gershman’s comment I should like to say that my own belief in a bi-national Palestinian state derives, not from Arie Bober, but from the late Martin Buber; and that I understand this position not as a call for the dismemberment or destruction of the State of Israel, but as a hope for its enhancement, for what one might call its “enmemberment” by incorporating the Arab population which once lived there.
To the Editor:
. . . I do not happen to be a sponsor of the Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East, partly because I have not been asked and partly because I should have to think a while about joining in any case. My admiration and respect for Noam Chomsky are limitless; but we do have some disagreements; one of them would seem to be that I retain traces of solidarity with Israel as a garrison state and he does not.
Nonetheless, Mr. Gershman is entitled to the misapprehension that I am a co-sponsor of the Committee, since I agreed to be a host to Mr. Arie Bober at his first reception in America. Unfortunately, I was unable to be present and do those duties; and I’m afraid I shall not have the chance to meet Bober while he is in this country. Mr. Gershman can certainly argue that the distinction I put forward is not a difference, but I think it is. Bober comes here from a community for which I have great affection and the hardening of whose temper arouses in me a mixture of sympathy, pity, and some alarm. The right of a man of the opposition in a democratic country to have a hearing when he goes abroad seems to me elementary. Being a host does, of course, involve considerations of one’s private taste: I am pleased to welcome Bober, despite wide intellectual differences, where I should be hard put to welcome someone from Al Fatah because of what I should hope to be differences in spirit. But if I have a sense of delinquency in this case, it was not in having agreed to be Bober’s host but in having failed to do him what infinitesimal honor that might be in person.
I shall leave Chomsky, whose ability to take care of himself has been superbly proven in your own correspondence columns, the job of engaging Mr. Gershman’s lapse in lumping him with Al Fatah in a common identity. I cannot, absent the chance to talk to Bober himself, comment on Mr. Gershman’s summary of his message; perhaps you understand that anyone who has spent as much time as I in the construction of summaries of the opinions of persons with whom I profoundly disagree might have developed a perhaps unfair distrust of this sort of thing even done by better men.
May I tangentially congratulate Mr. Gershman for having avoided the suggestion that such persons as oppose the policy of a foreign state, however admirable, are anti-Semitic if they are not Jewish and self-hating if they are. His elders in COMMENTARY have been less judicious of late. I thought it better to let pass the implication that anti-Zionism or even concern for the rights under law of an anti-Zionist equals anti-Semitism which ran through Nathan Glazer’s piece on the Cleaver Defense Committee last year [“Blacks, Jews, and the Intellectuals,” COMMENTARY, April 1969]. I have noticed with some depression but no impulse to protest what seems to me an increasingly mean-spirited, not to say vulgar tendency in Messrs. Podhoretz and Himmelfarb toward group abuse of Anglo-Saxon Protestants. One excuses this sort of thing in one’s friends, except in the case of genuinely vulnerable ethnic groups, but it does rather try the patience. Still, one also gets used to ebbs and flows in the taste and sensibility of COMMENTARY; you can be trusted to return to manners according to the rhythm from which you seem to depart them. In the interim, to point to an example of delicacy in one of your writers may serve in the gentlest way possible to remind some of the others of its absence in them.
New York City
Carl Gershman writes:
I refer those correspondents (Kempton, Chomsky, and Mezvin-sky) who did not attend the Bober meeting and doubt the accuracy of my reporting, and those (Bentley and Langston) who did attend and question that accuracy, to Arie Bober’s own letter which provides conclusive confirmation of my report. While Mr. Bober claims to be correcting the “distortions” in my piece, he actually ends up repeating the very words I attributed to him. He also elaborates upon ideas which I thought sufficiently straightforward to stand on their own without lengthy exegesis. The fact that he can describe such reporting (along with the “character assassination” perpetrated by “the Zionist Establishment”) as surpassing the excesses of the late Senator McCarthy says less about the character of my journalistic abilities than about Mr. Bober’s own paranoia.
Let me respond briefly to Mr. Bober’s four points:
- Mr. Bober merely used the Harary quote to document his own contention—the basis for which I described—that swastikas in particular and Nazism in general were a great source of pleasure to Zionists.
- Far from disproving my contention that his “analysis” of Zionism’s ties to colonialism and imperialism was a reiteration of “tired and tiresome left-wing platitudes,” Mr. Bober now adds to the series of overworked slogans which I referred to in my article by calling Israel “a colonial oppressor of all the Arab masses.”
- Mr. Bober’s statement that “We support the right of the Palestinians to fight against their national oppression by any means they think advisable” is almost a word-for-word repetition of the quotation I cited in my article. I would particularly like to call Professor Chomsky’s attention to this statement since he seems to be under the impression that Matzpen does not support “the specific actions”—i.e., the terrorism—of the Palestinians. I will come to the question of “political” disagreements with the Palestinians later.
- Finally, Mr. Bober explains why he favors a dissolution of the State of Israel—to save the Jews. (Every cause, it seems, must be justified by an appeal to higher motives.) I felt, and still feel, that it was enough to point out simply that he was for the termination of Israel’s existence. This he does not deny. (In this connection, I was interested to discover that the major portion of Mr. Bober’s letter has already been published—in the August 31 issue of Action, a paper edited by the extremist Dr. M. T. Mehdi of the Action Committee on American-Arab Relations.)
