Dershowitz-Chomsky Showdown

I watched the debate between Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky on “ISRAEL & PALESTINE AFTER DISENGAGEMENT: Where Do We Go From Here?”, held tonight at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The streaming video should soon be archived here. The upshot is that the event lived up to its billing, as Dershowitz, armed with maps, pulled no punches in challenging Chomsky. What came across in the debate was the contrast between Dershowitz, who is optimistic for the prospects of a peaceful two-state solution, as outlined in his new book The Case For Peace, and Chomsky, who doesn’t think Israel is capable of agreeing to any plan that would be realistic for Palestinians.

It’s inconceivable to me how anybody can watch this debate and take anything Chomsky says seriously. Any source that contradicts his viewpoint he dismisses as suspect, and as Dershowitz pointed out, whoever he quotes in support of his theories he identifies as a “?leading scholar.” The average member of the audience isn’t going to take the time to track down every obscure source Chomsky cites, and when asked why his theories were not more widely reported, he talks of a media cover-up.

One good example of this related to the collapse of the 2000 peace process. Dershowitz laid the blame squarely on Arafat for the rejection of a two-state solution, but Chomsky blamed Israel. Dershowitz cited statements by U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross and Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia as well as private conversations with Bill Clinton to back up his claim. Chomsky said anything coming from Dennis Ross should be disregarded, and cited Ron Pundak, the director of the Shimon Peres Center for Peace as the “?leading scholar” on the issue.

When Dershowitz said that Dennis Ross should be considered reliable, because he was at Camp David in 2000, Chomsky said that Pundak was there too. Chomsky held his ground on this point, even after a questioner from the audience challenged him. Chomsky’s assertion that Pundak was at Camp David is contradicted by this biography of Pundak, from the official Website of the Shimon Peres Center for Peace. As the questioner rightly told Chomsky, Pundak was involved in the Oslo process in 1993, but, at least according to this official bio, he was not at Camp David. If anybody else out there has contrary evidence, I’d love to hear it.

Another great point came when Dershowitz asked what country facing a similar terrorist threat to Israel had used preemptive action with better discretion. Chomsky cited Nicaragua and Cuba, for showing so much restraint in the face of terrorism carried out by the U.S. Chomsky then had the nerve to cite Iran, because Israel and the U.S. are threatening Iran with destruction. Hello Noam! It was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who recently called for Israel to be “?wiped off the map.” As my evidence, I cite this story from Al Jazeera. Even Chomsky would have a tough time dismissing Al Jazeera as American/Zionist propaganda.

It would be great if we could just laugh at Chomsky. But unfortunately, he is more responsible than any living intellectual for brainwashing college students against Israel (and America). I have often wondered what the appeal of Chomsky is, and have concluded that it comes down to the fact that he makes impressionable people think that he’s letting them in on secrets. To his followers, Chomsky is like Morpheus in “?The Matrix,” offering people a red pill that will allow them to see beyond the world surrounding them and uncover hidden truths.

Or, as Dershowitz put it, “?In order to get the truth, you have to go to Planet Chomsky.” (This is not an exact quote since a transcript is not available at this time).

13 thoughts on “Dershowitz-Chomsky Showdown”

  1. Dershowitz is the one that’s hard to take seriously. Chomsky repeatedly says “Don’t take my word for it; look at the sources”. Dershowitz spends half his time trying to smear Chomsky with the childish Planet Chomsky comments and blatant lies such as when Dershowitz claimed that Chomsky said Israel has the worst human rights record in the world. Good luck finding a source for that comment of Chomsky’s. Dershowitz embarassed himself by arguing a position based on “Clinton told me, Ross told me” – what a mastery of the scholarship Dershowitz has! Or maybe we’re supposed to be impressed with who Dershowitz rubs shoulders with. If someone Chomsky cites isn’t a leading scholar, Dershowitz made clear he wouldn’t know but he has no trouble mocking him on this point anyway. One could go on and on. Dershowitz spends his final minute singing Sharon’s praises, consistent with his respectable status with the powerful. Chomsky could care less if “respectable”, “important” people hate him, as many in fact do. He calmly presents another worldview, asking reasonably that people look at the evidence and the sources, while apologists go hysterical. Its quite entertaining to watch.

