Chomsky to Deliver Bir Zeit Lecture on Al Jazeera
Well, maybe this will teach the petty bureaucrats at the Israeli Interior Ministry a lesson. After lecturing him for four hours on the errors of his ways in criticizing Israel and telling him what he could or should do to be allowed admittance, they sent Prof. Noam Chomsky packing back to Amman. Later, Israeli PR flacks attempted to backtrack by lying and claiming it was all a clerical error by a desk jockey the Allenby Bridge. Still later, they offered to allow him back into the West Bank (which isn’t Israel last I checked, even by Israel’s standards, so why should they even be determining who enters Palestinian territory?). When Chomsky inquired about whether this was a bona fide official guarantee of entry he discovered it wasn’t. Israel is just playing games.
But Chomsky, not to be played the fool, has delightfully one-upped them all. He’s going to deliver his Bir Zeit lecture via video conference from Amman and it will be telecast live on Al Jazeera. That way it will reach an audience thousands of times larger than the original lecture would have. Since Al Jazeera is available in Israel, perhaps even Israeli citizens will be able to watch him take apart the hypocrisy and brustishness of Israeli policy and Occupation.
This is the problem with Israeli policy and with all authoritarian regimes (which the Occupation certainly is). It thinks of the short term benefit, not the long term. It thinks of tactics instead of strategies. It puts a finger in the dyke but does nothing to preserve the ecosystem itself.
On a related note, Haaretz columnist Brad Burston has written a typically eloquent, soul-searching cri de coeur about the ugly rise of fascism inside Israel. Lest my right-wing readers jump on Burston as a typically left-wing commentator, this is simply untrue. Burston made aliyah decades ago and joined Kibbutz Gezer, where I myself visited when I studied in Israel. He has impeccable credentials as a liberal Zionist. So for him to be writing so openly using such strong language should tell us that the canary is singing in the coal mine that is Israeli “democracy.” Israel is a nation under threat. Even perhaps a nation beginning to implode under our very eyes from the heap of self-contradictions under which it labors.
I was delighted to read that Elvis Costello, a performer I admire greatly, has cancelled his Israel performances on his upcoming tour. He wrote a remarkably sensitive, balanced account of his decision which acknowledges that the decision is morally conflicted but had to be made nevertheless:
It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July.
One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament.
Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.
…If these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.
…I am not taking this decision lightly or so I may stand beneath any banner, nor is it one in which I imagine myself to possess any unique or eternal truth.
It is a matter of instinct and conscience.
…Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static and so an end to it.
I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this.
With the hope for peace and understanding. Elvis Costello
Haaretz notes that Santana and Gil Scott Heron have also joined in the protest by cancelling their own performances. I hope other performers will read Costello’s nuanced, humble and carefully articulated statement in full. It gives them much to ponder. I too want to make clear that I do not support such a decision as a means of harming Israelis, especially those who share a critique of Occupation. This is a political act, not one of petty vindictiveness. Of course, many Israelis will mistakenly take it as the latter. This is not an act that ultimately seeks harm to Israel or God forbid, it’s destruction. It is a moral statement that tells Israel that the rest of the world will no longer sit idly by. That if Israel wishes to continue down this road, a price will be paid in isolation. And that when Israel ends Occupation, then that price will be redeemed and Israel’s status will be restored.
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- Costello cancels concerts in Israel (guardian.co.uk)
21 thoughts on “Chomsky to Deliver Bir Zeit Lecture on Al Jazeera – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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Worth noting though, is that Chomsky came out (in the Haaretz interview) against BDS while being interviewed on his non-admission to the West Bank. “”I was against a boycott of apartheid South Africa as well. If we are going to boycott, why not the United States, whose record is even worse? I’m in favor of boycotting American companies which collaborate with the occupation,” he said. “But if we are to boycott Tel Aviv University, why not MIT?””
And the Burston piece is wonderful… I sometimes disagree with him, but he never fails to challenge me.
Chomsky’s position on BDS has been consistent for a long time. He’s against actions taken to punish Israeli society as a whole, including an academic or cultural boycott. So he is against formulations such as “divest from Israel”. He is in favor of actions to stop military “aid” and that target the occupation in particular. See for example the extended comments on this in the book Perilous Power with Gilbert Achbar. For Dershowitz, this means that Chomsky supports BDS and is trying to destroy Israel. For Jeffrey Blankfort, this means that Chomsky opposes BDS and is out to protect Israel.
Since Chomsky is against an academic boycott, the Israeli authorities of course stopped him from speaking at a university. There is apparently no limit to the stupidity, in addition to the criminality (Perhaps they go together at this point.)
Here’s a piece from Haaretz making the obvious point:
Israel is currently fighting international calls to boycott Israeli universities and academics. Does anybody think that denying entry to Chomsky will strengthen our case?
If anything, barring Chomsky gives ammunition to those who say that Israel is infringing on academic freedom in the Palestinian Authority, and that a boycott against its universities is therefore justified.
Who is Israel to decide who can enter occupied territories? Well, we’ve been rather blaming Israel for failing to do its duty to keep settlers OUT, haven’t we?
Elvis Costello says it all, and poetically. And it’s not like any artist pulling a concert date in Israel could book a concert in Gaza. Some people just won’t be bought.
Unfortunately, Costello is a talentless has been who is certainly not hurting anyone here-but perhaps his already stale career?
