Here’s some really smart thinking on the part of the government of Israel. You’ve just had a slap across the face from Elvis Costello, who has decided to join musicians like Carlos Santana, Snoop Dogg and Gil Scott-Heron in declining to play in Israel. "There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung," Costello wrote on his website, and "it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent."
Now you have the most famous Jewish intellectual on the planet on your doorstep, trying to enter the West Bank across the Allenby Bridge from Jordan. Noam Chomsky, who is critical of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, is scheduled to give a series of lectures at Birzeit University near Ramallah in mid-May. He’s the guest of Mustafa Barghouthi, a Palestinian leader who espouses nonviolence and human rights, and he’s scheduled to meet with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, with whom Benjamin Netanyahu wants to have direct peace negotiations.
So what do you do? If you’re Israel’s Interior Ministry, you tell your border official to stamp "Denied Entry" in Chomsky’s US passport and to read out the view of the Interior Ministry, that "Israel does not like what you say"—thus ensuring a worldwide clamor while simultaneously driving a stake through the heart of the argument against the boycott that it inhibits free speech.
The interrogation at the border focused on two issues, Chomsky wrote to me later. "First and clearly most important, why am I going to Bir Zeit but not to an Israeli university (as I’ve done often before, with side trips to Bir Zeit, with no questions asked)? That amounts to their demanding that they have the right to determine who Bir Zeit is permitted to invite.
"The other issue, in the background, is that they don’t like what I write. That needs no comment, except for one significant fact. The issue never arose when I was invited to speak at Israeli universities [in 1997 and 1998], though what I was writing then is no different from now…. This reflects the way Israel has changed, radically in the past few years, particularly since the Gaza attack. It’s become far more paranoid, defensive, irrational, and ultranationalist. That’s emphasized by the press coverage in Israel on this. Some of it makes the Dershowitz-Horowitz types look like reasonable human beings. All inconceivable a few years ago…. The series of contradictory excuses the Israeli government started concocting when they saw the international reaction are ridiculous, and when they sank to blaming the official at the border for a ‘misunderstanding,’ cowardly as well. They know perfectly well that he had nothing to do with it. He was in direct contact throughout the several hours of interrogation with the Ministry of Interior, and was simply relaying their statements, queries, and finally decision."