I cringed when reading the headline earlier this week. It was the same uncomfortable reaction one might have when a parent drinks to excess, yet again, and behaves badly at a family function. Or when a dining partner argues loudly with the service staff at a restaurant.
There was no good to be derived from a story with that headline. The expert linguist, who reportedly speaks Hebrew, may have spent a few months in Israel half a decade ago, but his vociferous condemnations of the Jewish state’s “expansionist policies” have been widely covered. As I plunged into the details of the MIT professor’s “adventure” at Allenby Bridge, the murk led to more murk.
From the sheepish “it was a misunderstanding and we’ll probably take it back” statement issued by Israel’s Interior Ministry, to the follow-up explanation from the prime minister’s office that a border guard had overstepped his bounds, to details of the octogenarian being questioned for hours, the ordeal was fuel to Chomsky’s already blazing anti-Israel fire.
“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 an Haaretz reporter in a telephone conversation from Amman, where he sought refuge after the ordeal.
Chomsky had been en route to deliver lectures at the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, visit Bil’in and Hebron, and meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad when he was detained at the border crossing and questioned for hours. He was then denied entrance to the West Bank and Israel because, as he told the press, he was lecturing at a Palestinian university but not an Israeli one.
“The official asked me why I was lecturing only at Bir Zeit and not an Israeli university,” Chomsky told Haaretz. “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.”
“In barring a renowned academic from Israel and the West Bank, the government’s outrageous treatment of its critics has reached new heights,” a Haaretz op-ed leads.