The Rest Is Commentary
Thank you for Joshua Leifer’s review of my book The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left From Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky [“A Tense Relationship,” February 24]. Though he did not like the book, I appreciate the seriousness and thoughtfulness of his review.
However, I would like to clarify two things. Contrary to what Leifer writes, I do not criticize Chomsky for making “mistakes.” I criticize him—and document my statements thoroughly—for manufacturing entirely fictitious claims and then basing his political analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on them. There is a big difference between making mistakes and telling lies. The latter has always resulted in political and moral catastrophe for the left.
Second, nowhere have I “somehow justified” the expulsion and massacre of the Palestinians in 1948 (or ever)—any more than I justify the expulsion and massacre of Jews in those towns where the Arab forces prevailed. What I pointed out is that there would have been no Palestinian refugees had the Arab states accepted partition—and the concomitant proposed Palestinian state; instead, they tried to exterminate the nascent Jewish state. I do indeed see this as “a world-historic mistake,” and I suspect there are many people in the Mideast, and not only in Israel, who think likewise.
Joshua Leifer Replies
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to respond to Susie Linfield’s letter, and I am grateful that she took the time to read the review. I doubt I will be able to convince her that Chomsky is not a “nightmare” of the American left or guilty of misleading “generations of young people.” However, the moral balance sheet of his career finds him on the right side, more often than not, on some of the most important matters, from the Vietnam War to Israel’s occupation, neoliberalism, the Iraq War, and US war making more generally. Because I agree with Linfield that there is “a big difference between making mistakes and telling lies,” I’d gladly side with Chomsky against the advocates of “humanitarian intervention” or, say, the signatories of the Euston Manifesto, who laundered unjust wars.
Second, it is an American liberal Zionist fantasy that “there would have been no Palestinian refugees had the Arab states accepted partition.” There is ample historical evidence that Zionist settlement in pre-1948 Mandate Palestine resulted in the dispossession of Palestinians from land their families had lived on for centuries. The reality of such displacement is also attested to in Zionist mythology, Hebrew songs, and the debates among early Zionist intellectuals over whether building a Jewish state would require the subjugation of the native Palestinians or their expulsion.
In fact, even before the 1920s, Zionist writers and intellectuals like Moshe Smilansky worried about the violent displacement that accompanied Jewish settlement. As Tom Segev records in his biography of David Ben-Gurion, Smilansky “recounted seeing fellah women weeping and lamenting the lands and homes they had lost, without compensation. Jewish settlers had chased them off with sticks.” In the 1930s it was precisely this issue that led philosopher Hans Kohn to resign from Brit Shalom, the binationalist Zionist organization. In his letter of resignation, he denounced the “immeasurable barbarity” of the eviction of Palestinian tenants from land bought by Zionist settlement organizations, like the Jewish National Fund.