Noam Chomsky: Obama’s position on Gaza is “approximately the Bush position”


Interviewed on Democracy Now! today, January 23, 2009, Noam Chomsky observed that Obama’s statement on Gaza at the State Department on January 22 was “approximately the Bush position.” I find the use of the word, “approximately” to be a generous. In fact, Chomsky’s appraisal was plain and direct, without mincing words nor paying servile tribute to Obama. [Update: see the video collection of Chomsky’s address on Gaza for 13 January 2009 at 1D4TW.]

To summarize and quote some of the key passages from Chomsky’s interview:

There is “a gap in the reasoning” produced by Obama, and that is that Israel has “a right to defend itself,” but as Chomsky said, “it does not follow that it has a right to defend itself by force.” For Chomsky, and I agree, to say that Israel has a right to defend itself by force, would be like saying that Britain had a right to defend itself by force against the armies of George Washington in 1776 — Chomsky says, no, because they had no right to even be in North America, so the only right they did have was to leave. Likewise it would be like arguing that the Nazis had a right to defend themselves by force against Partisans in the territories they occupied. That would be accepting the right of the Nazis to invade and occupy in the first place, which is a Nazi argument. As Chomsky argued, “Israel can defend itself by stopping its crimes.” Chomsky understands, on the basis of explanations from former Israeli leaders themselves, that Palestinian civilians were to be punished by the Israelis until there would be a complete “cessation of hostilities,” meaning a cessation of resistance. Chomsky notes how Obama, in a subtle way, reproduced that very logic. In fact Chomsky quotes Abba Eban, the former Israeli Foreign Minister and UN Ambassador, as saying in 1981, in defense of systematically bombing civilian areas:

“there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that afflicted populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities.”

But according to Obama, Israel is a victim, that was provoked by rockets. It is a line that is as simplistic, as it is mendacious, as it is factually incorrect. That he would reproduce this slogan, knowing better, shows that his administration is as sanguine toward Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians in particular as the war horses the Obama administration superficially “replaces.”

Speaking at the State Department, America’s newest counterinsurgency doll mouthed these words:

Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats.

For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community, and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.

To be a genuine party to peace, the quartet has made it clear that Hamas must meet clear conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce violence; and abide by past agreements.

Going forward, the outline for a durable cease-fire is clear: Hamas must end its rocket fire; Israel will complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza; the United States and our partners will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime, so that Hamas cannot rearm.

This accepts Israel’s most convenient self-representation — Obama makes no mention of how Israel broke the ceasefire to begin with, no mention of how Israel had planned to attack Gaza many months in advance, that the timing was a political one and not a military defense rationale, also no mention of how for months before the Israeli violation there were no Hamas rockets, no mention of the crushing economic blockade of Gaza to which the U.S. is a party and which the U.N. in Gaza said was producing “subhuman” conditions, no mention of a mass of people crowded into a camp because their lands were taken away by Israelis, and barely any recognition of the staggering losses suffered by Gazans. Worse yet, there is a subtle appeal to Palestinians to turn on the leaders they elected, democratically and by a majority — as if their bearing the brunt of Israeli violence should have taught them a lesson. That is not just justifying Israeli violence, it is a statement of hope: hoping to reap the reward from massive blood loss.

Obama remains cold in the face of genocide (that is Obama’s actual anthropology, not the one imagined in the various fairy tale renditions of his personal life). Obama is indifferent to the injustices suffered by those who paid with a far greater loss of life. His assessment is as lopsided as the Israeli violence that it approves. It is a logic of state, and of a particular state that wishes to cling to as many opportunities as it can to clamp down on humanity. January 20 was mere pomp for the masses who came to gaze upon an entity they believe to be better, more important, more deserving of attention than any or all of them. Obama used that day to make another noteworthy statement, one premised on the idea that there is a “Muslim World” (Orientalism anyone?):

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Unclench your fist? This is what an American president, presiding over two active invasions, dares to tell anyone? Corruption and deceit? Who voted for more appropriations of funds to support the reconstruction scams in Iraq and Afghanistan if not Senator Obama? Silencing of dissent? Who approved the continuation of warrantless wire-tapping? If anyone was feeling nostalgia for Bush, at least this much continuity should be very reassuring. Obama seeks a new way forward, which mildly suggests that there was something problematic about the current U.S. way…but then immediately proceeds to point at the splinters in everyone else’s eyes. In other words, the “Muslim world” is the one that shall have to seek a “new way forward,” and toward America. That Obama should take this opportunity, on such an occasion, to instruct and lecture “the Muslim world,” is quite a grim statement.

What Obama does is to continue the same basic thrust of injustice directed against Palestinians, which does not seek a just resolution. There is no Palestinian state, and the vision of a Palestinian state entertained by some leading Israelis is itself nothing short of genocidal — as Chomsky reported in an earlier interview:

They can have a Palestinian state, in fact the right-wing in Israel prefers to have a Palestinian State so that they can then have inter-state relations, but they want it to be a Palestinian state which is derisory. An array of small cantons that can be administered under Israeli control. In fact, the first recognition of the possibility of a Palestinian state, the first one I can find, was by the ultra-right Netanyahu government in 1996; its information minister answering a question said that [on the scraps of land Israel would leave them] ‘the Palestinians can have a state if they want, or they can call it fried chicken’, that’s about the attitude.

Those who claim Obama for themselves, should also realize that they take responsibility for what he does and says. Contrary to the wide eyed adoration of Obama’s skin, or the dutiful praise, the refrain that it is “good to be American” heard even among people who should know better, we need some balance:

January 22, 2009, was DAY ONE for the world’s newest War Criminal, inaugurated into empire. Hail to the thief.



