Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 19/33
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The "dose of reality" administered to the PLO is, therefore, very much along the lines of what the Times chief diplomatic correspondent thought necessary, and conforms exactly to the demands of Israeli rejectionism, as the Jerusalem Post editors exulted. The United States has succeeded, once again, in throwing a wrench in the "peace process" and blocking the prospects that appeared to be developing, much to the consternation of Washington and Tel Aviv.

All such matters must be excluded from discussion in the media, and are, even in the glare of publicity over the remarkable and spectacular U.S. diplomatic achievements of December 1988.

While the United States won a major diplomatic and propaganda victory, forces may be set in motion that Washington cannot control, exactly as in the other cases we have discussed. The world is not as easily managed as the media. That, however, is another topic.

This is only a brief sample of a very large record. One has come to expect such services on the part of the New York Times, which, Boston Globe Middle East correspondent Curtis Wilkie observes, "has historically been Israel's chief conduit for news for American consumption."110 But the pattern is far more pervasive, virtually exceptionless.

I mentioned earlier that one should not dismiss the undercurrent of racism that runs through the discussion of the Israel-Arab conflict. That is the meaning of the tacit assumption that the indigenous population does not have the human and national rights that we naturally accord to the Jewish immigrants who largely displaced them. The assumption is rarely challenged, or apparently even perceived. That is true when the denial of Arab rights is merely presupposed, and remains so even when the expression of racist attitudes is crude and explicit. A number of examples have been mentioned. It would be an error to think of them as merely scattered cases.

Consider, for example, a New York Times Magazine article by Thomas Friedman entitled "Proposals for Peace," outlining his ideas about a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict. He begins by introducing "an elderly curmudgeon named Sasson," a representative of "the Israeli silent majority." The article asks what will convince this silent but reasonable ordinary man -- whose alleged views turn out to be remarkably like Friedman's -- to agree to a political settlement. "Sasson is the key to a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement," Friedman holds. Two proposals are offered that might satisfy Sasson; these are presented as speeches by some Israeli political figure who would be farsighted enough to listen to Friedman's advice. One is Friedman's south Lebanon proposal, already discussed: place the territories under the control of a mercenary force backed by Israeli might, and warn the Palestinians that if "they put one of ours in the hospital, we'll put 200 of theirs in the morgue," and Israel will "obliterate" whatever the Palestinians construct if they threaten Israel "in any way." The second is a "diplomatic solution" along the lines of Labor Party rejectionism, with enough power deployed to convince Israelis "to ignore Palestinian poetry" that they do not like.111 Again, the familiar racist arrogance.

Notably missing is any Palestinian Sasson, or indeed any recognition that it might matter what Palestinians think or want. The discussion of proposals for peace is based on the assumption that all that matters is what is good for the Jews. Friedman takes great pains to explain to American readers Jewish attitudes into which he feels he has much insight: the attitudes of Sasson, or Ze'ev Chafets, the American-born former director of the Israeli Government Press Office, sympathetically portrayed as he calmly explains that his son would drop a nuclear bomb on the Rashdiye refugee camp "without a second thought" if he felt that Israel's security were threatened. There is no indication that Friedman understands anything about the Palestinians, or cares to. They are a nuisance that Israel cannot get rid of, and for its own good, Israel should give Ahmed a seat on the bus to shut him up. That ends the discussion.

The racism is often not subtle at all. We read that Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer is offended by the willingness of the Sandinistas "to express solidarity with Palestinians, M-19s, and other Third World detritus" (Joe Klein); replace "Palestinians" with "Jews" and no one will fail to recognize the echoes of Der Stuermer. The same reaction would be elicited by a complaint that New York is "underpopulated," meaning that it has too many Blacks, Hispanics, and Jews and too few WASPs; but there is no reaction to a reference to the "underpopulated Galilee," meaning that it has too many Arabs and too few Jews (Dissent editor Irving Howe in the New York Times). Liberal intellectuals express no qualms about a journal whose editor reflects on "Arab culture" in which "no onus falls on lying," on a "crazed Arab," but "crazed in the distinctive ways of his culture. He is intoxicated by language, cannot discern between fantasy and reality, abhors compromise, always blames others for his predicament, and in the end lances the painful boil of his frustrations in a pointless, though momentarily gratifying, act of bloodlust" (New Republic editor Martin Peretz). Comparable statements about "Jewish culture" would be recognized as a reversion to Nazism. Gary Hart was forced to terminate his presidential candidacy because of alleged indiscretions, which did not include his withdrawal of money from a bank when he learned it had Arab investors: "`We didn't know it was an Arab bank,' said Kenneth Guido, special counsel to the Hart campaign. `We got him (Hart) out of it as soon as we knew'." Nor was Walter Mondale accused of racism when he returned campaign contributions he had received from Arab-Americans or, in one case, a woman with an Arab-American surname, "for fear of offending American Jews," the Wall Street Journal reported; or when he accepted the endorsement of the The New Republic. Change a few names, and the meaning of these facts is evident enough. In the New York Times, William Safire condemns "the world's film crews" for their coverage of "a made-for-TV uprising of a new `people' Israel's West Bank"; such derision of Jewish resistance to comparable abuses would be unthinkable, apart from neo-Nazi publications, but this passes without notice. It is pointless to discuss the journal of the American Jewish Committee, considered one of the most respectable voices of conservative opinion, where a lead article seethes with bitter scorn about "the Palestinian Arabs, people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery"; this is "the obvious key to the success of the Arab strategy" of driving the Jews into the sea in a revival of the Nazi Lebensraum concept, the author of these shocking words continues. We may, again, imagine the reaction if a respected professor at a major university were to produce the same words, referring to Jews.112

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110 Wilkie, BG, Dec. 1, 1985.

111 NYT Magazine, Oct. 30, 1988.

112 Klein, "Our Man in Managua," Esquire, Nov. 1986; Howe, NYT Book Review, May 16, 1982; Peretz, New Republic, Aug. 29, 1983, May 7, 1984, among many examples; Brooks Jackson, Wall Street Journal, March 23, 1984; Matt Moffett, WSJ, Aug. 30, 1984; Safire, NYT, Sept. 5, 1988; Ruth Wisse, Professor of Yiddish Literature at McGill University, Commentary, May 1988.