MIT Professor Noam Chomsky who has been very critical of Israel's policies for many years, particularly from the first Lebanon war onwards, yesterday was denied entry at the Allenby Bridge by the Israeli authorities. He was on his way from Amman to Ramallah, where he was scheduled to lecture at Bir Zeit University about American foreign policy. His own account is that it seems he was expected, because he was, quite respectfully, asked to follow a young man, who seemed somewhat embarrassed at having to do this, for questioning. During the hours there, the young man repeatedly spoke on the phone, apparently to the interior ministry in Jerusalem. Chomsky was, among others, told that Israel doesn't like what he is.
Nobody in his right mind can claim that Chomsky represents a security threat to Israel. He's 81-years-old. He is not a specialist on armed insurrection, and he has never called for violence against Israel. Reading talkbacks to the reports that he was denied entry I found statements like 'he's a well-known holocaust denier' that are somewhere on the border between total ignorance and the onset of paranoia. So just for the record: Chomsky is in favor of the two-state solution, and neither calls for violence against Israel nor for dismantling the state. He is an outspoken opponent of the idea of an academic boycott of Israel's universities -- a rather popular cause of the European left in the last years.
I have heard Chomsky a number of times in Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. According to his own testimony he was here last in 1997. Chomsky has not changed his views since, so what has changed must be Israel -- a change very much for the worse. How else can you explain that Otniel Schneller, MK for Kadima, which is supposed to be a centrist party, had the following to say about the Chomsky affair: "It's good that Israel did not allow one of its accusers to enter its territory, I recommend [Chomsky] try one of the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt."
I wouldn't know of any democratic state that denies entry to thinkers (or anybody else for that matter) who neither call for violence or break local or international law. So what on earth is happening to Israel? Is the interior ministry offended that Chomsky didn't also come to speak in Israel? If yes, is this a reason to deny him entry?
Israel is currently fighting against calls throughout the world to boycott Israeli universities. Does anybody think that denying entry to Chomsky will strengthen our case? If anything, it gives ammunition to those who say that Israel is infringing on academic freedom in the Palestinian authority, and that hence a boycott against its universities is justified.
If Israel feels that it can defend its actions morally and politically, it should not be afraid of thinkers that criticize it. But Israel is beginning to tamper with free speech, and this is a truly worrying development. A state that feels that it cannot survive free speech, it is beginning to flirt with totalitarianism. In fact when Chomsky was asked whether he was ever denied entry into a country he said, yes: into Czechoslovakia in 1968, after the Russian invasion, when he wanted to visit his friend Dubcek. This puts Israel into very bad company indeed.
In addition to being morally and politically indefensible, this shameful episode is utterly stupid, because Israel has, once again, succeeded in making the world's headlines as a state that infringes on human rights, freedom of speech and academic freedom.
Being pro-Israel at this point means to say loud and clear that between the dispossession of Palestinian property, the continued existence of the settlements, the blockade on Gaza and acts like denying Chomsky access to Bir Zeit University the country is headed the wrong way.