Noam Chomsky on the Immorality of US & Israeli Policy Toward Iran–and my small quibbles with Chomsky


Editor’s Note: Noam Chomsky powerfully presents (below)  the case against US and Israeli policy toward Iran. Yet I’m troubled by an aspect of the situation to which Chomsky gives only brief lip-service. Millions of people demonstrated against the stealing of the Iranian election by the fundamentalist mullahs who control the state apparatus in Iran. Thousands of them were either killed, wounded or ended up in the Iranian regime’s prisons where they were tortured or disappeared. Tikkun has called for the people of Iran to overthrow their own government the way the people of the Soviet Union were able to do, but we know that this is not in the cards in the short run, given the brutality of repression and the ferocity of the current regime’s supporters based on their interpretaton of how they are serving Islam. Hey, you at Tikkun always talk about the obligation to care about the well-being of others, and in this case, this shouldn’t be empty words or pious thoughts–a real intervention on the side of the people of Iran who are oppressed is the only hope of overthrowing the cruel regime in power, some will argue.

This same regime talks glibly about destroying Israel and denies the Holocaust. If you were living in Israel, you might cheer-on any path that sought to eliminate the ability of these fundamentalist extremists, who systematically oppress and terrorize the women of Iran (not to mention the Ba’hai and other religious minorities, and homosexuals), to destroy the Jewish people of Israel. So, an intervention, some argue, would not only be good for Israel, it would be good for universal human rights.

I DO NOT AGREE WITH THAT REASONING BECAUSE I BELIEVE SPIRITUAL PROGRESSIVES MUST TESTIFY AGAINST THE USE OF VIOLENCE NO MATTER HOW LEGITIMATE THE END TO WHICH THE VIOLENCE IS BEING USED. Moreover, I believe that the strategy we presented in our magazine and in our NY Times ad would be far more likely to support the people of Iran than an armed attack which might force even the dissidents to back their repressive government.  I’ve at times been inconsistent on this point of the validity of human rights pursuing military interventions  in the past (e.g. in regard to the genocidal and mass rape campaigns against Bosnia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and in regard to the genocidal struggle between Hutus and Tutis, and in the genocide in Darfur) but this is the path we must seek to legitimate else the world will continue on its path toward increasingly sophisticated weapons of violence (imagine when other countries have drones and electronic warfare  that could elude US safeguards and start killing US citizens deemed a danger to other countries’ interests). But I can certainly empathize with those who believe that their only alternative is to be destroyed themselves, which is what many Israelis feel. That’s why I think it so important to follow the strategy I’ve presented in Embracing Israel/Palestine, because it is the only plausible way a non-violent strategy could actually work to transform the regimes of the Middle East (including both Israel and Palestine) and the U.S. as well. I hope you’ll read the book and get others to study it with you. When forced to choose between a US/Israeli assault, and the logic of Chomsky, I choose Chomsky, but with some trepidations articulated above. And we at Tikkun, and many of you readers, bought a full page ad in the NY Times calling on Obama and Netanyahu to not accept the “first strike” strategy and adopt instead the NSP/Tikkun strategy. So far, I know of no mass demonstrations (say of more than 10,000 people) explicitly dedicated to oppose the assault on Iran, so Tikkun has really been in the leadership of this opposition to a first strike. We are, I believe, correct in calling for this, and at the same time correct in nuancing our concerns and acknowledging the complexity of the situation and how some very decent people might disagree with us not because they support US or Israeli policy (we certainly don’t with regard to the Palestinians) but because they genuinely care about the well-being of the people of the region. But in the final analysis, we hold to our strong opposition to a US or Israeli first strike against Iran, believe our Global Marshall Plan is a far more effective way to achieve humanitarian goals, and hold to our ethical commitment to non-violence.–Rabbi Michael Lerner   (your comments on this are welcome)

Noam Chomsky: Why America and Israel Are the Greatest Threats to Peace
Imagine if Iran — or any other country — did a fraction of what American and Israel do at will.
September 3, 2012
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It is not easy to escape from one’s skin, to see the world differently from the way it is presented to us day after day. But it is useful to try. Let’s take a few examples.

