Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Israel Roiled After Chomsky Barred From West Bank.

A fierce debate has broken out in Israel over the decision not to allow Naom Chomsky to enter the West Bank.

Front-page coverage and heated morning radio discussions asked how Professor Chomsky, an 81-year-old professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could pose a risk to Israel and how a country that frequently asserts its status as a robust democracy could keep out people whose views it found offensive.
The Israeli government are keen to distance themselves from what has taken place.

“There is no change in our policy,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The idea that Israel is preventing people from entering whose opinions are critical of the state is ludicrous; it is not happening. This was a mishap. A guy at the border overstepped his authority.”

But Chomsky is stating that the "guy at the border" was in touch with the Israeli authorities.

But Professor Chomsky said in a television interview from Jordan with Al Jazeera that the Interior Ministry official who interviewed him was on the phone with other ministry officials during the several hours of questioning on Sunday at the West Bank border and that he was taking instructions from his superiors.

“There were two basic points,” Professor Chomsky told the interviewer. “One was that the government of Israel does not like the kinds of things I say — which puts them into the category of I suppose every other government in the world. The second was that they seemed upset about the fact that I was just taking an invitation from Birzeit and I had no plans to go on to speak in Israeli universities, as I have done many times in the past, but not this time.”

Although there are some in Israel who continue to defend the decision to prevent Chomsky from entering.

“This is a decision of principle between the democratic ideal — and we all want freedom of speech and movement — and the need to protect our existence,” said Otniel Schneller, of the centrist Kadima party, on Israel Radio. “Let’s say he came to lecture at Birzeit. What would he say? That Israel kills Arabs, that Israel is an apartheid state?”

In another three months, Mr. Schneller went on, some Israeli would be standing over her son’s grave, the victim of incitement “in the name of free speech.”

So, there are some people still arguing that allowing Chomsky to enter the West Bank is a decision between the principles of free speech and the survival of the state.

That would have some credibility if one could ever portray Chomsky as a man who advocated violence, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Chomsky, even if you disagree with every word he has ever uttered, is a man of principle. You might not agree with his principles, but his beliefs are rigid and uniformly applied to every situation. The notion that he is dangerous is simply fanciful, unless it is his ideas which one finds dangerous.

Nor is Chomsky the first controversial figure to be barred from entering Israel in recent months.

Late last month, Ivan Prado, one of Spain’s most famous clowns, spent six hours at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv being questioned before being sent back to Madrid. He had planned to run a clown festival modeled after one in Spain in the West Bank city of Ramallah but was accused of having ties with Palestinian terrorist groups by the Israelis.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Mr. Prado was caught lying during questioning at the airport and that his cellphone, which he denied having, contained a telephone number of a Palestinian who Israel considered to be a member of a terrorist group.

In January, Jared Malsin, a young American editor working in Bethlehem for a Palestinian news agency, was barred from re-entering at Ben-Gurion airport after officials said he would not answer questions satisfactorily.

In December 2008, Israel barred Richard Falk, an American who is a United Nations investigator of human rights in the Palestinian areas, saying he was hostile to Israel. He was seized at the airport and not permitted entry.

And a few months earlier that year, Norman Finkelstein, a scholar who is a critic of Israel and its policies, was barred from entering after a visit in Lebanon that included conversations with officials of Hezbollah. Israeli officials said that Mr. Finkelstein refused to describe the nature of those talks.

Ideas are supposed to circulate freely in democracies, but it appears that there are some people in Israel who do not agree with that concept.

And that's a notion which is so extreme that even Netanyahu's government are trying to distance themselves from it.

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