You clearly haven’t listened to an Elvis Costello record in a few decades if ever. He’s one of the best, most powerful singer songwriters in the world. The object wasn’t to “hurt” anyone. The object was shock Israelis out of their moral lethargy, which clearly he would be incapable of doing with a moral cretin like you.
I think the real shock is that people think this guy has talent! Elvis hasn’t left the building-he never entered…
Once again, what if anything do you know about Elvis Costello? Nothing I presume. You’re simply a hasbarist ignoramus making judgements w/o providing any facts or any argument. Pls. stop before you embarrass yrself any more than you already have.
He is far from stale, Liz, funny that if he were to enter Israel and play there, you would probably not be saying that. Sour grapes, eh?
Good piece by Burston indeed. The only point where I strongly disagree is point 2:
The sense of being scapegoated has been with the Zionist movement from the very start, not only since 2006. It was, and for good reason, instrumental in Zionism gaining track in the first place. Meanwhile however, being scapegoated has turned for all too many defenders of Israel from a real external threat to Jews into an inherent property of Jews.
Likewise the “fifth column” theme (Search? There is no search.) has been with Israel from day one, and was inevitable the way the state was founded.
Chomsky says Israel has become Stalinist.
Burston says it is becoming fascist.
Really, can’t the left make up its mind?
What, you don’t think that Stalinism and fascism have anything in common?
By referring to Israel as both they’re just throwing out negative words mindlessly, internet-style.
‘Apartheid’, ‘Nazi’ should be coming next, if they haven’t already.
chomsky could always held a video conference
and chomsky makes a good point in regards to boycotts….something that shouldve been brought to elvis’ attention
how is it that in all his years of performing, elvis never pulled out of any concert in britain or america
his views towards the thatcher administration were very well known, yet instead of not holding concerts, he chose to write songs like “ship building”
he was against both the iraq and afghanistan wars, yet continued touring in america
he is against the current occupations of both afghanistan and iraq, yet has a slate of concerts scheduled for both america and britain
he really should be consistent.
Didn’t you read the post? That’s what he DID.
As for boycotting Britain or America I’m not aware of any international boycott campaign of either country. In cancelling his Israel concert he was responding to a specific movement with that as its mission.
He is consistent. You should stop grandstanding & trying to score cheap pts.
And stop whining about censorship on this blog. The next time you do you might find yrself on the outside looking in. Bloggers do what I do all the time. It’s called being an editor. Newspapers do this too in their comments sections.
I was hoping Costello would make a stronger statement, but I am still glad that he understood enough about the issues to find the right road to take. I’m still incensed at Margaret Atwood and will no longer read her books, however.
I do not believe for a moment that Chomsky was kept out of Palestine because of a clerical error. It’s just too ridiculous.
Israel did not allow Chomsky to enter the West Bank! Shocking! Why, did anyone know that Israel controls the Palestinian territories until now? Huge surprise.
The Palestinians in the West Bank who might have heard his lecture on Israel needing to put on a friendlier mask will suffer more than the Gazans who are not allowed to receive basic aid, right?
Chomsky is to zionism what club soda is to wine–it turns it into an easier to drink spritzer.
I have no idea what this means and the rest of yr comment was equally cogent.
Haaretz has a fine editorial on Israel’s incredible (or is it?) refusal to allow Chomsky entry. Its url is http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/declaring-war-on-the-intellect-israel-and-noam-chomsky-1.290903.
Well, I’d like to see a list of the countries in which Elvis Costello performed. I’d bet several have worse human rights records than Israel.
I cannot buy the idea that those who participate in BDS are helpful to Israel in any way. BDS is movement run largely by people who want an end to the Jewish state; I think that fact is undeniable. The chief effect, to the extent that there is any, will be to push Israel further to the right.
And I find Costello’s reasoning very silly. No one was interpreting his presence on an Israeli concert schedule in a political way except members of the BDS movement. Costello inflates his own importance. His refusal to perform is an extreme and counterproductive political act that smacks of cowardice, not courage.
If his concern is that by performing, he will appear unconcerned with the suffering of the innocent, there is an easy answer to his dilemma – perform, and have the courage to state your views at your concert.
I’m not aware that Elvis Costello has performed in Sudan or Burma lately.
Wanting an end to the Jewish state is NOT the same as wanting an end to Israel. That fact is undeniable as well if you’re being honest. And hardly anyone supporting BDS wants an end to Israel. And even if some do, BDS is a decentralized movement which allows supporters to pick & choose which elements of the agenda they support. It is not a monolithic top down movement.
Israel has drifted very far to the right before there was a BDS movement & w/o the threat of BDS. Further, the South African sanctions movement faced the same claims that it would turn S.A. whites away frm willingness to compromise. Yet somehow sanctions worked to topple the regime (along w. other factors).
Not the pt. The real pt is to make Israelis aware that someone they’re dying to see in concert won’t come because he can’t abide the moral depravity of their country’s policies.
Not at all. In fact, he was quite humble & refused to allow anyone to make a larger political statement out of it & refused to become a cheerleader for either right or left in the matter. In fact, he stated that it was a personal moral decision. I honor him for that.
One very effective form of non-violence resistance is non-cooperation. By performing, even while criticizing, you’re in a sense cooperating with the system. Besides, how many Israelis are going to respond in any other way than catcalls when Costello recites his political broadside fr. the stage?