  2. You don’t have to rely on Dershowitz’s private conversations to know that Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross blamed Arafat for the failure of the peace process in 2000, both of them have publicly blamed Arafat, most notably in their books. Chomsky instead chooses to cite Ron Pundak, who wasn’t at Camp David, according to his online bio (although in Chomsky’s mind, Pundak was there). You say to check Chomsky’s sources to verify his statements. I did. The one statement that I had time to quickly check, turned out to be false.

  3. I consider Chomsky to be the most reprehensible figure Academia has ever produced; he’s managed to combine an orthodox Stalinism with the oldest, most notorious and deranged type of conspiracy thinking. Because of his hipster cache, it’s imperative we loudly and forcefully connect the dots he and some (though certainly not all) of his fellow-travellers obfuscate. Who that’s read the anachronistic ‘Manufacturing Consent’ didn’t connect the dots and strands that flow through Chomsky’s central premise? He proposes that, in a free market, corporations control the media and the government and, through the flow of carefully-censored information, control the public. When you look at who benefits from said ‘Manufactured Consent,’ it is only Zionist interests and big business. Oh how I wish Chomsky wasn’t cut-off by the moderator last night just as he was about to tackle that point. He might’ve cited “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in Esperanto as a source.

    This isn’t meant to be a refutation of Chomsky’s world-view– which, I believe, is self-evident– for that you can seek out literally a vast library of anti-totalitarian writing, from the Enlightenment the to the present. Brutally-enforced collectivism (as found in the strikingly-similar regimes Chomsky has championed) is still Totalitarianism with some makeup and slogans.

    [There are many sources that refute Chomsky’s claims to ‘scholarship’ available online. My favorite is a very articulate Israelli blogger’s

    (http://www.antichomsky.blogspot.com).]

  4. Boy do you have it all wrong, Dershowitz gets off at trying to put Chomsky down. His methods of employing unsubstantiated attacks are just his internal projections about his waning credibility. He feels bad because he is a fraud, so he calls Chomsky a fraud. Read this article and tell me if you still think of Dershowitz as a scholar of any sort.

    http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=03/09/24/1730205

  5. In fact, Chomsky explicitly backed down from his claim about Pundak having been at Camp David and said he was in the background, involved in the negotiations. The point here is rather simple: Dershowitz cites two obviouslt interested parties (Clinton and Ross, the architects of the Camp David fiasco) to back his “historical” claim about what happened. Chomsky cites an ISRAELI source close to the Labour Party, i.e., the people who made the “historic offer”, to show that what happened was something else entirely. DershowitzÃ?Â?Ã?´s strategy would be like reporting on a voncersation with Hermann Goerring to “prove” that Poland really did attack Germany, not the other way round. (Notice IÃ?Â?Ã?´m not comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, IÃ?Â?Ã?´m making a point about sources for historical information.) Otherwise, although I thought Chomsky could have done a better job than he did, itÃ?Â?Ã?´s Dershowitz who chose the comfort of “Planet AIPAC” over addressing the facts. Did he actually challenge anthing Chomsky concretely said about Israeli human rights abuses? About the disproportionate deaths on the Palestinian side throughout the Second Intifada? No, he used the “conspiracy theory” cudgel to evade the issue. Can you challenge them?

    Btw, if youÃ?Â?Ã?´re really interested in reliable information on Camp David, there are other “authorities” , besides the obviously interested ones, you can soncult, for instance

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/14380

  6. Of course Ross and Clinton blamed Arafat. They’re not going to say we offered him a horrible deal and he wouldn’t sell out the Palestinians. Much easier to put all the blame on Arafat and trust that people will simply nod their heads in agreement when the powerful give their story. I don’t trust Arafat’s word and he was there too. Why should I trust Clinton’s?

    Dave’s comments are a wonderful example of the hysteria around Chomsky that allows people to slander him with any ridiculous gossip that comes to mind. Stalinist? Interesting since the Soviet Union wouldn’t allow his books to be published there because he was conistently critical of both the US and the USSR. He’s been anti-Stalinist his whole life and this point would be obvious to anybody who actually read his writings and was capable of interpreting his words. The rest of Dave’s comments reach about the same level of honesty.

