Noam Chomsky Accuses Alan Dershowitz of Launching a "Jihad" to Block
Norman Finkelstein From Getting Tenure at Depaul University
by Amy Goodman
We play Part II of our conversation with two of the country's leading
dissidents, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. In the interview, we ask
Chomsky about Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz who is lobbying
DePaul faculty members to oppose Norman Finkelstein's bid to receive
tenure. Chomsky says, "[Dershowitz] launched a jihad against Norman
Finkelstein simply to try and vilify and defame in the hope that maybe
what he is writing will disappear." [includes rush transcript] We turn
to Part II of our conversation with two of the country's leading
dissidents, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. We spoke with them yesterday
in a rare joint interview.
We turn to Part II of our conversation with two of the country's
leading dissidents, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. We spoke with them
yesterday in a rare joint interview.
Howard Zinn is one of America's most widely-read historians. His
classic work "A People's History of the United States" has sold over
1.5 million copies and it has altered how many teach the nation's
history. His latest book is "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress."
Noam Chomsky began teaching linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology in Cambridge over 50 years ago. He is the author of
dozens of books on linguistics and U.S. foreign policy. His most
recent book is titled "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the
Assault on Democracy."
In a wide-ranging interview, we spoke about US wars from Iraq to
Vietnam, about resistance and about academia. I asked Chomsky about
political science professor Norman Finkelstein - one of the country's
foremost critics of Israeli policy - and his battle to receive tenure
at Depaul University where has taught for six years. Finkelstein's
tenure has been approved at the departmental and college level but the
dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has opposed it. A
final decision is expected to be made by May. Finkelstein has accused
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz of being responsible for leading
the effort to deny him tenure. In an interview with the Harvard
Crimson, Dershowitz admitted that he had sent a letter to DePaul
faculty members lobbying against Finkelstein's tenure. I asked Noam
Chomsky about the dispute.
Noam Chomsky. Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. He is the author of dozens of books on
linguistics and U.S. foreign policy. His latest book is "Failed
States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy."
Howard Zinn. Professor emeritus at Boston University. His classic work
"A People's History of the United States" has sold over 1.5 million
copies. His latest book is "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress."
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the second part of our conversation with
Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, two of the leading dissidents in this
country today. I spoke to them yesterday here in Boston in a rare
joint interview. Howard Zinn is one of America's most widely read
historians. His classic work A People's History of the United States
has sold over a million and a half copies, and it's altered how many
people teach the nation's history. His latest book is A Power
Governments Cannot Suppress. Noam Chomsky began teaching linguistics
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge over half a
century ago. He is the author of dozens of books on linguistics and US
foreign policy. His most recent book is called Failed States: The
Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.
In a wide-ranging interview, we talked about US wars from Iraq to
Vietnam, about resistance and about academia. I asked Noam Chomsky
about political science professor Norman Finkelstein, one of the
country's foremost critics of Israel policy, and his battle to receive
tenure at DePaul University, where he has taught for six years.
Professor Finkelstein's tenure has been approved at the departmental
and college level, but the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences at DePaul has opposed it. A final decision is expected to be
made in May. Finkelstein has accused Harvard law professor Alan
Dershowitz of being responsible for leading the effort to deny him
tenure. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, Dershowitz admitted
he had sent a letter to DePaul faculty members lobbying against
Finkelstein's tenure. I asked Noam Chomsky about the dispute.
NOAM CHOMSKY: The whole thing is outrageous. I mean, he's an
outstanding scholar. He has produced book after book. He's got
recommendations from some of the leading scholars in the many areas in
which he has worked. The faculty -- the departmental committee
unanimously recommended him for tenure. It's amazing that he hasn't
had full professorship a long time ago.
And, as you were saying, there was a huge campaign led by a Harvard
law professor, Alan Dershowitz, to try in a desperate effort to defame
him and vilify him, so as to prevent him from getting tenure. The
details of it are utterly shocking, and, as you said, it got to the
point where the DePaul administration called on Harvard to put an end
AMY GOODMAN: That's very significant, for one university to call on
the leadership of another university to stop one of its professors.
NOAM CHOMSKY: To stop this maniac, yeah. What's behind it? It's very
simple and straightforward. Norman Finkelstein wrote a book, which is
in fact the best compendium that now exists of human rights violations
in Israel and the blocking of diplomacy by Israel and the United
States, which I mentioned -- very careful scholarly book, as all of
his work is, impeccable -- also about the uses of anti-Semitism to try
to silence a critical discussion.
And the framework of his book was a critique of a book of apologetics
for atrocities and violence by Alan Dershowitz. That was the
framework. So he went through Dershowitz's shark claims, showed in
great detail that they are completely false and outrageous, that he's
lying about the facts, that he's an apologist for violence, that he's
a passionate opponent of civil liberties -- which he is -- and he
documented it in detail.
Dershowitz is intelligent enough to know that he can't respond, so he
does what any tenth-rate lawyer does when you have a rotten case: you
try to change the subject, maybe by vilifying opposing counsel. That
changes the subject. Now we talk about whether, you know, opposing
counsel did or did not commit this iniquity. And the tactic is a very
good one, because you win, even if you lose. Suppose your charges
against are all refuted. You've still won. You've changed the subject.
