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Chomsky on being denied entry into Israel

May 20, 2010

Noam Chomsky was recently detained at the border of Jordan and the West Bank, which Israel controls all access to, and denied entry.  He was on his way to give a lecture at Bir Zeit University.  The reasons given by Chomsky that he was detained were two-fold; first that Israel doesn’t like what he writes, which Chomsky noted probably put them in the same category as every other government in the world, and secondly that he was scheduled to speak at a university in the West Bank but not one in Israel.

In an interview with Haaretz, Chomsky likened the ban to a Stalinist state:

“I find it hard to think of a similar case, in which entry to a person is denied because he is not lecturing in Tel Aviv. Perhaps only in Stalinist regimes,” Chomsky told Haaretz.[…]

Chomsky told Haaretz that it was clear that his arrival had been known to the authorities, because the minute he entered the passport control room the official told him that he was honored to see him and that he had read his works.

The professor concluded that the officer was a student, and said he looked embarrassed at the task at hand, especially when he began reading from text the questions that had been dictated to him, and which were also told to him later by telephone.

Chomsky told Haaretz about the questions.

“The official asked me why I was lecturing only at Bir Zeit and not an Israeli university,” Chomsky recalled. “I told him that I have lectured a great deal in Israel. The official read the following statement: ‘Israel does not like what you say.'”

Chomsky replied: “Find one government in the world which does.”

“The young man asked me whether I had ever been denied entry into other countries. I told him that once, to Czechoslovakia, after the Soviet invasion in 1968,” he said, adding that he had gone to visit ousted Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubcek, whose reforms the Soviets crushed.

In response to the official’s question, Chomsky said that the subjects of his lectures were “America and the world,” and “America at home.”

The official asked him whether he would speak on Israel and Chomsky said that because he would talk of U.S. policy he would also comment on Israel and its policies.

He was then told by the official: “You have spoken with [Hassan] Nasrallah.”

“True,” Chomsky told him. “When I was in Lebanon [prior to the war in 2006] I spoke with people from the entire political spectrum there, as in Israel I also spoke with people on the right.”

“At the time I read reports of my visit in the Israeli press, and the articles in the Israeli press had no connection with reality,” Chomsky told the border official.

The official asked Chomsky why he did not have an Israeli passport.

“I replied I am an American citizen,” Chomsky said.

Chomsky said that he asked the man at border control for an official written explanation for the reason his entry was denied and that “it would help the Interior Ministry because this way my version will not be the only one given to the media.”

The official called the ministry and then told Chomsky that he would be able to find the official statement at the U.S. Embassy.

The last time Chomsky visited Israel and the West Bank was in 1997, when he lectured on both sides of the Green Line. He had also planned a visit to the Gaza strip, but because the Palestinian Authority insisted that he be escorted by Palestinian guards, he canceled that part of the visit.

To Haaretz, Chomsky said Sunday that preventing him entry is tantamount to boycotting Bir Zeit University. Chomsky is known to oppose a general boycott on Israel. “I was against a boycott of apartheid South Africa as well. If we are going to boycott, why not the United States, whose record is even worse? I’m in favor of boycotting American companies which collaborate with the occupation,” he said. “But if we are to boycott Tel Aviv University, why not MIT?”

Chomsky told Haaretz that he supports a two-state solution, but not the solution proposed by Jerusalem, “pieces of land that will be called a state.”

He said that Israel’s behavior today reminds him of that of South Africa in the 1960s, when it realized that it was already considered a pariah, but thought that it would resolve the problem with better public relations.

In other news related to Israel, musician Elvis Costello recently announced, that he will be canceling two upcoming concerts in Israel due to “grave and complex” sensitivities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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