The Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East, according to Noam Chomsky, one of its founders, was established to promote discussion of the Arab-Israeli crisis, and specifically “to introduce left-wing voices that are rarely heard in the United States.” In a letter inviting other intellectuals to sponsor the Committee with him, Chomsky emphasized that it would “take no specific stand on the Middle East” and expressed the hope that people representing “a range of differing views” would join in lending their names to the encouragement of its activities. The first of these activities, he said, would be a national speaking tour for Arie Bober, a member of the Israel Socialist Organization (ISO), often referred to as Matzpen (Compass) after the name of the periodical it publishes. Chomsky described Matzpen as “a small, non-Zionist, Jewish-Arab organization which recognizes the national rights of both Jews and Arabs in Palestine” and believes that reconciliation between them depends upon a “profound social transformation” of the entire area.
Chomsky’s letter was well received. Among the initial sponsors of the Committee were Eric Bentley, Stanley Diamond, Richard M. Elman, Erich Fromm, Florence Howe, Louis Kampf, William Kunstler, Sidney Lens, Robert Jay Lifton, Robert Lowell, Staughton Lynd, Dwight Macdonald, Ashley Montagu, Sidney Peck, Pete Seeger, I. F. Stone, William Styron, Louis Untermeyer, José Yglesias, and Howard Zinn. Subsequently the names of Robert Scheer, Murray Kempton, Carey McWilliams, and (according to the Committee’s secretary, Berta Langston) “many important Jewish intellecuals” were also added.
In the course of his tour, Bober addressed left-wing audiences at many universities and made an appearance on the Today show. He received little press coverage, however, except for some lengthy interviews which appeared in the Militant, the organ of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers party (of which Miss Langston is an active member) and two enthusiastic articles in the Boston Globe. The author of the articles, David Deitch, is a financial reporter for the Globe and also, it turns out, a sponsor of the Committee on New Alternatives, though he did not identify himself as such.
Matzpen consists of about 100 members, a small minority of whom are Arabs, the rest being Jewish students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Originally part of the Israeli Communist party, Matzpen was expelled in 1962 because it sympathized with Peking more than Moscow, and, more importantly, because of its position on the Arab-Israeli dispute. The group is for the “de-Zionization” of Israel and has expressed its full support for the “resistance” of Palestinian terrorists to “Zionist oppression,” which it identifies with “American imperialism.” Thus, its stand is far more extreme than that of any other group within Israel, including even Rakah, the Arab Communist party, which accepts the November 22, 1967 UN resolution as the basis for a peace settlement. Matzpen, opposing the existence of “a Zionist Israel,” does not accept the UN resolution. Chomsky noted in his letter that Matzpen advocates a “profound transformation” of the Middle East. What he neglected to mention was that this transformation involves the dissolution of the State of Israel.
I heard Bober speak at Columbia in June. He is unquestionably a skilled polemicist and is particularly effective with young, radical audiences. His most successful rhetorical device, which he used over and over, was to start a sentence with: “As an Israeli, as a Jew, and as a socialist. . . .” Having thus established his credentials, he would then proceed to denounce Israel in terms that most Arab propagandists would not use for fear of appearing too extremist or chauvinistic. Listening to Bober I was reminded of the current anti-Zionist campaign in the Soviet Union, the most obscene aspect of which is the use of Jews to attack other Jews.
Bober was introduced by Edward Said, a Palestinian who is an associate professor of English at Columbia. Said read off the names of some of the sponsors of the Committee on New Alternatives, emphasizing that it was a “widely divergent list with many different views represented.” But of course the reading of the names—Chomsky, Kunstler, Lowell, Macdonald—served as an implicit legitimation of what Bober was about to say. And what he was about to say was sweeping, unsparing, and at times virulent in its indictment of Israel. He described Israel as “National Socialist,” declared that she was “like any other oppressor throughout history,” and associated Zionism with the crimes of fascism, colonialism, and imperialism. Far from opposing Nazism, he charged, Zionists were dependent upon it as a justification of their existence. That is why swastikas “filled them with joy,” and that is also why, according to Bober, Zionists cooperated with Hitler to secure the escape of Jews—only rich ones, of course—to Israel.
Bober reiterated all the tired and tiresome left-wing platitudes about Zionism’s ties to colonialism and imperialism. Israel, he said, is the bearer of “the white man’s burden” in the Middle East, as the French were in Algeria and as the Rhodesians are today in Africa. Moreover, Israel is in a fundamental alliance with imperialism since the state “exists only for the expansion of Zionism.” (At times Bober got his imperialisms, not to mention his politics, confused—as when he declared that “American imperialism would defend Zionism to the last drop of Arab oil.”)
Bober had nothing favorable to say about the Arab governments, though he had little that was critical to say either. When someone from the audience mentioned that the Arabs publish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Bober’s response was simply, “So, the Arabs publish?” But if he was neutral on the subject of the Arab governments, he ardently endorsed the Palestinian guerrillas. “We must support the Palestinian revolution without any precondition,” he said. “It is the right of oppressed people to fight against oppression by any means they see fit.”
Such, then, are the preachments of the man whom the Committee on New Alternatives describes in an unsigned letter (which, however, lists all the names mentioned above on its letterhead) as “a vigorous, articulate and courageous critic of the stalemated status-quo proponents on both sides.”
In allowing their names to be used to promote Bober’s tour and to give it a cloak of respectability, the sponsors must accept some measure of responsibility for his views. A few of them would no doubt feel uncomfortable in this, but many—along with numerous other left-wing intellectuals-would probably agree with the substance of Bober’s position, finding fault, if at all, only with his harsh rhetoric. 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. 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. Chomsky, Bober, and Al Fatah might disagree over the details of “de-Zionization”—for example, Al Fatah would expel all Jews above the number that lived in Palestine before 1917, which amounts to about 99 per cent of the present Jewish population—but they are in basic agreement that the State of Israel should be dismembered. One wonders how many of the sponsors of the Committee on New Alternatives are fully aware of this fact or have permitted themselves to recognize that in helping to “encourage discussion” about the Middle East, they are lending support to the cause of those who want to destroy Israel.