The subject is no longer the real topic: the crucial facts about
Israel, Dershowitz's vulgar apologetics for them, which sort of are
reminiscent of the worst days of Stalinism. We've forgotten all of
that. We're now talking about whether Finkelstein did this, that and
the other thing. And even if the charges are false, the topic's been
changed. That's the basis of it.
Dershowitz has been desperate to prevent this book from being -- first
of all, he tried to stop it from being published, in an outlandish
effort, which I've never seen anything like it, hiring a major law
firm to threaten libel suits, writing to the governor of California --
it was published by the University of California Press. When he
couldn't stop the publication, he launched a jihad against Norman
Finkelstein, simply to try to vilify and defame him, in the hope that
maybe what he's writing will disappear. That's the background.
It's not, incidentally, the first time. I mean, actually, I happen to
be very high on Dershowitz's hit list, hate list. And he has also
produced outlandish lies about me for years: you know, I told him I
was an agnostic about the Holocaust and I wouldn't tell him the time
of day, you know, and so on and so forth.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean that he made that charge against you?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Of course, and on and on. I won't even talk about it.
What's the reason? It's in print. In fact, you can look at it in the
internet. In 1973, I guess it was, the leading Israeli human rights
activist, Israel Shahak, who incidentally is a survivor of the Warsaw
Ghetto and Bergen-Belsen and headed a small human rights group in
Israel, which was the only real one at the time, came to Boston, had
an interview with the Boston Globe, in which he identified himself
correctly as the chair of the Israeli League of Human Rights.
Dershowitz wrote a vitriolic letter to the Globe, condemning him,
claiming he's lying about Israel, he's even lying about being the
chair, he was voted out by the membership.
I knew the facts. In fact, he's an old friend, Shahak. So I wrote a
letter to the Globe, explaining it wasn't true. In fact, the
government did try to get rid of him. They called on their membership
to flood the meeting of this small human rights group and vote him
out. But they brought it to the courts, and the courts said, yeah,
we'd like to get rid of this human rights group, but find a way to do
it that's not so blatantly illegal. So I sort of wrote that.
But Dershowitz thought he could brazen it out -- you know, Harvard law
professor -- so he wrote another letter saying Shahak's lying, I'm
lying, and he challenged me to quote from this early court decision.
It never occurred to him for a minute that I'd actually have the
transcript. But I did. So I wrote another letter in which I quoted
from the court decision, demonstrating that -- as polite, but that
Dershowitz is a liar, he's even falsifying Israeli court decisions,
he's a supporter of atrocities, and he even is a passionate opponent
of civil rights. And this is like the Russian government destroying an
Amnesty International chapter by flooding it with Communist Party
members to vote out the membership.
Well, he went berserk, and ever since then I have been one of his
targets. In fact, anyone who exposes him as what he is is going to be
subjected to this technique, because he knows he can't respond, so
must return to vilification.
And in the case of Norman Finkelstein, he sort of went off into outer
space. But it's an outrageous case. And the fact that it's even being
debated is outrageous. Just read his letters of recommendation from
literally the leading figures in the many fields in which he works,
most respected people.
AMY GOODMAN: Most interesting, the letters of support from the leading
Holocaust scholars like Raul Hilberg.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Raul Hilberg is the founder of Holocaust studies, you
know, the most distinguished figure in the field. In fact, he says
Norman didn't go far enough. And it's the same -- Avi Shlaim is one of
the -- maybe the leading Israeli historian, has strongly supported
him, and the same with others. I can't refer to the private
correspondence, but it's very strong letters from leading figures in
these fields. And it's not surprising that the faculty committee
unanimously supported him. I mean, there was, in fact -- they did --
the faculty committee did, in fact, run through in detail the deluge
of vilification from Dershowitz and went through it point by point and
essentially dismissed it as frivolous.
AMY GOODMAN: They rejected a 12,000-word attack, point by point.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Aside from saying that the very idea of sending it is
outrageous. You don't do that in tenure cases.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how do you think it will turn out?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the usual story: this depends on public reaction.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. We'll come back to them in
AMY GOODMAN: We return to my interview with Noam Chomsky and Howard
Zinn, who joined me in the studio here yesterday. We continued to look
at the issues of academia in a time of war, so I asked Howard Zinn
about his experience at Spelman College, the historically black
college for women in Atlanta. Professor Zinn taught at Spelman for
seven years before eventually being fired for insubordination. I asked
him why he was pushed out.
HOWARD ZINN: I had supported the students, and this was the Civil
Rights Movement, right? My students are black women who get involved
in the Civil Rights Movement. I support them. The administration is
nervous about that, but they can't really say anything publicly, or do
anything, because this is the first black president of Spelman
College. They have all been white missionaries before that. And so, he
doesn't want to do anything then. But when the students come back from
-- you might say, "come back from jail" onto the campus and rebel
AMY GOODMAN: What year was this?
