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Why Noam Chomsky is not a suitable candidate

TODAY Noam Chomsky will receive the $50,000 Sydney Peace Prize at the Sydney Town Hall. Chomsky's award follows in the path of previous winners such as John Pilger, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Hanan Ashrawi, all well known for their one-sided criticisms of Israel.

It is hard to see how Chomsky's track record on Israel-Palestine justifies his receipt of a peace prize. He has done nothing to encourage conflict resolution based on mutual compromise and concessions, or to advance practical strategies that would empower peace activists and moderates on both sides of the equation. To the contrary, he is a one-sided advocate for the Palestinian national cause.

To be sure, Chomsky has an unusual background for such an extreme opponent of Israel and Zionism. He grew up in a strong Jewish cultural tradition, with both his parents working as Hebrew teachers. Chomsky himself also taught Hebrew while studying at university and was attracted to the views of the Left Zionist organisation Hashomer Hatzair. Chomsky never formally joined HH because of his rejection of its Marxist ideology, but he admired the group's advocacy of a socialist bi-national solution in Palestine. Like many Left Zionist groups in the pre-1948 period, HH was strongly committed to a Jewish homeland in Palestine but nevertheless favoured Arab-Jewish cooperation and friendship in a unified Palestine rather than separate Jewish and Arab states as ultimately proposed by the UN Partition Resolution. Unfortunately, these hopes were dashed by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the violent opposition by the Palestinian Arabs and the neighbouring Arab states to any form of Jewish national self-determination in Palestine.

Chomsky began writing critically on Israel only in 1969 and many of his early writings were summarised in his 1974 text Peace in the Middle East, which emphasised his preference for a socialist bi-national state of Israel-Palestine. Chomsky's advocacy of a bi-national state seemed to involve a strange regression to the pre-1948 views of Hashomer Hatzair and completely ignored the two decades of subsequent conflict that had made a unified Jewish-Arab state little more than a fantasy.

The Arab states and the Palestinians responded to Israel's enormous victory in the 1967 Six-Day War with even greater enmity, rejecting any recognition of Israel, or negotiations with Israel, or peace with Israel.

Through time, Chomsky came reluctantly to accept that a two-state solution was a likelier outcome than his ideal of a bi-national state. But his opposition to Israel became even more one-sided. Chomsky argued Israel and the US had always rejected proposals for a peaceful two-state solution, and that in contrast the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Arab states had consistently supported a two-state perspective. Chomsky blamed the Americans even more than Israel for the ongoing conflict, and asserted that the US had always blocked any reasonable proposals for peace.

Chomsky has regularly misrepresented all Israelis from the "greater Israel" Right to Peace Now on the Left as holding identical rejectionist views and passionately opposed the Oslo Peace Accord as simply constituting a Palestinian capitulation to Israel.

In more recent times, Chomsky bizarrely has claimed that ultra-hardliners such as Hamas and Iran - both of which regularly have urged the elimination of the state of Israel - have a greater commitment to two states than Israel and the US.

Chomsky's extreme analysis seems to involve an inversion of historical fact. The Israelis strike a hard bargain, but they did return the Sinai for peace with Egypt and made major political and territorial concessions within the Oslo Peace Accord. The peace offers made by former prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000-01 clearly signalled that Israel was willing to negotiate a viable two-state solution based on withdrawing from most of the West Bank provided the Palestinians were serious about conflict resolution.

The US also has consistently supported a two-state solution and former president Bill Clinton devoted substantial time and resources to bridging the Israeli and Palestinian positions on two states. If not for the outbreak of the violent Palestinian intifada in September 2000, it is very likely the negotiations mediated by Clinton would have led to the successful establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Despite his demonisation of the Israelis, Chomsky remains a relative realist when it comes to actual solutions to the conflict. He recognises that any plan has to include national self-determination for both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. He does not endorse calls by so-called one-staters for the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an exclusivist Arab state of greater Palestine. Nor does he support Palestinian demands for a so-called "right of return" of 1948 refugees to Green Line Israel as he does not believe there is any realistic prospect of Israel accepting the return of these refugees. Overall he suggests a two-state proposal similar to that negotiated in the unofficial Geneva Peace Accord of 2003 is the best that can be hoped for.

Irrespective of these caveats, it is hard to see how the awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Chomsky can be justified. There are other far more deserving candidates who have actually promoted balanced strategies for Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation. They include the famous intellectuals and friends Amos Oz and Sari Nusseibeh, the co-conveners of the Geneva Peace Accord Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, and the co-editors of the outstanding BitterLemons online newsletter, Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher. A joint award to any of these genuine moderates would enable the Sydney Peace Prize to claim legitimately that they had promoted peace and human and national rights for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Associate professor Philip Mendes of Monash University

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For your amusement, here is the text of an email I sent to the Sydney Peace Foundation tonight: To whom etc. I posted two highly critical comments on your Facebook site tonight. They were swiftly deleted. Now you know how I feel about your organization and your prize. Just letting you know that you may post comments on my Facebook site at any time and I certainly won"t delete them as you did mine. That"s freedom of speech. We enjoy that right because we are living in Australia, a democracy, similar to Israel and very much unlike the Middle Eastern dictatorships you obviously prefer. (Forget the "Arab Spring" - it won"t change a thing). By the way, does anybody study history at Sydney U? Rick Veneer (obviously not a fawning fan)

Posted by Rick Veneer on 2011-11-03 20:27:37 GMT

He is a creep!

Posted on 2011-11-02 04:22:23 GMT

It appears that the Sydney Peace Foundation,is proudly supported by the City of Sydney (,and is the body presenting the Sydney Peace Prize.I hope Melbourne will not try to emulate this .

Posted by danny on 2011-11-01 23:07:58 GMT

Let"s call a spade a spade...Chomsky is delusional, the Sydney peace prize is nothing more than a tool to support Israel bashers and may Chomsky and all the other Islamo-sycophants go live happily ever after in the Islamic state of their choice!

Posted by Ronit on 2011-11-01 21:15:55 GMT