Blog | Did he say it? Misquoting Noam Chomsky on Gaza

A recent quote attributed to Noam Chomsky, on Israel's current assault on Gaza, has been widely circulated over the past few days. Except that it is neither recent nor (entirely) by Chomsky.

Ceasefire Bites, Editor's Desk, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Sunday, November 18, 2012 10:24 - 26 Comments

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In the flurry of memes and quotations being passed around social media since Israel began its latest attack on Gaza a few days ago, one in particular caught our eye. It’s often titled “Noam Chomsky statement on Gaza” and it goes like this:

The incursion and bombardment of Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel, it is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final phase in a decades-long campaign to ethnically-cleanse Palestinians.Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army… and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder. When Israelis in the occupied territories now claim that they have to defend themselves, they are defending themselves in the sense that any military occupier has to defend itself against the population they are crushing. You can’t defend yourself when you’re militarily occupying someone else’s land. That’s not defense. Call it what you like, it’s not defense.

Now, though we recognise some familiar elements here, a few turns of phrase didn’t sound right. And with some quick online searching, the following (undated) Chris Hedges essay turns up, which begins in the following way:

The incursion and bombardment of Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel. It is not about achieving peace. The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use lethal weapons of the modern battle field on a largely defenseless civilian population is the final phase in the decades long campaign to ethnically cleanse Palestinians.

Interestingly, the latter section of the original “Chomsky” quote is from Chomsky – but it is not a recent statement on Gaza. Rather, it’s been lifted from the (excellent) 2004 documentary Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land. A full transcript of the whole documentary can be found here, and features this key quote:

Prof. Noam Chomsky: When Israel, in the occupied territories now, claim that they have to defend themselves, they are defending themselves in the sense that any military occupier has to defend itself against the population that they’re crushing.

So the apparently “new” Chomsky statement on Gaza is an amalgam of two quite disparate texts, only one of them by him, and even that one is not a recent statement. The original source for this statement appears to have been “salem-news.com“, whose editor adopted a curiously belligerent (and, not to put too fine a point on it, unlettered) tone when its authenticity was questioned. Choice responses included: “I … do not bow or apologize to zionists or nazi’s.  You are apartheid” (emphasis in original); and if the quotation was incorrect, “well the professor can address it with us if he chooses to.”

You might ask: does any of this matter? There’s little to argue with in the hybrid statement itself; the intentions of everyone – or at least almost everyone – involved might be assumed to be good. We think there are three key reasons why it does matter.

First, there is a worrying tendency in well-intentioned activism to forget about authenticity when you essentially agree with the sentiment expressed. But authenticity does matter, it always matters, and what might seem like a quibble over phrasing could have a major impact in the long run. It’s worth remembering – especially on the Israel-Palestine issue – how much obfuscation is caused by people (often paid journalists working in newsrooms) selectively picking information and not bothering to assess the evidence in a balanced, historically accurate way. For those determined to scant Israel’s ethnic cleansing such quotations-fudging has reached stratospheric proportions. Misquotation and inaccuracy are weapons of the propagandist, not the peace activist.

Second, reams of historical apocrypha have been created by the passing on of quotations which seem accurate. Though this may sometimes be amusing – and create work for future historians – it also muddies the historical waters, causing confusion – especially when a statement is repeated so much it becomes impossible to tell whether the person really said it. (Recall, to take just one example Ahmedinejad’s quotation of Khomeini, which was – probably deliberately – mistranslated into a line about “wiping Israel off the map” and is now a staple of doctrine, despite being utterly inaccurate.) We should guard against this as a matter of principle, whoever is being quoted, whatever argument we are advancing.

Third, the mistake seems especially crude in this case becauseof all people – the person misquoted is a) something of a stickler for accuracy in quotation, b) someone who has written extensively, diligently and at enormous length on this very topic for decades. How much effort does it take, with a back catalogue like Chomsky’s, to find something to quote accurately?

In a constructive spirit, we end this article with a Chomsky quotation that, we suggest, would be an apt replacement to the above truncated-inaccurate one. It’s sourced from Chomsky’s official website, from his article ‘Exterminate all the Brutes’, about Israel’s 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza. The article was written on January 19, 2009 and revised on June 6, 2009:

The US-Israeli assault on Gaza escalated in January 2006, a few months after the formal withdrawal, when Palestinians committed a truly heinous crime: they voted “the wrong way” in a free election. Like others, Palestinians learned that one does not disobey with impunity the commands of the master, who never cease to orate about his “yearning for democracy” without eliciting ridicule from the educated classes, another impressive achievement.

Since the terms “aggression” and “terrorism” are inadequate, some new term is needed for the sadistic and cowardly torture of people caged with no possibility of escape, while they are being pounded to dust by the most sophisticated products of US military technology – used in violation of international and even US law, but for self-declared outlaw states that is just another minor technicality.

See Also: Palestine is Still the Issue The projection bias of Israeli war crime apologism

Ceasefire Bites

Ceasefire Bites is Ceasefire's news and opinion blog.