The war drums are beating ever more loudly over Iran. Imagine the situation to be reversed.

Iran is carrying out a murderous and destructive low-level war against Israel with great-power participation. Its leaders announce that negotiations are going nowhere. Israel refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and allow inspections, as Iran has done. Israel continues to defy the overwhelming international call for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. Throughout, Iran enjoys the support of its superpower patron.

Iranian leaders are therefore announcing their intention to bomb Israel, and prominent Iranian military analysts report that the attack may happen before the U.S. elections.

Iran can use its powerful air force and new submarines sent by Germany, armed with nuclear missiles and stationed off the coast of Israel. Whatever the timetable, Iran is counting on its superpower backer to join if not lead the assault. U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta says that while we do not favor such an attack, as a sovereign country Iran will act in its best interests.

All unimaginable, of course, though it is actually happening, with the cast of characters reversed. True, analogies are never exact, and this one is unfair – to Iran.

Like its patron, Israel resorts to violence at will. It persists in illegal settlement in occupied territory, some annexed, all in brazen defiance of international law and the U.N. Security Council. It has repeatedly carried out brutal attacks against Lebanon and the imprisoned people of Gaza, killing tens of thousands without credible pretext.

Thirty years ago Israel destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, an act that has recently been praised, avoiding the strong evidence, even from U.S. intelligence, that the bombing did not end Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program but rather initiated it. Bombing of Iran might have the same effect.

Iran too has carried out aggression – but during the past several hundred years, only under the U.S.-backed regime of the shah, when it conquered Arab islands in the Persian Gulf.

Iran engaged in nuclear development programs under the shah, with the strong support of official Washington. The Iranian government is brutal and repressive, as are Washington’s allies in the region. The most important ally, Saudi Arabia, is the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime, and spends enormous funds spreading its radical Wahhabist doctrines elsewhere. The Gulf dictatorships, also favored U.S. allies, have harshly repressed any popular effort to join the Arab Spring.

The Nonaligned Movement – the governments of most of the world’s population – is now meeting in Teheran. The group has vigorously endorsed Iran’s right to enrich uranium, and some members – India, for example – adhere to the harsh U.S. sanctions program only partially and reluctantly.

The NAM delegates doubtless recognize the threat that dominates discussion in the West, lucidly articulated by Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command: “It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East,” one nation should arm itself with nuclear weapons, which “inspires other nations to do so.”

Butler is not referring to Iran, but to Israel, which is regarded in the Arab countries and in Europe as posing the greatest threat to peace In the Arab world, the United States is ranked second as a threat, while Iran, though disliked, is far less feared. Indeed in many polls majorities hold that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons to balance the threats they perceive.

If Iran is indeed moving toward nuclear-weapons capability – this is still unknown to U.S. intelligence – that may be because it is “inspired to do so” by the U.S.-Israeli threats, regularly issued in explicit violation of the U.N. Charter.

Why then is Iran the greatest threat to world peace, as seen in official Western discourse? The primary reason is acknowledged by U.S. military and intelligence and their Israeli counterparts: Iran might deter the resort to force by the United States and Israel.

Furthermore Iran must be punished for its “successful defiance,” which was Washington’s charge against Cuba half a century ago, and still the driving force for the U.S. assault against Cuba that continues despite international condemnation.

Other events featured on the front pages might also benefit from a different perspective. Suppose that Julian Assange had leaked Russian documents revealing important information that Moscow wanted to conceal from the public, and that circumstances were otherwise identical.

Sweden would not hesitate to pursue its sole announced concern, accepting the offer to interrogate Assange in London. It would declare that if Assange returned to Sweden (as he has agreed to do), he would not be extradited to Russia, where chances of a fair trial would be slight.

Sweden would be honored for this principled stand. Assange would be praised for performing a public service – which, of course, would not obviate the need to take the accusations against him as seriously as in all such cases.

The most prominent news story of the day here is the U.S. election. An appropriate perspective was provided by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who held that “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”

Guided by that insight, coverage of the election should focus on the impact of wealth on policy, extensively analyzed in the recent study “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America” by Martin Gilens [ ] [ ]. He found that the vast majority are “powerless to shape government policy” when their preferences diverge from the affluent, who pretty much get what they want when it matters to them.

