Kim Petersen, an editor at Dissident Voice, recently wrote an article criticizing me for alleged dishonesty and hypocrisy. To explain the background, Jeffrey Blankfort had written an article entitled “Chomsky and Palestine: Asset or Liability?”, published originally at Pulse and subsequently at Dissident Voice, in which he effectively tried to argue that Chomsky is a Zionist who supports Israeli oppression of Palestinians. I responded with an article of my own entitled “Criticism of Chomsky: Asset or Liability?” to point out how Blankfort systematically and willfully mischaracterized Chomsky’s views. Dissident Voice published my rejoinder (Pulse refused to do so, and Idrees, an editor there, called me an “ass” for pointing out Chomsky’s actual views).
That’s the back story, with which interested readers may choose to familiarize themselves (or not). Turning to Petersen’s own rejoinder of my rejoinder, curiously entitled “The Legitimacy of Boycotting as a Tactic” (curious because most of the article consists of attacks on my person, and only at the end of the piece does he tangentially discuss the issue of the title), he makes numerous arguments to support his contention that I was the one doing the willful mischaracterization.
An examination of Petersen’s evidence for this thesis is instructive as to the intellectual dishonesty that permeates not only the mainstream, but also, unfortunately, the alternative online media, including “progressive” sites like Dissident Voice that seek to “struggle for peace and social justice” — which will never be obtained by means of propagating falsehoods that serve only to distract attention from real and important issues (which was the whole point of my original rejoinder).
Exhibit A: Questioning Chomsky’s motives for meeting with Fayyad
Petersen offers an ostensible example with regard to Chomsky’s intention earlier this year to meet with the unelected Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad. He writes:
Blankfort wishes to know whether Chomsky “considered the Palestine Authority’s endorsement of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, of its attempts to suppress a UN investigation of the Goldstone Report, and of the role played by its US-trained militia in protecting Israel.” [sic]
Hammond says that Blankfort implies that Chomsky favors Fayyad. This is a straw man. There is no such implication. Blankfort wonders why Chomsky would meet Fayyad. Given the history surrounding the Palestine Authority (PA), this is a fair question….
Contrary to Hammond’s assertion, Blankfort does not portray “Chomsky’s support for a de facto Palestinian state as a blanket endorsement of the PA and all its actions.” Blankfort calls into question the democratic legitimacy of the PA….
Hammond employs the rhetorical device that he accuses Blankfort of throughout his article. Hammond constructs a straw man. He states that Blankfort’s “intended implication, of course, is that Chomsky supports the Zionist theft of Arab land, the Israeli blockade, the blocking of the Goldstone Report, and P.A. collusion with Israel.” In Hammond’s mindest, asking a question carries an implication.
Yet Petersen neglects to mention, in arguing that I created a “straw man” by saying “that Blankfort implies that Chomsky favors Fayyad”, that Blankfort did in fact write that Fayyad is “a favorite of both Washington and Israel and, it would appear, of Chomsky” (emphasis added).
The rest of Petersen’s argument follows this pattern of simply implausibly denying that Blankfort said or implied what he did in fact say and imply.
To demonstrate Petersen’s dishonesty further, to support his accusation against me, he willfully not only takes a quote from Blankfort out of the crucial context to which I responded, but misquotes it by inserting a period after “Israel” in the first paragraph above (as indicated with “[sic]”). Properly quoted, the period should appear outside of the quotation marks, or an ellipses used instead, as the complete sentence written by Blankfort in fact reads (with reference to an interview of Chomsky; portions omitted by Petersen emphasized):
Unfortunately, Chomsky was not questioned about his support for the nation building priorities of the earlier Zionists nor if he considered the Palestine Authority’s endorsement of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, of its attempts to suppress a UN investigation of the Goldstone Report, and of the role played by its US-trained militia in protecting Israel, to also be “sensible and sound.”
Petersen is quite correct that Blankfort questioned “why Chomsky would meet Fayyad” – but, as anyone (honest) can see, the means by which he does so is precisely by suggesting that Chomsky favors Fayyad, that he supports the Zionist agenda, and that he considers the P.A.’s collusion with Israel to be “sensible and sound”.
It would seem Petersen would not have missed Blankfort’s clear implication had he not omitted Blankfort’s explicit statement that Chomsky apparently favors Fayyad, and had he not chosen to partially and improperly quote Blankfort’s further statement on the matter.
I would also observe that this sentence was indeed a statement, not a question, as Petersen also incorrectly asserts. That would also be clear to readers had Petersen not partially and incorrectly quoted Blankfort.
