Is Noam Chomsky an Anti-Semite?

Benjamin Kerstein
Beersheva, Israel
August, 2004

 

A loaded question, I realize. I am reticent to enter into this issue in depth, since it always arouses violent passions on all sides, but I don't think there's any sense in pretending it doesn't exist.

To get things out of the way: Yes, I do consider Chomsky an anti-Semite. This inevitably raises the second question: How can Chomsky be considered an anti-Semite when he's a Jew himself? Firstly, being Jewish has, unfortunately, never precluded fealty to anti-Semitism. In fact, many of the most brutal polemical assaults against Jews and Judaism have been accomplished at the hands of their former co-religionists. The first time the Talmud was burned, in the 13th century, it was at the behest of a Jewish apostate to Christianity named Nicholas Donin, who denounced the Talmud as heretical. To choose a more modern example, the Bolshevik government in 1920s Russia organized its persecution of Orthodox Judaism mainly through the services of the Jewish Bund; an anti-religious socialist movement which had, ironically, played no small part in the February Revolution which toppled the Czar. And, of course, there is the classic image of Karl Marx, born a Jew and baptized only at the age of six, who could nonetheless write

What is the Jew's foundation in this world? Usury. What is his worldly god? Money...Money is the zealous one God of Israel, beside which no other God may stand...The bill of exchange is the Jew's real God...Only then could Jewry become universally dominant...The social emancipation of Jewry is the emancipation of society from Jewry.

But then another question arises, why not simply term Chomsky a self-hating Jew? The truth is, I dislike the term. It implies a tragic pathos that absolves its object of an elementary moral responsibility. It also implies an inner-directedness which I consider false and misleading. Chomsky's attitudes towards the Jews are directed outwards, at the Jews as an object, and not towards any outwardly "Jewish" qualities within himself.

Is Chomsky, for lack of a better term, an Uncle Tom? Now, it is certainly true that members of very small and oft-persecuted minorities often adopt highly contemptuous attitudes towards their fellows in order to escape the burden of an alienated identity; this is especially common in countries like the United States, where the rate of assimilation is high and, thus, identification with the dominant culture very strong. The United States, however, is not an anti-Semitic country (though anti-Semitism does exist and is growing in certain circles) and, while denial of one's Jewish identity, even at an unconcious level, is widespread in American Jewry, the adoption of outright anti-Semitic attitudes does not axiomatically follow.

This does lead us somewhere, however, and it is to the ideological nature of the radical circles in which Chomsky serves as both guru and priest. Although the broader society in which Chomsky lives is not anti-Semitic, the microcosmic milieu in which he travels most certainly is. It would be, quite simply, impossible for Chomsky to retain his credibility among his fellow ideologues without adopting such attitudes. He walks, after all, in circles in which Jewish revolt or revolution is strictly forbidden. In his chosen family, Chomsky may dance at everyone's wedding but his own. We are dealing, after all, with a culture which aggrandizes Fanon and brands Jabotinsky a fascist. Other groups may assert their national identities and partake in the regenerative qualities of revolt. Chomsky, however, must take his rebellion secondhand, and thus is doubly alienated; both from his own identity, and from the identity of those through whom he rebels vicariously. Chomsky cannot hate his own enemies, but he can hate theirs, and when their enemies become the Jews, we see how this monstrous dialectic reaches its end: with the advocate becoming the most zealous of prosecutors. Witness the following:

In the US when I was growing up anti-Semitism was a severe problem. In the 1930’s depression when my father finally had enough money to buy a second-hand car and could take the family on a trip to the mountains, if we wanted to stop at a motel we had to check it didn’t have a sign saying ‘Restricted’. ‘Restricted’ meant no Jews, so not for us; of course no Blacks. Even when I got to Harvard 50 years ago you could cut the anti-Semitism with a knife. There was almost no Jewish faculty. I think the first Jewish maths professor was appointed while I was there in the early ‘50s. One of the reasons MIT (where I now am) became a great university is because a lot of people who went on to become academic stars couldn’t get jobs at Harvard-so they came to the engineering school down the street. Just 30 years ago (1960s) when my wife and I had young children, we decided to move to a Boston suburb (we couldn’t afford the rents near Cambridge any longer). We asked a real estate agent about one town we were interested in, he told us: ‘Well, you wouldn’t be happy there.’ Meaning they don’t allow Jews. It’s not like sending people to concentration and termination camps but that’s anti-Semitism. That was almost completely national.