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En Passant » Quote from Chomsky
Nov 18, 2012 11:08

[...] something Chris Hedges said in 2009 and something Chomsky said in 2004. Ceasefire has the details here. Given it is misquote I have removed it. My apologies to my readers and to Noam Chomsky. [...]

Media Lens Wipe
Nov 18, 2012 15:06

It’s good that *somebody* checked – and took the time to correct/clarify. What’s slightly worrying is how often inaccurate claims (not just wrongly attributed quotes) do circulate without anyone bothering to check. It’s called “churnalism” when the media does it. And, as the following article notes, we should be aware of its equivalent in radical circles – “radical churnalism”: http://newsframes.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/radical-memes/

Pete
Nov 18, 2012 16:17

Excellent sleuthing. And MediaLens: “radical churnalism” is a great term for a real problem!

Kathy
Nov 18, 2012 17:46

I have posted this article and an apology to everybody for not seeing the red flag in this situation. I thought the words were particularly stringent for Noam, I was thinking it did sound familiar, too. Thank you for uncovering this as a misquote.

PNRead
Nov 18, 2012 18:51

Thanks for the source checking but greater thanks for the eloquent defense of honesty and accuracy in citing sources. It does matter!

Deja Vu – Death, Gaza, and The BBC. « Black Sheep Diary
Nov 18, 2012 19:31

[...] like, it’s not defense.” Chris Hedges/Noam Chomsky.   Quote widely attributed to Chomsky, but turns out to be splice of Hedges and Chomsky.  The point [...]

Hassan
Nov 18, 2012 19:46

Thank you for correcting the misquote of Chomsky. Even though, still what Israel doing now is a real massacre of innocent Palestinian’s children, and this clearly is not exhibited by your second quote. If we are to claim to be peace activists, we have to know first who is the oppressor and the oppressed, and surely Israel is the oppressive state that kills and ruins Palestinian homes with no right.. share please!

Israel shamir
Nov 19, 2012 4:00

“The original source for this statement appears to have been “salem-news.com“, whose editor adopted etc” – I think he is right; Prof Chomsky is alive, and he is the only person who is entitled to rule what is his and what is not. Until you (or somebody else) produce a letter from Chomsky to such effect – the quote stands.

Ruth McVeigh
Nov 19, 2012 4:33

OK – we’ve cleared up the question of quotes or misquotes. This does not, however, make things any clearer to those of us who feel 1) there is a terrible imbalance between Israel and Gaza in ability to protect itself and 2) why is it OK for Israel to continue building on Palestinian territory and to build a wall so that Palestinians cannot either get supplies in or get out to go to work.
This whole situation can be compared to forcing two rival gangs to live in close proximity in a city. It’s never going to work. How many innocent lives have to be lost before a better solution is found?

Andy
Nov 19, 2012 6:52

“Misquoting is the bane of the Internet.” – Winston Churchill

miri
Nov 19, 2012 9:03

Thank you very much for this; I will have to check as see if these quotes are in the meme that are supposed to be from his tweets. Not at all surprised at the salem witch hunt news ‘belligerency.’ Tim has never shown interest in truth or accuracy…

greta
Nov 19, 2012 13:42

This may well be true, but it’s seems odd that the article above doesn’t reference this recent article, dated 4 Nov 2012, on Gaza by Chomsky, also on his official website: http://chomsky.info/articles/20121104.htm

So now I’m wondering about the agenda of the Huff Post. Just who is misleading who here?

Einar
Nov 19, 2012 14:41

Here is a new quote that is being shared all over my Facebook, can it be confirmed that it is not a another misquote?
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=439936972722687&set=a.304799816236404.63367.200068713376182&type=1&theater

happysmiles
Nov 19, 2012 15:41

thank the academy that’s sorted… wouldn’t want to go around misquoting anyone would one…

as audre lorde said,
“the master’s tools will never dismantle ‘radical’ news”

Nadine Lumley
Nov 19, 2012 16:19

THE CRISIS OF ZIONISM
By Peter Beinart

In an op-ed in The New York Times in March 2012, Beinart recommends what he calls “Zionist B.D.S.” — a boycott of goods made in the Israeli settlements combined with renewed support for Israel within the Green Line, including East Jerusalem.

The phrase “nondemocratic Israel” for the occupied territories “suggests there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel”.

And he concludes: “If Israel makes the occupation permanent and Zionism ceases to be a democratic project, Israel’s foes will eventually overthrow Zionism itself. We are closer to that day than many American Jews want to admit. Sticking to the old comfortable ways endangers Israel’s democratic future. If we want to effectively oppose the forces that threaten Israel from without, we must also oppose the forces that threaten it from within”.

http://peter-beinart.com/bookshelf/the-crisis-of-zionism/

Mark Kilian
Nov 19, 2012 17:37

When you care about appropriate quotation (correctly) you should also care about links. The one to the Official Chomsky site does not work, and this is quite a serious omission.

Ceasefire Bites
Nov 19, 2012 17:51

Einar – the quote you’ve shared is also by Hedges, not Chomsky. It’s part of the same piece that has been misattributed.