Exhibit B: Chomksy as a “supporter of Israel”
Hammond constructs a straw man, accusing Blankfort of misleading readers on what Chomsky did not mean by being a “supporter of Israel.” Nowhere is such interpretation by Blankfort apparent. Instead Blankfort left it for readers to draw their own conclusions.
Petersen offers no further explanation or context for readers, but is in fact quite right to say that Blankfort left it for his readers to draw their own conclusions. But that was precisely my own point, and precisely the problem.
To provide the crucial context Petersen simply omits, Blankfort had quoted Chomsky saying, “I don’t regard myself as a critic of Israel. I regard myself as a supporter of Israel”, and then reminded readers in the very next sentence that Chomsky “likes to boast of his early Zionist activities.”
Thus, as I observed in my rejoinder, it would be perfectly understandable for any reader unfamiliar with Chomsky’s actual positions to draw that conclusion from this – particularly when coupled with the rest of Blankfort’s article – that Chomsky was a Zionist who supports Israel, in the usual sense.
But the fact of the matter is that Chomsky does not describe himself as a “Zionist” or a “supporter of Israel” in the usual sense. Examining Chomsky’s statements in context, on being a “supporter of Israel”, what he actually said was (emphasis added to context omitted by Blankfort and Petersen):
In fact, I don’t regard myself as a critic of Israel. I regard myself as a supporter of Israel. The people who are harming Israel, in my opinion, it’s what I’ve said many times, are those who claim to be supporting it. They are helping [to] drive Israel towards moral degeneration and possible ultimate destruction. I think support for Israel should be support for policies which are for its benefit.
Blankfort is also perfectly well aware of what Chomsky means when he describes himself as having been a “Zionist youth leader”, as Chomsky explained it in the interview from which Blankfort drew the quote (emphasis added to context omitted by Blankfort and Petersen):
[In] the 1940s I was what was called a Zionist youth leader. But Zionism at that time included my own position, which was opposition to a Jewish state and a call for a binational settlement in the former Palestine.
Assuming that Blankfort is intelligent enough to realize that by so removing Chomsky’s statements from their vital context and neglecting to explain Chomsky’s actual meaning, readers unfamiliar with Chomsky’s views would inevitably draw incorrect conclusions about them, we can only conclude that this was precisely his intention.
As for Petersen, he quotes me explaining what Chomsky actually meant, but his only comment is that “Chomsky bears some responsibility for the lack of clarity. He is a linguist, he must be aware of the connotations carried by his words.”
It would seem Petersen would not find Chomky’s remarks lacked clarity or contain any such “connotations” had he simply acknowledged the fact that Blankfort quoted Chomsky out of context, rather than suggesting that I created a “straw man” by observing that fact.
Petersen notes further that I quoted Chomsky saying, “What I said was that I remain a Zionist in the sense of Zionism in the 1940s. Zionism has changed. That doesn’t mean my views have.” Petersen then writes:
This is an interesting explanation Hammond points to. Is it a clear statement? Do people understand what a Zionist was in the 1940s? Is it a Zionist like David Ben Gurion – a Zionist in the 1940s? Yitzhak Shamir? How was being a Zionist in the 1940s different from now?
It would seem again that Petersen might not be so puzzled by what Chomsky meant and would not find it necessary to inquire whether Chomsky’s views were similar to Ben Gurion’s and Shamir’s had he not neglected to note that in my article I had also quoted Chomsky stating clearly that his position on Zionism included opposition to a Jewish state and support for a single, binational stat – precisely the opposite of Ben Gurion’s and Shamir’s positions.
Yet again, Petersen makes his case through deliberate and willful ignorance.
Exhibit C: How Chomsky attained a position as a leading advocate for Palestinian rights
Hammond constructs his next straw man when he insinuates that Blankfort alludes to Chomsky’s work to be lacking in merit on the Palestinian cause. Really? Blankfort wrote, “Chomsky’s background – is a reflection of the political culture of the American Left which was and remains substantially if not predominantly Jewish, particularly in its leadership positions. Support for Israel had become so ingrained and fear of anti-Semitism so deeply embedded in the psyche of American Jewish Leftists in the aftermath of World War 2, that if the Jewish state was to be criticized it had to be by someone from within the tribe who unequivocally supported its existence.”
Through Hammond’s construction of straw men, one might infer that he seeks to evade the points Blankfort raises. Does Hammond deny a Jewish predominance in the leadership positions in “political culture of the American Left”? Does he deny the feat of pro-Palestinian rights activists of being smeared as an anti-Semite?
Much of Chomsky’s work on Palestinian issues has merit; surely, Blankfort recognizes that.