This is all completely true, of course, and it is surprising to see the emotion strung in between those words; it is clear that Chomsky feels the sting of anti-Semitism, even today. It is fascinating to see, however, where this leads him.

By now Jews in the US are the most privileged and influential part of the population. You find occasional instances of anti-Semitism but they are marginal.

With a disconcerting surety, he echoes the very thoughts of the anti-Semites he has just denounced. Jews are not a privileged and influential part of the population, they are the most privileged and influential part of the population. And privilege is, of course, not something achieved, but something bestowed. The Jews, in other words, are neither persecuted nor marginalized, as he acknowledges, with some bitterness, they once were; but rather favored sons of the society of which he just a moment ago spoke so bitterly. And whither anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control. That’s why anti-Semitism is becoming an issue. Not because of the threat of anti-Semitism; they want to make sure there’s no critical look at the policies the US (and they themselves) support in the Middle East. With regard to anti-Semitism, the distinguished Israeli statesman Abba Eban pointed out the main task of Israeli propaganda (they would call it exclamation, what’s called ‘propaganda’ when others do it) is to make it clear to the world there’s no difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. By anti-Zionism he meant criticisms of the current policies of the State of Israel. So there’s no difference between criticism of policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism, because if he can establish ‘that’ then he can undercut all criticism by invoking the Nazis and that will silence people. We should bear it in mind when there’s talk in the US about anti-Semitism.

Thus, not only does anti-Semitism not exist but, in an extraordinary turn of the worm, it has become a tool in the hands of the "privileged people" who desire, not mere control, but "total control". And, at last, we begin to hear that old echo. That frenetic compendium of secret conspiracy which first issued to us from the minutes of the elders of Zion.

The Hebrew press is much more open than the English language press, and there’s a very obvious reason: Hebrew is a secret language, you only read it if you’re inside the tribe. Like most cultures it’s a tribal culture. I don’t want to exaggerate, but the English translations on the internet are very revealing and very interesting.

Thus, there is no anti-Semitism except as a means to silence. There is no anti-Semitism except as a weapon of the propagandists and the privileged against their critics. There is no anti-Semitism except to further the ends of the tribe, with their secret language in which are couched dark doings which, while one doesn't wish to exagerrate, are at least sinister enough to be couched in this code which only the privileged may decipher.

Now, I don't wish to exagerrate either, but we should examine where this process ends. Should French teenagers, for instance, beaten or stabbed in the street, claim anti-Semitism as the cause; they are not aggrieved victims of racist violence, but rather agents of the quest of the privileged to rule all. American college students, at MIT lets say, who are greeted on Holocaust Memorial Day by protestors equating Israel and Nazi Germany and complain that such statements are anti-Semitic; are not stung by vicious, thoughtless, and deliberately hurtful rhetoric, but rather brutal totalitarians attempting to "silence" the innocent agents of justice and truth. Even the Israeli father who considers the suicide bomber who eradicated his family, propelled by the imam's admonition of "death to the Jews", to be anti-Semitic is no more than a derelict apologist for American and Israeli atrocities.

There is, of course, something a little monstrous in all of this. On scales of evil, perhaps, it is not the highest, but it is of a piece. Of a piece with the political violence Chomsky aggrandizes and of a piece with his apocalyptic dehumanization of all who fail his test of beleaugered sanctity. There are those sanctified by Chomsky, there are holy innocents, even; but there is also conspiracy, and, as Alain Finkielkraut has pointed out, anyone who talks of conspiracy eventually ends up talking about the elders of Zion. Even, it seems, Noam Chomsky.