A week-long war of words over Israel continued Tuesday after prominent liberal academic Noam Chomsky called on United States citizens to confront Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
Chomsky, a noted author and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus, drew about 450 students, faculty and locals to Jacob Sleeper Auditorium as he described what he called a double standard in Israel.
“Over time, the apparatus of Israeli control has become more sophisticated and effective in affecting Palestinian life,” he said.
He listed the permit system required of Arabs, restricted roads and the security barrier between Israeli and Palestinian territory &- which he called an “annexation wall” &- as examples of how Israel’s control has dominated Palestine.
“Israel has finally begun to adopt the South African policy of what they call “indigenization of repression,'” he said.
Chomsky’s speech came as pro-Palestine groups across the country marked Israel Apartheid Week, a campaign equating Israel’s domination over Palestinian territories with the policy of segregation white South Africans forced on the black population in that country until the 1990s.
Israel vehemently denies that the term applies to its situation, saying Palestinians have full rights in the state and that the security barrier is only used to defend Israelis from terrorist attacks, not to restrict Palestinians’ movements.
Boston University’s Students for Justice in Palestine organized the event. Members said they were thrilled to have Chomsky deliver his thoughts during the weeklong campaign.
SJP President and College of Arts and Sciences senior Omar El-Kayal said “apartheid” is an apt comparison.
“It draws attention to the notion that there are similarities between the apartheids,” El-Kayal said.
SJP member andGraduate School of Arts and Sciences student Ian Chinich introduced Chomsky to the crowd as the “champion of justice for decades.”
“He is widely considered one of the most important historians and analysts,” Chinich said. “His works have touched people all over the world . . . you’re all witnessing a historic event tonight at BU and a very historic movement in the history of Palestine.”
Many supporting Israel have doubted the South Africa comparison, which Chomsky addressed in the question and answer session that followed his speech.
“It’s not exactly like the South African apartheid,” he said. “In some respects it’s not as bad, but in some respects it’s worse.”
Chomsky also gave a history of the conflict and U.S. involvement in it.
Israel’s month-long invasion of Lebanon, for instance, was its fifth strongly supported by the U.S., he said. The pretext for the invasion was Hezbollah capturing two Israeli soldiers on the border, he said.
“For decades, Israel has been killing and kidnapping civilians in Lebanon…bringing them to Israel, imprisoning them, keeping them as hostages…but two Israel soldiers are captured at the border [and it] justifies a U.S. invasion,” he said. “It’s a comment of us and what we go along with.”
Chomsky criticized U.S. foreign policy toward Israel but stressed it could also use its power abroad to lessen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The world works like the mafia,” he said. “There is the don, or us [the United States], and when the don says not do something, you don’t do it.”
If Israel is to change its stance toward a Palestinian state, he said, the United States must ask for it.
“If any meaningful change takes place, it’s going to have to begin here,” he said.
Some students in the audience said they believed Chomsky’s cause is a good one.
“As professor Chomsky said, the only way for any meaningful change to come around must start by U.S. citizens who care about Palestinians pressuring a change in foreign policy,” said CAS graduate student Lael Adams.
Others said they just wanted to hear Chomsky.
“He’s arguably the greatest or at least among the greatest intellectuals of our time,” said CAS graduate student Maria Kamal. “I wouldn’t miss a chance to hear him speak.”