Here, Petersen depends upon a strawman to support his assertion that I had created one of my own. He manages this by suggesting I was seeking “to evade” Blankfort’s ostensible point in the quote given, while omitting most of the statements of Blankfort’s to which I explicitly was referring that clearly demonstrate my own point.
To illustrate, Blankfort in fact argued that “Once upon a time Prof. Chomsky was considered by many to be the most important spokesperson for the Palestinian cause”, but this was “attained largely on the basis of his writings and activism” apart from those on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, Chomsky attained this position despite other writers, such as Edward Said, having been “more knowledgeable about the subject” and being able to “speak from personal experience that does not include prior service as ‘a Zionist youth leader’ – Chomsky’s background”. Additionally, Blankfort argued that the fact that Chomsky attained this high regard is “a reflection of the political culture of the American Left which was and remains substantially if not predominantly Jewish.” Criticism of Israel, wrote Blankfort, could only be allowed to come from “someone within the tribe” – meaning from a Jew – like Chomsky, “who unequivocally supported” Israel’s existence.
If Blankfort recognizes that Chomsky attained such high regard because his “work on Palestinian issues has merit”, as Petersen suggests, this recognition is surely not evidenced in Blankfort’s above explanation as to how Chomsky attained that position – including his assertion that Chomsky did so in part simply because he is a Jew.
It would seem that Petersen could not support his claim that I employed a “straw man” here had he not omitted Blankfort’s arguments for how Chomsky attained his position as a supporter of Palestinian rights.
It would further seem that Petersen could not support his claim I attempted to “evade” Blankfort’s point had he himself not attempted to do so by rhetorically questioning whether I deny that Jews hold influential leadership positions or that the charge of “anti-Semitism” is constantly leveled at critics of Israel. Far be it from me to deny either of those assertions – but Blankfort’s point was not to make these assertions in and of themselves, but rather to suggest that it was because of this Jewish influence that Chomsky had attained his position.
This is perfectly evident, but again, Petersen’s method of argument is to simply ignore what’s right in front of him to dishonestly and ridiculously suggest this is a “straw man” of my creation. Petersen’s hypocrisy in this regard – falsely accusing me of what he himself is guilty of – is astonishing.
Exhibit D: Chomsky’s alleged efforts to “shift blame away from Israel”
Peterson attempts to further support his characterization of me as dishonest by writing:
Hammond constructs another straw man when he writes, “Chomsky has written extensively on which crimes he means, and anyone even modestly familiar with his work knows he is referring to U.S. financial, military, and diplomatic support for Israeli violations of international law…” He adds, “But Blankfort doesn’t turn to anything Chomsky has ever actually written about U.S. support for Israel for examples.” Hammond has widened the scope of discussion….
Blankfort does not deny that US support for Israeli crimes exists. Yet, this does not restrain Hammond from constructing another straw man argument, alleging that [Blankfort suggested] “Chomsky is here blaming Israel for the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 – suggestions for which Blankfort offers no supporting evidence from any of Chomsky’s voluminous writings and talks on the subject.”
Hammond is way off base here. Blankfort does not blame; he mainly asks pertinent questions which Hammond does not deal with. Blankfort says Chomsky is “shifting blame for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians to the US.” Blankfort is arguing against the notion that Israel never acts independently of the US. To illustrate this, Blankfort asks whether the Nakba or the Israeli takeover and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 were also the fault of the US?
It’s instructive that Petersen begins his discussion on this point with my statement that “Chomsky has written extensively on which crimes he means”, but yet again declines to provide readers with the context for that remark (which I’ll do, momentarily).
It’s also instructive he states “Blankfort does not deny that US support for Israel crimes exists. Yet, this does not restrain Hammond from constructing another straw man argument…”, since I in fact stated (emphasis added):
But Blankfort doesn’t turn to anything Chomsky has ever actually written about U.S. support for Israel for examples. Nor does he deny that this U.S. support for Israeli crimes exists. Instead, he simply constructs a further strawman argument, suggesting Chomsky is here blaming Israel for the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 — suggestions for which Blankfort offers no supporting evidence from any of Chomsky’s voluminous writings and talks on the subject. This should not be surprising, since none exists.
As anyone can see, I in fact acknowledged that Blankfort, as Petersen states, “does not deny that US support for Israel crimes exists”. So it can hardly be argued (honestly) that I created a “strawman” to the contrary.
Turning to the context for these remarks of mine, omitted by Petersen, Blankfort had criticized Chomsky for opposing a boycott of Israel. Yet, as I noted in my rejoinder, he “omits Chomsky’s explanation for his position”, while emphasizing further remarks from Chomsky that the U.S. is “responsible for most of Israel’s crimes” and “responsible for a lot of Israel’s criminal behavior.”