HOWARD ZINN: This was 1963. And the students rebel against the
conditions that they're living in, very paternalistic, very
controlling, and I support them in that, then that's too much for the
president, and so, although I have tenure and I'm a full professor and
I'm chair of the department, I get a letter saying goodbye.
And so, that was my -- you know, what Noam was talking about when you
ask him what's going to happen, universities, colleges are not
democratic institutions. Really, they're like corporations. The people
who have the most power are the people who have the least to do with
education. That is, they're not the faculty, they're not the students,
they're not even the people who keep the university going -- the
buildings and grounds people and the technical people and the
secretaries -- no. They're the trustees, the businesspeople, the
people with connections, and they're the ones who have the most power,
they're the ones who make the decisions. And so, that's why I was
fired from there, and that's why I was almost fired by John Silber at
Boston University, but there was a --
AMY GOODMAN: Over what?
HOWARD ZINN: Over a strike. We had a faculty strike. We had a
secretary strike. We had a buildings and ground workers strike. We had
almost a general strike, almost an IWW strike at Boston University in
1977. And when the faculty had actually won, got a contract and went
back to work, some of us on the faculty said we shouldn't go back to
work while the secretaries are still on strike. We wouldn't cross
their picket lines. We held our classes out on the streets rather than
do that. And so, five of us were threatened with firing.
But there was a great clamor among students and faculty and actually
across the country. They even got telegrams from France, protesting
against this. And so, one of the rare occasions in which the
administration, with all its power, backed down. And so, I barely held
onto my job.
AMY GOODMAN: You begin your book with two quotes. One of Eugene V.
Debs: "While there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a
criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I
am not free." And Henry David Thoreau: "When the subject has refused
allegiance and the officer has resigned his office, then the
revolution is accomplished." You also write more about Henry David
Thoreau. You write about him going to jail.
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, well, Thoreau is worth reading today and
remembering today, because Thoreau committed just a small act of civil
disobedience against the Mexican War. I mean, the Mexican War had some
of the same characteristics as the war in Iraq today, and that is that
the American people were lied to about the reasons for going into
Mexico, and they weren't told that the real reason for going into
Mexico was that we wanted Mexican land, which we took at the end of
the Mexican War, just as today we're not being told that the real
reason for being in Iraq has to do with oil and profits and money. And
so, the situation in the Mexican War, against which Thoreau objected,
was in many ways, you know, similar.
And Thoreau saw that, and he saw that American boys were dying on the
road to Mexico City and we were killing a lot of innocent Mexican
people, and so he decided not to pay his taxes and spent just a very
short time in jail, but then came out, delivered a lecture on civil
disobedience and wrote an essay on the right to disobey the government
when the government violates what it's supposed to do, violates the
rights of Americans, violates the rights of other people.
And so, that stands as a classic statement for Americans, that it's
honorable and right to not to pay your taxes or to refuse military
service or to disobey your government when you believe that your
government is wrong. And so, the hope is that today more soldiers who
are asked to go to Iraq, more young people who are asked to enlist in
the war against Iraq, will read Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience,
will take its advice to heart, realize that the government is not
holy, that what's holy is human life and human freedom and the right
of people to resist authority. And so, Thoreau has great lessons for
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, as we wrap up, that whole issue of hope and
where you see things going in the current Bush administration, what it
stands for, and the level of protest in this country. Do you think
that level of protest will succeed?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It depends what you mean by "succeed." I mean, I have a
slightly more hopeful sense than Howard, at least expressed. I suspect
he agrees. It's true that the country, that in terms of the
institutional structure -- government for the wealthy and so on --
there hasn't been much change in 200 years.
But there's been enormous progress, I mean, even in the last forty
years, since the '60s. Many rights have been won: rights for
minorities, rights for women, rights of future generations, which is
what the environmental movement is about. Opposition to aggression has
increased. The first solidarity movements in history began in the
1980s, after centuries of European imperialism, and no one ever
thought of going to live in an Algerian village to protect the people
from French violence, or in a Vietnamese village. Thousands of
Americans were doing that in the 1980s in Reagan's terrorist wars.
It's now extended over the whole world. There's an international
The global justice movements, which meet annually in the World Social
Forum, are a completely new phenomenon. It's true globalization among
people, maybe the seeds of the first true international -- people from
all over the world, all walks of life, many ideas which are right on
people's minds and agenda, in fact, being implemented about a
participatory society, the kind of work that Mike Albert's been doing.
These are all new things. I mean, nothing is ever totally new. There
are bits and pieces of them in the past, but the changes are enormous.
And the same with opposition to aggression. I mean, after all, the
Iraq war is the first war in hundreds of years of Western history, at
least the first one I can think of, which was massively protested
before it was officially launched. And it actually was underway, we
have since learned, but it wasn't officially underway. But it was
huge, millions of people protesting it all over the world, so much so
that The New York Times lamented that there's a second superpower: the
population. Well, you know, that's significant and, I think, gives
good reason for hope.
There are periods of regression. We're now in a period of regression,
but if you look at the cycle over time, it's upwards. And there's no
limits that it can't reach.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, two of this country's
leading dissidents. We spoke yesterday on Patriot's Day, which is
observed here in Massachusetts -- also, I believe, in Maine.
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