Review

Reading about Chomsky doesn’t yield the same rewards as reading Chomsky.

This book was written by Robert Barsky, a long-time friend of Chomsky’s. He spent a ridiculous amount of time researching and writing the book (10 years!), and the result is a long and mostly unnecessary explanation of Chomsky’s impact on popular and radical culture, the sources of Chomsky’s influence, coverage of the ‘controversies’ over Chomsky, and a review of Chomsky’s positions on Zionism, liberty, etc. It seemed a bit rambling to me.

Chomsky is vilified by many on the right, but especially by the Israel lobby; Dershowitz and Horowitz in particular. Horowitz can be (and is) mostly ignored - the rantings of a former Marxist now right-wing idealogue don’t carry much water with most people. Dershowitz is another matter. He seems to wield a tremendous amount of influence and splits his time between defending and justifying Israeli state terror on the one hand, and carrying out vendettas against opponents of Israeli policies on the other. And, of course, in his spare time he writes books and articles explaining why torture is justified. I suspect that Chomsky regards Dershowitz’ hostility as an honor, one that we should all aspire to.

Chomsky actually supports (or at one time supported) the original vision of a Zionist state: socialist and secular in nature. For Dershowitz et al to accuse Chomsky of being a self-hating Jew, or of being ant-semitic (!) is simply absurd. Chomsky’s views on Israel are quite clear and often stated: Israel has imposed a system of apartheid in some ways worse than that in South Africa; Israel has denied ordinary civil rights, and even the right to live decently, to Palestinians, based solely on their ethnicity; Israel has continuously violated international law and United Nations resolutions (voted for even by the US in a number of cases) by building ‘settlements’ outside its borders; Israel frequently commits war crimes in its indiscriminate targeting of civilians; Israel is, therefore, a sponsor of state terror; and Israel is a client state of the US government. He takes the trouble to back up these claims with documentation - a fact that undoubtedly enrages Dershowitz and his ilk.

Barsky expends an inordinate amount of ink explaining the so-called ‘Faurisson Affair’. In brief: in 1980 Chomsky signed a petition urging the French government to protect the academic freedom of Faurisson, a historian. Faurisson was a nascent holocaust denier (later solidifying his position), and was being denied access to historical archives, and was finding official barriers to publication. Chomsky’s (consistent) position has always been to allow the maximum of freedom of expression and academic freedom, and so he signed the petition, without in any way endorsing Faurisson’s conclusions (of which Chomsky was apparently unaware). The result was to be expected: he has been condemned ever since as a holocaust denier, despite the fact that he has repeatedly said that he finds holocaust denial deeply offensive, and that his sole interest in the matter is one of liberty and freedom of expression.

So the Faurisson affair, despite its absurdity, is another bludgeon used by Chomsky’s Israel-lobby enemies.

If you have a great interest in Chomsky and the influence he has had, this is the book for you. If not, not.

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Metadata Info

  • Title: The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower
  • Author: Robert F. Barsky
  • Published: 2007
  • ISBN: 0262026244
  • Buy: Amazon search
  • Check out: Seattle library
  • Rating: 3.0 stars