Blankfort’s conclusion is clear, and Petersen rightly notes it, quoting Blankfort, who states it directly: “Chomsky is attempting to shift blame away from Israel onto the U.S.”
And therein lay the problem. Chomsky has never tried to “shift blame away from Israel”. Noting that the U.S. is responsible for Israeli crimes because it supports them is not to say that Israel is not to blame for its own actions. This is a non sequitur. Building upon that fallacy and asserting as fact the false claim that Chomsky has attempted “to shift blame” is a further fallacy – a strawman.
Petersen himself builds upon that fallacious foundation when he suggests that Chomsky had put forth the idea “that Israel never acts independently of the US” (emphasis added). Chomsky, as anyone may plainly see above from Chomsky’s remarks quoted and emphasized by Blankfort, did not suggest otherwise. Yet Petersen, by employing this fallacy, chooses to reinforce Blankfort’s false assertion that Chomsky has ever tried to “shift blame away from Israel”.
As for the question of which U.S.-supported Israeli crimes Chomsky is referring to, as I noted in my rejoinder (the portion omitted by Petersen emphasized):
Chomsky has written extensively on which crimes he means, and anyone even modestly familiar with his work knows he is referring to U.S. financial, military, and diplomatic support for Israeli violations of international law under the “special relationship” that has developed particularly since 1967, including U.S. support for the illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian territories, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the rejection of the two-state settlement, the ’08-’09 massacre in Gaza, and so on.
Yet Blankfort, in examining Chomsky’s view of U.S. complicity in Israeli crimes, did not mention any of these crimes that Chomsky has extensively and explicitly written about at great length. Instead, he wrote (emphasis added):
Let’s stop a moment before going on and ask ourselves some questions about what Chomsky has been saying. One, shifting blame for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians to the US (the Nakba? The 1967 capture of the West Bank and Gaza?) he argues that rather than calling for a boycott of Israel, Palestinians should be calling for a boycott of the United States.
Contrary to what Petersen would have his readers believe, Blankfort was not merely raising the question of whether the U.S. is to blame for the Nakba or the outcome of the ’67 war; he was specifically and directly attributing this “shifting” of “blame” for these crimes to “what Chomsky has been saying” (emphasis added).
Thus it would seem Petersen could not have argued that I had employed a “strawman” had he not, yet again, chosen to deliberately and willfully omit that fact.
Exhibit E: Chomsky’s support for Israel’s existence
Petersen continues, asserting yet again that I created yet another “straw man” by writing the following (my words):
Blankfort next quotes Chomsky as saying, “once Israel was formed in 1948, my position has consistently been that Israel should have all the rights of every state in the international system, no more and no less.” We are supposed to draw the conclusion, apparently, that Chomsky views Israel’s creation through an act of ethnic cleansing as having been legitimate.
But Blankfort yet again declines to share with his readers Chomsky’s explanation for that position, in which he explicitly rejected that Israel has a “right to exist”.
My above conclusion “is a non sequitur”, writes Petersen, who suggests that my observation that Chomsky rejects that Israel has a “right to exist” is because I realize “the weight of evidence that Blankfort presents bodes ill for Chomsky” and that I have “to fish for ways to support his man.”
His asinine explanation for why I wrote that aside, that my conclusion does follow from the premise is demonstrated by the fact that I specifically stated in the comments section that I would be happy to acknowledge my error and apologize for drawing a wrong conclusion if Blankfort was to acknowledge that in fact “Chomsky rejects that Israel has a ‘right to exist’ and does not view Israel’s creation through an act of ethnic cleansing as having been legitimate.”
Blankfort’s reply was: “DON’T AGREE.” Thus, as Blankfort himself clearly demonstrated, my statement about the conclusion that Blankfort intended his readers to draw is not a non sequitur, but was in fact perfectly accurate. It would seem Petersen would have done well to himself get the facts straight on Blankfort’s view before accusing me of dishonestly creating strawman arguments or erring with other logical fallacies.
I’ve been a frequent contributor to Dissident Voice for a long time. It’s highly disappointing to me, firstly, to see such a lack of editorial professionalism that such patently dishonest claptrap like Blankfort’s could be published there (people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts), and, secondly, to see to the lengths Kim Petersen was willing to go to in his attempt to falsely characterize me as intellectually dishonest. His hypocrisy and dishonesty astounds me, and it’s a great disappointment to witness such behavior among a person I’ve considered a colleague.