Chomsky and Dershowitz Debate Middle East Peace Process at Kennedy School

December 1, 2005
Rob Meyer

Those expecting a heated debate between Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz at the Kennedy School of Government Tuesday night (Nov. 29) were not disappointed as the two venerable Cambridge professors faced off in an event titled "Israel and Palestine After Disengagement: Where Do We Go From Here?"
The two scholars - who met in the 1940s at a Hebrew summer camp - have each written extensively on the Arab-Israeli conflict, with Dershowitz an outspoken supporter of Israel and Chomsky an influential critic of U.S. foreign policy, which he described as the "continued dedication to the road to catastrophe" in the Middle East.
"The time has come for compromise," Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, said in his opening remarks. "This will require the elevation of pragmatism over ideology. It will require that both sides give up rights ... I strongly believe that there is a genuine will for peace on both sides now and that the pragmatic differences can and will be resolved."
Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said current proposals for a Palestinian state will lead to "the breaking of its organic links to Jerusalem and the disintegration of the remnants of Palestinian society."
Dershowitz assailed international scholars who fuel the ideologues on each side and "send a destructive message to those who must make peace on the ground.
"Many academics around the world are contributing to an atmosphere that makes peace more difficult to achieve," said Dershowitz before a capacity crowd in the JFK Jr. Forum. "They are encouraging those Palestinians who see the end of Israel as their ultimate goal to persist in their ideological and terrorist campaign. ... To the Israelis, the message is whatever you do in the name of compromise, you will continue to be attacked and demonized."
Chomsky and Dershowitz quarreled on most issues, including the diplomatic history of the dispute, the validity of each other's sources of information, and the details of the current proposals for a two-state solution.
An audience member asked Chomsky about the history of violence directed toward Jews, from the Holocaust to today.
"That is half of a very important question," Chomsky said. "What is the effect of war and terrorism on the Palestinians? ... The balance of terror and violence is overwhelmingly against the Palestinians, not surprisingly given the balance of forces. That's true right to the present."
Chomsky continued: "In the first month of the intifada in October 2000, 74 Palestinians were killed, four Israelis were killed. ... Clinton responded by sending the biggest shipment of military helicopters in a decade. ... The press responded too, by not publishing it, refusing to publish it."
Dershowitz quickly countered: "The idea that there is this vast conspiracy between the American media and both Democrats like Clinton and Republicans like Bush to hide the truth from the American public just does not bear reality... Why would newspapers not cover these stories? One reason - they are figments of Chomsky's imagination, and they just never happened."
The debate was moderated by Kennedy School lecturer Brian Mandell, and a video archive of the event can be viewed at http://www.iop.harvard.edu.
Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office

Dershowitz and Chomsky image

Alan Dershowitz (left), Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Noam Chomsky (right), Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, last night debated the future of Israel and Palestine at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Brian Mandell (center) moderated.


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