    – Adam

  7. “Dershowitz cites two obviouslt interested parties (Clinton and Ross, the architects of the Camp David fiasco) to back his “historical” claim about what happened.” “DershowitzÃ?Â?Ã?´s strategy would be like reporting on a voncersation with Hermann Goerring to “prove” that Poland really did attack Germany, not the other way round. (Notice IÃ?Â?Ã?´m not comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, IÃ?Â?Ã?´m making a point about sources for historical information.)”

    But you are comparing Clinton and Ross to Goerring. Do you have a clue what a hateful, bigoted, biased and disreputable space your thoughts on this issue occupy?

  8. I thought this was more like a heavy-weight championship boxing fight. It was entertaining, but that’s about it. Both have reached a point, after decades of disrespect for each other, that they should not nuke it out in public. It is funny how the umpire, Brian Mandell, instructed the audience to behave, while the two cock-fighters were the ones to misbehave.

    Does this debate help students? I doubt it seriously.

  9. Dershowitz seemed to be trying to appeal to the audience with his unrealistic optimism, but I know nothing about him other than what I saw from this debate

    Both of them slanted the history horribly and I think the only ones to acknowledge terrorist crimes from Israelis AND Palestineans were the audience members posing questions

  10. In Dershowitz closing statement he lauds Chomsky for being a leading intellectual with vast power to influence world events. Earlier in the debate Chomsky is asked to account for his purported media black out of events as seen from “Planet Chomsky”. It is obvious to media watchers (tuning into Fox, CNN, NPR, and a host of weekend talking head shows) that this media is ignoring the “leading intellectual” with such influence. If there were no media black out we would see Chomsky on these stations at least as often as we see other “leading intellectuals” like Anne Couter, Kissenger, Colin Powell, Dick Morris, Oliver North and the regulars. But no there is a media blackout and it seeks to isolate and marginalize the likes of Chomsky. One would have to give Dershowitz credit for condescending to debate Chomsky given the fact that the rest of the free press ignores him.

  11. I think that the issue of Dennis Ross and Ron Pundak are central to the debate; and I think that Chomsky really failed in this regard. What was left out of the discussion above is the fact that the “member of the audience” was Tal Zilberstein who was, in fact, at Camp David as a member of the Israeli delegation. Of course Chomsky backed down; he had no choice in the matter following Zilberstein’s eyewitness account that Pundak was not at Camp David.

    I find it rather interesting that in the transcript that appears on the democracynow.org Web site, the entire exchange between Zilberstein and Chomsky has been excised.

    I also took Chomsky’s advise and went to the Peres Center Web site and read the Pundak documents. One must realize that Ron Pundak, having been one of the chief Oslo negotiators, is also an “interested party”, who was neither a part of nor consulted with at Camp David. His survey of the events are, in my opinion, no less self-serving than those of Dennis Ross and President Clinton.

    From watching the debate, it seems to me that the most glaring flaw in Chomsky’s argument is the fact that he repeatedly elides the fact of the violent reaction to Camp David on the part of the Palestinian side (although he does make a point of bringing up the Israeli response to the intifada), with the apparent support, or at least lack of a restraining response, on the part of their leadership. Instead, he simply goes from Camp David to Taba, ignoring the several months of intervening Palestinian violence.

    One last interesting point in Chomsky’s argument that, again, appears to put his command of the evidence, if not honesty, in question is his repeated assertion concerning the use, by Israel, of helicopters. Chomsky asserts that,

    “Israel, in the first few days of the Intifada, was using U.S. helicopters Ã?¢âÂ?‰Â?Â? they donÃ?¢âÂ?‰Â?¢t make them Ã?¢âÂ?‰Â?Â? U.S. helicopters to attack civilian complexes, apartment houses and so on, killing and wounding dozens of people.”

    This is, quite false. The first use of helicopters by the IDF in the current intifada was immediately following the brutal lynching of two unarmed reservists in Ramalla some four weeks after the start of the intifada. The attack was on the police complex (not a “civilian complex” or “apartment house”) where the two were brutalized and beaten before being dropped out of a second-storey window to the lynch mob below, This attack was carried out only after the PA had been warned and the target evacuated. This attack resulted in damage to the building but not in civilian casualties. In fact, this was the case for almost all of the helicopter attacks that occurred from the start of the Intifada (immediately after Camp David) through the end of Barak’s term and well into Sharon and the Likud assuming office.

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