Thursday, July 22, 2010
There are a number of things worth mentioning here beyond Chomsky's reflexive tendency to require that any attempt to liberate the Palestinians must not inflict any damage upon the Zionist state. First, Chomsky has long self-identified as an anarchist, although in a distant, abstract way independent of expressions of anarchism in contemporary social movements. Here, we have a classic instance of it, as Chomsky maligns the efforts of activists and Palestinians social organizations to organize the BDS campaign from the bottom up. If the target of the BDS campaign was a country other than Israel, it is likely that he would be supportive, characterizing it as a praiseworthy example of direct action. Instead, he adopts a hectoring, elitist perspective, one more consistant with American liberalism's hostility to any form of populism. Indeed, there is nothing in his perspective on Palestine that most American liberals couldn't swallow whole.
I examined Chomsky’s history in some detail in an article that I wrote for Left Curve in 2005 that called attention to the destructive role he has played regarding the Palestinian-based boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel and the equally destructive impact of his dismissal of the pro-Israel lobby as an influential force in shaping US Middle East policy.
That he is still at it, and that his influence among what are considered progressives has lessened only imperceptibly, requires another look at the professor’s fierce and unyielding opposition to the BDS campaign launched by the leading organizations of Palestinian civil society. This movement has been gaining support in the world that exists outside of the United States, particularly among trade unions, a fact that is causing considerable concern within Israel and among its lobbyists/agents around the world who claim it is a campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Within the United States, however, this campaign challenging Israel has frequently and in certain instances, intentionally, been confused with a vastly different, US-centered, campaign that avoids penalizing Israel while targeting US companies that provide goods and services that assist Israel in maintaining the occupation.
This latter campaign Chomsky does support as does the leading Jewish peace group, Jewish Voice for Peace which has recently been conducting a drive to get 10,000 signatures for its campaign to pressure Caterpillar to stop selling bulldozers to the Israel military which it has used to destroy Palestinian homes. While this is a worthy endeavor, does anyone seriously think that a refusal by Caterpillar to halt its sales to Israel would change the current situation for the Palestinians in any significant way? Or are we seeing something else here on the part of both Prof. Chomsky and JVP with their competing campaign, namely, damage control on Israel’s behalf?
One might certainly draw that conclusion from comments Chomsky has made over the past several years and most recently in interviews with Israeli television (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCtYecGbQz8) and with Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, the newly appointed president of the Council for National Interest (CNI), on Jerusalem Calling, the CNI’s online radio program. (http://www.wsradio.com/internet-talk-radio.cfm/shows/CNI:-Jerusalem-Calling.html)
In the interview with Alison Weir, Chomsky not only repeatedly attacks advocates of an Israeli boycott as being hypocritical, he accuses them of doing damage to the Palestinian cause.
What I have opposed, says Chomsky, is BDS proposals that harm Palestinians. If we are serious about BDS or any other tactic, we want to ask what the consequences are for the victims. We have to distinguish always in tactical judgments between what you might call ‘feel good’ tactics and ‘do good’ tactics. There are tactics that may make people feel good in doing something, but maybe they harm the victims.
Pushed on the subject by Weir, he repeats that a boycott of Israel is harmful to Palestinians and the reason is harmful is very obvious. And what is obvious about it, Chomsky tells us in the very next sentence. It is so hypocritical that it discredits the whole effort. I mean, he says, why boycott Israel and not boycott the United States? The US has a much worse record.
When reminded by Weir that Palestinian civil society issued a call, signed by dozens of diverse organizations calling for a boycott of Israel, Chomsky was dismissive and condescending.
There are groups who call themselves Palestinian civil society who are calling for a boycott, he responds, and I think they are making a mistake and I’ve explained why. I’m not going to take, adopt positions which have already been and will continue to be quite harmful to Palestinians.
If you want to, then do it, Chomsky adds, upbraiding Weir and by implication, the Palestinian people themselves, but it’s clear why the call for a boycott [of Israel] has been harmful for Palestinians and will continue to be.
The reason, he repeated, is very simple. It’s so utterly hypocritical that it’s basically a gift to the hardliners. They can say, ‘Look, you’re calling for a boycott of Israel, but you’re not calling for a boycott of the United States which has a much worse record', in fact, it’s even responsible for most of Israel’s crimes.
So therefore, if your position, and from his tone of voice he is clearly jabbing a verbal finger at Weir, is that hypocritical, how can we even take you seriously? That’s like giving a gift to the hard-line elements.
One might be forgiven for thinking that when Chomsky says we and refers to hard-line elements he is speaking of himself. He seems to confirm that later when, continuing his attack, he tells Weir:
I find your commitment to harming Palestinians surprising. It is quite obvious why a call for a boycott of Israel is a gift to AIPAC. It’s a gift because they can point out that it is utterly hypocritical and again, like a well rehearsed mantra he repeats, We are not boycotting the United States, for example, which has a much worse record and is responsible for a lot of Israel’s criminal behavior.
I can give you cases if you want where the calls like the one you’re advocating have, in fact, for good reasons, harmed Palestinians, and he repeats once again that Weir’s “support for the efforts which are basically gifts to the hardliners…”
Second, Chomsky's insistence that the BDS campaign is a serious error because, by hurting Israel, it would also hurt the Palestinians, is a shockingly simplistic analysis, something that one might expect to hear from Bill or Hillary Clinton. Obviously, it ignores the increasingly ghettoized conditions of social control that Israel has imposed upon the Palestinians in the occupied territories as a consequence of the siege of Gaza, the ongoing construction of the wall in the West Bank and a maze of armed checkpoints that render any semblence of normal life impossible. Furthermore, it is dismissive of the installation of increasingly sophisticated, violent surveillance technologies, such as the killing and wounding of Palestinians who approach the fence constructed between Israel and Gaza by remote control. IDF women soldiers, in a tower in the southern Negev, use a Playstation type joystick as they Spot and Strike Palestinians that they consider a threat. For Israel, such technology allows it to employ woman soldiers in a situation that would otherwise be considered combat if they were stationed at the fence itself.
Beyond the brutality of the occupation, Chomsky fails to address the exploitative economic relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Consider, for example, the one between Carmel Agrexco, a company that exports fruits, vegetables and herbs, and the Palestinians who live within the occupied territories:
Of course, many of the substantial infrastructure projects under construction in the West Bank are settlements and services designed to integrate them with Israel, while separating them from the Palestinians, such as transportation. In effect, Israel is imposing an economic model upon the occupied territories similar to the global, neoliberal one, whereby the populace of an undeveloped or lesser developed region is treated as a low wage work force so as to facilitate the process of capital accumulation. Such workers have no labor rights, and find themselves subjected to planning policies that segregate them in areas without essential public services. Yet Chomsky tells us that we shouldn't boycott firms like Carmel Agrexco because it would hurt Palestinians! Perhaps, Chomsky still believes in Israel as a modernizing force for development of Palestine, even if he remains savvy enough not to say so.
Agrexco say that 90% of the goods they export are from Israel, 5% from the occupied territories and 5% from elsewhere.
Thousands of Palestinians are employed in packing houses on Israeli settlements packing goods to be exported by Carmel Agrexco. These packing houses are often on land which has been forcibly taken from their communities Palestinian workers may be paid as little as 30 shekels (4 pounds) a day and have no sick pay, holiday pay, rights to unionise or contracts. Children are often employed on these settlements. These workers are compelled to work for the settlements because of the complete strangulation of Palestinian agriculture by the occupation. Many settlement workers have called on the international communtiy to boycott and campaign against Carmel Agrexco.
All Carmel Agrexco's directors, shareholders and company records are in Israel.