Before getting on to two other larger matters—the political nature of the Commitee on New Alternatives in the Middle East and the ideological evolution of the Palestinian groups—I want to dispose of several minor points raised by Miss Langston and David Deitch. First, it should not be so difficult to understand why it concerns me that Mr. Deitch, the author of two favorable articles on Bober which appeared in the Boston Globe, was not identified in the newspaper as a sponsor of the Committee on New Alternatives. Miss Langston and Mr. Deitch read into this concern an undue preoccupation with political affiliations; in fact, what I was doing was pointing to a clear instance of unethical journalism. Since my article was written, the Globe has printed still another piece by Deitch (again without identifying him) which damns Israel and lauds Bober. Unlike the Globe, COMMENTARY (which is not, as Mr. Deitch in characteristically indiscriminate fashion asserts, a “Zionist magazine”) does make a practice of identifying its contributors. The author’s note to my piece specified my association with the Youth Committee for Peace and Democracy in the Middle East and with the A. Philip Randolph Institute. (To forestall yet another letter from Mr. Deitch, I hereby also declare my association with the Young People’s Socialist League.)
Miss Langston incorrectly claims that there is a contradiction between criticizing Chomsky for not explicitly describing the nature of Bober’s politics in a letter to proposed sponsors of the Committee, and at the same time suggesting that most of the sponsors would have joined the Committee even if Chomsky had been more explicit. What I actually said was that a few of the sponsors may have been misled about the nature of the Committee and might not have become sponsors if they had been more clearly informed. Ashley Montagu’s letter above proves me right.
As to the unsigned letter which was used as a leaflet, the main point is not whether it was a letter or a leaflet, it is that a statement describing Bober in glowing terms was printed on stationery listing the names of all the sponsors. Surely, the names were used in this way for no other reason than to suggest that the sponsors endorsed the statement.
Finally, if any apologies are due Murray Kempton and Carey Mc-Williams, they should come from Miss Langston herself. It was she who told me that they were sponsors, not on the phone but when I approached her after the Columbia meeting.
The main criticism of my article that is made by Chomsky, Kempton, and Miss Langston is that I failed to distinguish, as Professor Chomsky writes, between “advocating certain views and advocating that such views be heard.” Mr. Kempton writes that “the right of a man of the opposition in a democratic country to have a hearing when he goes abroad seems to me elementary.” Who is denying that right? Certainly not I. But the fact that I defend Bober’s civil liberties does not mean that I would sponsor his speaking tour. That’s the real distinction. Chomsky, Kempton, and Miss Langston no doubt would defend Menahem Begin’s right to speak in the United States, but I hardly think they would sponsor his speaking tour. Obviously there is an element of political approval involved in this kind of sponsorship, and attempts to deny that there is sound disingenuous at best and a bit dishonest at worst. (Professor Chomsky evidently missed my ironic intent in quoting several ritualistic professions of political neutrality.)
In any event, doubts remaining as to the political nature of the Committee on New Alternatives can be cleared up by quoting a passage from a letter it sent out (again listing all the sponsors) dated February 14, 1970. The letter requested help in finding additional sponsors, but cautioned that “Although we solicit and welcome support from the various groups that represent Mideast liberation movements (Arab Students Assn., etc.) serious difficulties for our speakers might result if they were used as public sponsors of the Committee.” This is one of the less graceful ways to describe the functioning of a pro-Arab front group.
Professor Chomsky’s attempt to point out errors I made in treating the Palestinians actually backfires since it undermines his own credibility. He identifies “a healthy sign” in the evolution of Palestinian ideology by quoting out of context the Fatah claim that “all Jewish Palestinians—at the present Israelis” will be acceptable in a Palestinian state. He does not tell us that Abu Iyad, one of the Fatah leaders, has qualified the above statement by limiting the numbers of Jews only to those Jews “who will be ready to abandon their racist ideology” (Jeune Afrique, March 3, 1970). Perhaps Professor Chomsky is ignorant of this qualification. Obviously, however, from his reference to Harkabi he knows that the “democratic” position the Palestinians present to the world is quite different from the ruthless position they adhere to internally. Thus the 1968 Palestinian National Covenant which advocates the removal of 99 per cent of the Jews from a Palestinian State was not published in English (while the much milder 1964 Covenant was) precisely because it was meant to be an internal document which would have been an embarrassment to the Palestinians were it ever made public. But since Harkabi (an Israeli) translated it, the Palestinians seem to have been making a tactical shift in their line. The Democratic Popular Front, with which Matzpen has political relations, is a co-signer of the 1968 Covenant. As for the recent evolution of Palestinian ideology which Professor Chomsky finds healthy, it should be noted that at the last meeting of the Palestinian Assembly (May 30 to June 4 of this year) the Democratic Popular Front and the Fatah clearly declared that the 1968 Covenant must not be amended (cf. Harkabi’s report in Ma’ariv, July 10, 1970) .
Either Professor Chomsky is aware of these facts and is hiding them—something I am reluctant to believe of one who has written so stirringly about the intellectual’s responsibility to the truth—or he is ignorant of them and therefore does not know what he is talking about when he discusses the politics of the Palestinian terrorists.
One final point. I never said that the positions of Chomsky, Bober, and the Fatah are identical. I explicitly stated that they “might disagree over the details” of how to put an end to Israel’s existence. Chomsky’s bi-nationalism, Bober’s de-Zionization, Fatah’s “democratic” state, and—a new term—Staughton Lynd’s “enmemberment” are not identical except (to repeat) on one crucial point: “they are in basic agreement that the State of Israel should be dismembered.” The Arab-Israeli conflict is not a linguistic dispute but a political and military struggle, and the fundamental issue of contention is Israel’s right to exist—something its opponents, whatever euphemisms they employ, are still unwilling to grant.