Small wonder, then, that in a recent ranking of the 31 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of social justice, the United States placed 27th, despite its extraordinary advantages.

Or that rational treatment of issues tends to evaporate in the electoral campaign, in ways sometimes verging on comedy.

To take one case, Paul Krugman reports that the much-admired Big Thinker of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, declares that he derives his ideas about the financial system from a character in a fantasy novel – “Atlas Shrugged” – who calls for the use of gold coins instead of paper currency.

It only remains to draw from a really distinguished writer, Jonathan Swift. In “Gulliver’s Travels,” his sages of Lagado carry all their goods with them in packs on their backs, and thus could use them for barter without the encumbrance of gold. Then the economy and democracy could truly flourish – and best of all, inequality would sharply decline, a gift to the spirit of Justice Brandeis.

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tags: War & Peace   
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4 Responses to Noam Chomsky on the Immorality of US & Israeli Policy Toward Iran–and my small quibbles with Chomsky

  1. Lyle Courtsal September 11, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Dear People,
    It is difficult to understand fundamentalists of every religious stripe. But to be fair, jewish ultra-orthodox also have attitudes that are equally as poisonous as some iranians; threatening to deploy biologicals against a dependent civilian peoples, systematically oppressing those in the occupied territories, denying justice to the Rachel Corrie family after running her over with an armored D-9 bulldozer. The troops of the IDF are doing the right thing in exposing how they were coerced and encouraged to abuse, ill, and kill those in the occupied territories systematically (, just as many other members of security forces have come forward finally to tell of how they were forced into committing hugely inhumane acts against their fellow humanity. That is true courage and the stuff of real change.
    Face it; both sides of this conflict have wanted to wipe each other off the map for thousands of years. Now that conflict endangers all life on the planet once again. This is not a drill; this is real planetary level mass suicide by psychopathic incorporation. We’re counting on you to realize and remember that. Lyle Courtsal

  2. Caleb Trevithick October 31, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Good evening, Mr. Lerner.

    In the beginning of your post you mention that Tikkun has historically called for violent rebellion in Iran, but I’m confused when I come later to your admonition that spiritual progressives cannot justify the means of violence by the ends. Can these agree, or am I misunderstanding? You made a comparison, also, between an overthrow in Iran that could resemble the overthrow in Russia. The Bolshevist coup? That bloodthirsty, Zionist regime? Or do you refer to another overthrow?

    Also, I believe you have misunderstood the Iranian position. It’s difficult for me to interpret their stance as anything but defensive. I point this out because your opposition to foreign military intervention was preceded by such statements that made the whole thing sound like trying to dissuade a bullied boy at school from exacting revenge: “Don’t get back at him. He’s rotten, and he kicked you, and punched you, and stole from you, and embarrassed you in front of everybody–even your girlfriend was watching–and he threatened you, and now your face is all disfigured and ugly, but revenge is bad.” You’re exacerbating the ill feelings while trying to convince people not to act on them. But worse than my analogy, some of what you said about Iran isn’t even true, so the exacerbation is even antagonistic.

    Ahmadinejad has met favorably with foreign Jews and there is even a population of Jews living in Iran. Is he not against Zionism, which is atheistic jingoism under the Star of Chiun? Do you stand by your statement that he is against Jews, both nominal Jewish atheists and believing Jews? There are Jews against Zionism, also, but we don’t say they are against Jews because they oppose Israel.

    Additionally, if we are to be outspoken against the evils seen in Iran, do you believe it’s appropriate for the US to be involved in settling Middle Eastern affairs, given its depraved support of some of the worst offenders in other countries of these very things, and worse? Such a notion seems analogous to requesting Charles Manson to serve on a jury in a murder trial.

  3. Marc Bernstein November 7, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Ah yes,another anti-semite.

    • Allan Mallon February 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      Ah yes, amazing isn’t it, that as soon as a Jew feels threatened, or has no logical answer to criticism, he screams like a stuck pig about anti-semitism, or brings up the Holocaust.

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