May 18, 2010

Chomsky barred entry to the West Bank

In a largely unreported story (in Australia at least), internationally respected professor Noam Chomsky was barred entry to the West Bank by Israeli authorities. The New York Times reports:

Front-page coverage and heated morning radio discussions asked how Professor Chomsky, an 81-year-old professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could pose a risk to Israel and how a country that frequently asserts its status as a robust democracy could keep out people whose views it found offensive.

Professor Chomsky, who is Jewish and spent time living on a kibbutz in Israel in the 1950s, is an outspoken critic both of American and Israeli policy. He has objected to Israel’s foundation as a Jewish state, but he has supported a two-state solution and has not condemned Israel’s existence in the terms of the country’s sharpest critics.

The decision Sunday to bar him from entering the West Bank to speak at Birzeit, a Palestinian university, “is a foolish act in a frequent series of recent follies,” remarked Boaz Okun, the legal commentator of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, in his Monday column. “Put together, they may mark the end of Israel as a law-abiding and freedom-loving state, or at least place a large question mark over this notion.”

This is an interesting international incident, as it has provoked a significant reaction in Israel itself over the issue of freedom of speech. Normally, when Chomsky has visited Palestine and the West Bank, he has also held a parallel visit to Israel. This time, there was no Israel visit, and Chomsky suggested that this had something to do with Israel’s decision to bar his entry:

“There were two basic points,” Professor Chomsky told the interviewer. “One was that the government of Israel does not like the kinds of things I say — which puts them into the category of I suppose every other government in the world. The second was that they seemed upset about the fact that I was just taking an invitation from Birzeit and I had no plans to go on to speak in Israeli universities, as I have done many times in the past, but not this time.”

Yedioth Ahronoth’s Boaz Okon writes about the freedom of speech issue:

The decision to expel Professor Noam Chomsky from the West Bank border crossing in order to prevent him from delivering a lecture at Birzeit University is a foolish act in a frequent series of recent follies. Put together, they may mark the end of Israel as a law-abiding and freedom-loving state, or at least place a large question mark over this notion.

The truth is not dictated from above, and views and ideas cannot be monitored, the court ruled. The best “truth test” is the ability of a certain notion to be accepted within the competitive conditions of the free market of ideas. However, in Israel our government has already started to threaten the freedom, or at least the freedom of those perceived as “others.” We are no longer interested in what “others” have to say, let alone in their right to live here normally. We want them to get out of here. We persecute “others” based on generalizations, suspicions, bias, or just because they annoy us.

The decision to ban Chomsky is first and foremost blatantly illegal, as it blatantly contradicts the Supreme Court’s most important verdict in the Kol Ha’am case, where it ruled that restraining the freedom of speech is legal only in respect to statements that may create clear and immediate danger to public safety.

As far as I can see, only The Australian has an article on their website about this issue, re-stating significant parts of the NY Times piece. It doesn’t seem to be registering (yet) on other major news outlets.


Comments

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