On Tuesday, Robsham Theater hosted a guest lecture by noted linguist, political activist, and professor at MIT, Noam Chomsky.
Chomsky’s lecture, “Struggle in the Promised Land,” gave an overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while touching on numerous other Middle Eastern issues. The Muslim Student Association (MSA), which was restarted this year, hosted the lecture to raise proceeds for flood victims in Pakistan. Chomsky, a world renowned political dissident, posed his views along with a history of the conflict, often criticizing United States foreign policy.
The presentation began with an introduction by Salman Rangrez, CSOM ‘14 and president of the MSA, who thanked those present for purchasing tickets in support of one of the world’s top 100 charities. Three hundred forty – three tickets were sold, according to event organizers. Kumail Zaidi, A&S ‘14 and event coordinator for the MSA, gave a short speech before Chomsky’s lecture.
Zaidi has an history with Chomsky. In his junior year of high school, Zaidi contacted Chomsky for his opinion on a research paper he was writing regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Zaidi met with Chomsky numerous times over several years, and said that he “grew to respect his opinion,” which inspired Zaidi to write a book to reveal “the truth about what goes on in the Gaza strip and the West bank, and how we can work together and resolve this issue.”
After being introduced, Chomsky began his presentation with a few remarks about the flood tragedies in Pakistan, which have recently taken the lives of numerous citizens. Chomsky pointed out that, though natural disasters are in many ways uncontrollable, such an event should “remind us that the natural catastrophes are not just natural,” but that “there is a human element brought out.” He remarked that similar floods in Australia claimed only a few lives, also pointing out that nearly equal earthquakes in Haiti and Chile produced drastically different results: in Haiti, over 300,000 deaths. In Chile, a few hundred.
Chomsky transitioned next to the current conflict in Egypt. In response to such a movement, he remarked, “I can’t think of a popular uprising of this scale, dedication and courage in my lifetime.” He applauded the Egyptian people for standing up to what he called “one of the worst dictatorships around,” one that he also pointed out has been supported by numerous U.S. presidents, including President Barack Obama. He also pointed out that the Egyptian successor supported by the Obama administration, Omar Suleiman, is alleged to have participated in torture as head of the Egyptian intelligence service.
The next section of the presentation began with a more optimistic outlook. Chomsky began his lecture on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by saying, “This is one of the rare cases where there is a very easy solution.” Chomsky said that the easiest way to solve the conflict is a “two state settlement on the international border,” something he calls “a solution that is accepted by the majority of the world.” In fact, he only pointed out two nations opposed to the solution: the U.S. and Israel.
Chomsky next moved into a summary of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, starting in 1967 when the Six-Day War broke out between Israel and the bordering nations of Jordan, Syria and Egypt. The war ended in a decisive Israeli victory, with Israel seizing territory in the Sinai Peninsula and throughout the West Bank. Four years later, in 1971, Egypt offered Israel a full peace settlement in return for their withdrawal from territories they occupied during the Six-Day War. When Israel refused, Egypt was forced to attack, and Israel was saved only by what Chomsky called, “massive U.S. military aid.” Then, in 1978, the famous Camp David Accords ended in an almost identical settlement to the one which was offered in 1971. Chomsky claimed that because the U.S. delayed the settlement for seven years, they were partially responsible for a long and bloody struggle which cost the lives of Egyptians and Israelis alike.
Chomsky criticized the U.S. for not “joining the rest of the world” on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian settlement. He offered evidence of numerous United Nations resolutions supporting a settlement on the international border that only received two votes in the negative, one each from the U.S. and Israel. He also argued that, although the U.S. is free and independent, there are numerous “mechanisms of containing information which are pretty effective.” Chomsky articulated his belief that these mechanisms are responsible for the lack of public outcry at what he perceives to be a ridiculous foreign policy practiced by the U.S. for over 50 years.
In fact, he even pointed out a situation in which he believes the U.S. opposed democracy. In 2006, Palestine had elections which were investigated thoroughly and determined to be completely free of corruption. The result of the elections was support for Hamas, an organization dubbed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. In response, the Palestinian people were attacked by U.S. backed Israeli forces. Chomsky criticized U.S. foreign policy without reservation, saying “The United States supports democracy if and only if it accords with strategic and economic objectives.”
Chomsky ended his presentation on a higher note, answering a question on whether the U.S. will ever change its position by saying, “It could happen.” However, he said a key motivator for such change would be “public pressure in the U.S.” for the same thing “the rest of the world” supports: a settlement along the internationally recognized border between Israel and Palestine.