Thursday, November 18, 2004

Chomsky and Ben-Gurion

As is noted in the great article Chomsky’s War Against Israel Chomsky has a propensity to attribute statements to people, in particular Ben-Gurion, that they never made. For example:

[Ben-Gurion] who is supposed to have confided in his diary [as Chomsky claims]: “If we know the family – strike mercilessly, women and children included. Otherwise the reaction is inefficient. At the place of action there is no need to distinguish between guilty and innocent.” This is a interesting example of Chomsky’s technique: the alleged quotation is not from Ben-Gurion, but an adviser, Gad Machnes. And the latter’s comments were the opposite of Chomsky’s version: “These matters necessitate the utmost precision – in terms of time, place, and whom and what to hit...only a direct blow and no touching of innocent people!” Meanwhile, Ben-Gurion’s own views were clear and explicit: “There is no other way than by sharp, aggressive reprisal, without harming women and children, to prevent Jews from being murdered...”

Ironically I stumbled upon a similar quotation in which Chomsky attributes to Ben-Gurion which in actuality Ben-Gurion did not say. The quote comes from the afterward in his book Deterring Democracy. In it he states, “During the 1948 war, [Ben-Gurion] held that ‘To the Arabs of the Land of Israel only one function remains -- to run away.’” Anyone familiar with the idea of transfer in Zionist thought knows that this quote comes from Ezra Danin not Ben-Gurion [1]. Once I found this quote I emailed Chomsky and asked him what his sources were, he replied:

I don't know what you are looking at, but I've repeatedly cited the source in print, from the first time I mentioned it: Yossi Beilin, Mehiro shel Ihud (Revivim, 1985). Can add the page reference if you like. This is the standard scholarly source, in fact the only source for Israeli cabinet records from 67-77, the period he covers.

Even though the quote as Chomsky wrote it in the original himself attributes it to the War of Independence that would be 1948 which is not anywhere remotely near the time period of 67-77, I still decided to shoot an email down to Yossi Beilin and see if the quotation actually exists in his work. As I expected it doesn’t.

So much for Chomsky’s scholarly pretensions.

[1] Ilan Pappe no friend of Zionism and a Chomsky confidant writes, “Ezra Danin's words to Ben Gurion: 'The Arabs of the Land of Israel, they have but one task left - to run away'.”

UPDATE: Chomsky has written me back stating the following:

It's you, not me, who says that B-G "uttered those words." What I wrote -- as you repeat -- is that he held that view, as discussed in the source I cited. I'll grant you one thing, though. I should have realized that people who are really desperate to defend their own crimes would find some way of misreading something if they can, and should have spelled it out more explicitly.

The irony should be apparent here.