Ceasefire Bites
Nov 19, 2012 18:09

Mark – thanks for alerting us to that. We’ve fixed the link.

We Notice (Gaza & Israel, November 2012) « Teeksa Photography—Skip Schiel
Nov 19, 2012 18:58

[...] (Raising questions of just who said what, if you’re interested.) [...]

Genghis
Nov 21, 2012 23:44

CeaseFire Bites said: “The US-Israeli assault on Gaza escalated in January 2006, a few months after the formal withdrawal, when Palestinians committed a truly heinous crime: they voted “the wrong way” in a free election.”

The result of the Gazan election was no more “wrong” than was the result of the series of elections that led to the Nazi party taking power in Germany in the 1930s.

Having said that, it is possible that they commanded a significant number of the vote through murder, thuggery and intimidation. A further parallel to 1930s Germany.

What is of concern is that an elected government can also take a people on a perilous journey. A journey that can lead to their suffering or indeed destruction.

This dispute endures because of a religious dispute. Islam cannot tolerate that a previously Muslim land can be governed by a non-Muslim government. For them it must be part of the “House of War”. Its very existence is a grave wound to the Pan-Arabic Muslim Community, the Ummah, which cannot be expunged without Israel being re-conquered.

I believe that the roots of this dispute run too deep to allow a peaceful co-habitation. I fear that the only lasting peace will come from retrying the same solutions that brought comparative peace to India v Pakistan and Greece v Turkey.

Pete
Nov 22, 2012 18:22

^ Remind me, how many settlements has India built in Pakistan since the partition agreement?

The Difference Between Zionism and Judaism « Nyheter for aktivister
Nov 25, 2012 2:50

[...] Did he say it? Misquoting Noam Chomsky on Gaza [...]

Herbert Caron
Dec 11, 2012 9:56

Human reason and great minds achieve wonders. However, even great minds like Chomsky are reduced to absurdity when they neglect a key element of the problem they are addressing. Chomsky consistently neglects one key element in the Palestinian problem, namely their genocidal beliefs and orientation toward Jews and toward Israel. Their “best sellers” are Mein Kampf, and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, erroneous and hateful documents that try to prove that Jews seek to promote wars, and to control the world, and drain it of its goods and wealth. Palestinians also widely believe in the “blood libel”: which states that Jews kill Muslim children to draw their blood, supposedly necessary for Jewish religious rituals – an old slander used by Jew haters to foment many slaughters. Genocide means the killing of a whole people (as in Rwanda and in Nazi Germany). This is what Palestinian schools teach their little children. This is not prejudice or mere hatred. It is the belief that a certain people is evil and must be killed off. Hitler and Goebbels taught this as a prelude to the death camps. Many Arabs, and most Palestinians also hold these beliefs. Arab leaders try to minimize these genocidal attitudes by stating they are merely a strong reaction to Israeli occupation. However, these attitudes were also prevalent before 1947 when the UN divided the area into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. When Hamas rains bombs on Israeli civilian areas, they are not reacting to an Israeli occupation, but rather, to their wish to destroy Israel and its Jewish occupants, as clearly stated in their charter.and “Constitution”. Chomsky totally overlooks this, and thus his great intellect leads him to foolish conclusions. He has had ample time to study the whole situation , and to take into account the genocidal orientation of the people he describes as an “abused minority”. Chomsky has no intellectual deficit, so we must conclude that the problem touches some emotional depths that prevent him from taking a broad view of the phenomena under consideration, as when confronting a challenge to his theory of linguistics.

Nazi Germany dominated the radio news waves to Arab countries, and for ten years, broadcast genocidal lies about Jews, hoping to win the Arabs as allies in a Rommel assault on the Middle East. Gen. Montgomery defeated Rommel in North Africa, and blocked the Nazi conquest of Arab lands. However, the propaganda barrage of genocidal ideas suited the Arabs in their attempt to prevent the formation of a Jewish state…The genius, Chomsky, does not seem to know this history, and holds to his foolish judgments about Israel and the Palestinians.

Susan Malter
Jan 30, 2013 2:59

With an issue as multi-faceted and complicated as this, individuals with the confidence to be righteously indignant ought to recognize that something is missing. If you do not allow yourself to see the other side of this issue, you are not considering the whole issue. Opinions on this topic are so heated that people censor their own reading and refuse to look deeper.

There Will Be Tweets: Media Lens and the Death of Friendship | Murphy Blog
May 5, 2014 11:20

[...] more, Media Lens were also one of many during Israel’s November 2012 assaults on Gaza who falsely attributed a quote to Chomsky without checking sources. Predictably, what hasn’t been ‘shared’ by Media Lens and [...]

amees
Jul 14, 2014 17:35

It is scary that Israel has no problem doing what Nazi Germany did to them. Obviously not to the extent that the Nazi did but also committing war crimes. What they are doing is genocide. Burying homes and people, bombing schools and refugee camps and keeping a whole population deprived is atrocious. To have gone through something as atrocious as the Holocaust and then to put another human being through the same is heinous and a crime against humanity.

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