The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Hub Radio

The University of the West of England, April 23, 2008

RH: Why does the US support Israel?

NC: Well the there is a historical record. Up until 1967, US support for Israel was fairly tepid, in fact there was a mixed story. So for example in 1956 Eisenhower forced Israel to leave the Sinai after its conquest, along with France and England, and there were many other cases of some conflict, some support. In 1967 it all changed radically. Israel performed a huge service to the United States, it destroyed Nasser who was the symbol and the leader of independent, secular Arab nationalism[…] Israel was regarded at the time as what the Nixon administration called ‘one of the cops on the beat’, controlling the Middle East[… ]The Middle East was controlled for the US by a set of peripheral non-Arab states at that time, Iran under the Shah, Israel, Turkey, all of which had a loose informal alliance. They were the cops on the beat, the police headquarters was in Washington, and there was a branch office in London, that’s basically the way the system was controlled. When the Shah collapsed in 1979, Israel’s role became even more important and it was also by then providing subsidiary services to the US, helping the US evade the sanctions against South Africa, supporting terrorist states and terrorist groups in Central America when the Reagan administration was blocked by Congressional actions. It simply became a very valuable client state and surrogate. By now it’s far and away the major military force in the region. Its air and armoured forces are larger and technologically more advanced than any NATO power apart from the United Kingdom. It’s a major financial centre, it’s a high tech centre, closely linked with US high-tech industry, both of which are pretty militarised, with lots of investment both ways.

RH: Would you say then, that today Israel is primarily a satellite for the US to exert their influence in the Middle East?

NC: That’s the way it’s understood. You could argue that this is the wrong strategy. That’s a separate question. But that’s the way it has developed, and it’s not just the government incidentally. It’s also corporate America. Just take a look at the investments.

RH: So there is a co-operation between the US government and US businesses in support of Israel?

NC: Which is standard. US business and the state are very closely linked.

RH: How does the US policy towards Palestine relate to its wider policy towards the Middle East, such as the Iraq War and the possible war with Iran?

NC: It’s a separate issue really. The Palestinians have nothing to offer the US. People have human rights insofar as they provide services to power. Israel provides substantial services to US power, Palestinians on the other hand provide nothing. They have no wealth, they have no power, they are mostly a nuisance. They even have a negative value because their plight stirs up antagonism in what is called the ‘Arab Street’, the disdainful term for the Arab populations.

RH: In terms of US foreign policy, is it their aim to get rid of Palestine? For it not to exist?

NC: They can have a Palestinian state, in fact the right-wing in Israel prefers to have a Palestinian State so that they can then have inter-state relations, but they want it to be a Palestinian state which is derisory. An array of small cantons that can be administered under Israeli control. In fact, the first recognition of the possibility of a Palestinian state, the first one I can find, was by the ultra-right Netanyahu government in 1996; its information minister answering a question said that ‘the Palestinians can have a state if they want, or they can call it fried chicken’, that’s about the attitude.

RH: Comparisons have been in the past made between the Israeli government and the apartheid regime of South Africa. Do you agree with the comparison?

NC: You can understand it; there are differences. In many ways it’s worse. So for example the South African regime first of all, relied on the Bantustans for cheap labour, and it did something to develop them. Of course it was super racist; Israel just wants the Palestinians to go away.

RH: I’d like to talk a bit about the media as well and their reporting on the situation. You have written extensively on media coercion and how mainstream media essentially manufactures consent for a government’s policies; is this a case for the Israel-Palestine conflict and their reporting of it?

NC: It’s overwhelming. I don’t know where to begin. Let’s take the issue of Hamas. There has been one free election in the Arab world, in January 2006. Free and carefully monitored, everyone agreed it was fair; the wrong side won. So what did the US and Israel of course do? With European Union backing it immediately turned to punishing the population harshly for electing the wrong people. Well if we had a free press in the United States and England there would be headlines the next day saying the US and Israel and its European backers demonstrate their contempt for democracy, if it doesn’t come out the right way, we punish the people for voting the wrong way. That’s not what you saw. What you saw is terrorist Hamas which refuses to recognise Israel etc…[Hamas] is a political party, it can’t recognise Israel anymore than the Democratic Party can recognise Lithuania. But would they accept a two state settlement? Yes they would, they have said so over and over again. Will Israel and the US accept a Palestinian state? No, they have said so, not one that comes anywhere near the international consensus on the two state settlement. So on this issue, Hamas has been more forthcoming than the US and Israel. There is plenty to criticise about Hamas, a terrible organisation in many ways, but on these issues it happens to be more forthcoming than the US and Israel. Did anybody report this? Have you ever seen it in the press?

RH: Why is that? Is there a coercion between them? The press is owned by big business we know that, is there a dialogue between the two or is it just that they don’t want to report that?

NC: George Orwell had a good comment on it, brief and succinct but pretty much to the point. This is in his introduction to Animal Farm which was not published but was discovered later in his unpublished paper. In the introduction he talks about how in free England, ideas can be suppressed without the use of force, unlike the totalitarian monster he is satirising where ideas are suppressed by the use of force. So he is saying England is not all that different, it just uses different techniques. He says first of all, the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. Second and more important, is that proper education instils into people the understanding, the tacit understanding that there are certain things it just wouldn’t do to say. It’s part of your nature if you are properly educated, you are indoctrinated into tacitly accepting a framework of assumptions which shape what you say and what you think. There is a lot of truth to that.