7 thoughts on “Noam Chomsky: Obama’s position on Gaza is “approximately the Bush position”

  1. FriendlyTxn

    Have you ever been to Israel or the West Bank? If so, you would see how the Palestinian leaders post flyers of suicide bombers on every street corner; how they urge their people to embrace hate; how they keep their people in a perpetual state of anger in order to exert total control. I spoke with Arab citizens of Israel who said they thank God every day for Israel, where they have the right to vote, where they are safe (except from Palestinian murderers). Palestinians are trapped in a culture of death; Israel wants to live in peace. If Hamas/Fatah would accept Israel’s right to exist and have a territory, peace would begin immediately.

  2. Maximilian Forte

    Have you ever been colonized? Have you ever lived under foreign domination? Have your lands been stolen from you? If any of that were true, would you be in a rush to accept the “right to exist” from those who dominated you?

    What kind of subhuman servants do you expect/wish the Palestinians to be? Whose fantasy is this?

    Israel has the “might” to exist — right is another matter altogether.

  3. guliver

    Noam Chomsky is like those shameful Jews who, to save their life during the middle ages, converted and then accused their former fellows of committing ritual murders that were afterwards included in christian culture (like the Canterbury’s tales, Hugues of Lincoln’s case ). Thanks to that kind of guys, Jew bashing will still go on for a very long time.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      In my view, the only thing shameful here is your comment, which I approved not because I agree with it, but because people need to see one more of a million instances where an attempt is made to silence critics into shame over the anti-Jewish/anti-semitism issue. Now, Chomsky is rendered a self-hating Jew. It’s a despicable remark because it also says that to be pro-Jewish, you must be pro-genocide, and therefore your own remark is the height of anti-Jewish opinion because it suggests that the real Jews are a bunch of bloodthirsty bigots.

      Instead of trying to slander someone on the basis of their lineage, why don’t you do the intelligent thing instead: show us where Chomsky’s well reasoned, substantiated, and dispassionate analysis is wrong. Personally, whether he is a Jew or not, is utterly irrelevant to what he is saying.

  4. guliver

    What is really Shocking with Chomsky is that he thinks the people in the world will make subtle linguistical distinctions, between Jews and Israelis for instance. The population of the world is not as well educated as that and when they hear Israelis, they think Jew, therefore feeding anti jewish feelings. Chomsky is hence personally responsible for anti Jewish crimes perpetrated around the world by rustic people who populate half of the civilized world and 98 % of muslim countries.
    the use of the term “genocide” by Chomsky is furthermore a criminal act from someone who pretends to be a professional of words.
    During the WWII, was the Bombing of Dresde and Hamburg by allies planes a genocide of german people ? Did the American army genocided the iraki people ?
    Let me be absolutely clear. A genocide is an act committed with the intention to wipe out an entire people or race from a territory, like Jews in Europe before the war, Tutsis in Ruanda or Jews in most muslim countries nowadays. The intentionality is absolutely central in the definition. if you or Chomsky can not make the difference between a car accident or a murder using a car, then you do not deserve to be qualified as civilised men.
    The bottom of my thoughts is the following : when UN voted the resurrection of the state of Israel and the creation ex-nihilo of a new people, the palestinans, Jews voted for, muslims voted against, the vote was acquired but the muslims countries refused the law and declared a war that is still going on. According to law, the muslims countries are responsible for what happened next don’t you think ?
    Since muslim countries refused the law, the Israelis and the whole world is entitled to use force and war against the outlaws. Failing to abid law, the muslim countries created a situation of force which hopefully for the Israelis turned to their advantage in a time when it was not obvious that they would.
    Talking about “occupied territories” is therefore a legal nonesense since muslim people themselves refused the UN law voting a legal territory for the Jews and there again, Chomsky is failing to apprehend it.
    there is a war situation in the Midlle east declared my muslims against the Jews and in a war, you either win and acquire territory by force or lose and, in the case of the Jews, genocided. This is the law of war isn’ it ?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      This was actually a statement that was far better explained than the previous one, though I still disagree on some basic points. Let me go backwards through your message.

      Arab/Muslim countries voted against the UN’s mandate for the creation of Israel. You might want to look at that again. The membership of the UN in the 1940s was considerably smaller than it is now; colonial powers had a much greater voice; colonies in the Middle East had no representation at the UN, and no voting power. These realities would set your argument in reverse, and further justify their opposition, since colonialism has been outlawed internationally. Therefore, the use of force in resistance becomes totally justified.

      The notion of an “occupied territory” is “legal nonsense” for you, probably because you are not at the losing end. It is indeed illegal to occupy another territory and then settle it. Are you refusing international law now? Because by your own logic that again means that force against you is justified.

      As for war “declared by Muslims,” that is a farce. You need to recognize the number of times that Israel deliberately provoked war, or initiated it without provocation: 1956 and 1967 being two examples.

      A car accident? You think that what has happened to people in Gaza is like a mere car accident? That is, again, an atrocious statement that discredits you. There is NO NUMBER of people who must be killed for a definition of genocide to apply. You need to study these things better. Nor is genocide entirely about murder either, it can occur by other means; nor does genocide require the total elimination of a people — and I am referring to the only internationally agreed upon definition that we have, which is the UN’s of 1948. So, no, you’re wrong, and Chomsky knows much better than you do.

      Finally, anyone who thinks that all Jews are Zionists, or all Jews are Israelis, is simply an ignorant bigot. That’s not Chomsky’s fault. And Chomsky being a Jew should be enough to prove what I just said, don’t blame him for other people’s stupidity. Your mistake is thinking that all Jews must think alike.

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