Noam Chomsky admits in the documentary about him, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, that the information in his books comes from the mainstream news media. “The information is there [in the mainstream media] … If somebody wants to spend the substantial part of their time and energy exploring it, and comparing today’s lies to yesterday’s leaks, that’s a research job,” he says.
One of the important questions left unanswered in the popular documentary — which won fifteen international awards, received positive reviews in major newspapers, and is aired nationally on PBS — is: how does Chomsky determine what is a “lie” and what is a “leak” if he relies on secondary sources for all of his information?
A scan through the notes of his many books confirms that Chomsky uses the news media and other leftists’ books for virtually all his facts and analyses. Though his field is linguistics, and he never received advanced academic training in history or political science, he might still have learned from some of his colleagues at MIT that political theory, to be tenable — let alone worthy of “the most important intellectual alive,” as Chomsky is described throughout the documentary — needs to be based on primary, reliable, verifiable sources of information. After all, as a linguistics professor, Chomsky would never rely for cutting edge information on, for instance, high school grammar books.
But Chomsky seems to feel no obligation to turn to primary sources — original documents, government records, statistical data, objective sourcebooks — before presenting a picture and analysis of global injustice in his highly influential books.
Instead, Chomsky believes he is able to differentiate a “lie” from a “leak” by measuring the information he reads in the news media against his own ideology.
Chomsky’s ideology, which has made him an object of fascination worldwide, is a fairly simple one: the world is shaped by two opposing forces, with two opposing goals. There is the “elite,” which owns the world, controls the media, and has no conscience in perpetuating unfathomable evil for self-serving purposes. And there is the left, the enlightened vanguard of the manipulated and exploited masses, who want to end the elite’s evil and systems of injustice.
When the elite-controlled media offers information that can be used against the system, the information is true, Chomsky must reason. When the information in the news supports the elite’s system, while a “nugget” of information contradicts it, the “nugget” is true, and the other information is a lie.
But sometimes the media spins lies and courts opposition, even obsessively, to what Chomsky maintains is in the interest of the system. Sometimes the left and the established power are more or less on the same side, having complementary ideologies and goals. In such cases, Chomsky is under no more pressure to explain his contradictions than to explain his exclusive use of secondary sources to formulate his bold assertions.
Chomsky and other leftists have opposed Israel, for instance, by facilitating deceptions in concert with — not in opposition to — the popular news media, in pursuit of complementary — not opposing — goals. Leftist academics (Chomsky describes academics as “professional liars” in the documentary, though presumably he is referring to those who don’t share his ideology) and the media establishment have spun anti-Israel propaganda through an enclosed and circular dialogue with one another, while excluding altogether the elementary, but more labor-intensive, and often ideology-challenging, reality-check available through primary sources.
The misinformation they disperse with great authority often originates with anti-Semitic, repressive regimes and movements in the Arab world. Leftist academics later present the inaccuracies as “cutting edge” information, while the media establishment presents the misinformation either as objective fact or “the other side’s” argument. Misinformation that began as anti-Israel propaganda gains legitimacy because it is delivered to the public by trusted authorities who, for whatever reason, do not go the extra mile to verify it through reliable, primary sources. Fiction thus becomes “fact,” and actual fact is either ignored altogether, or else is scorned as pro-Israel propaganda.
The fiction that Zionists forcefully expelled Arabs in order to create a Jewish state is widely accepted as fact, for instance, though there is no evidence to support this claim. The fact that Palestinian terrorist groups aim not to free the West Bank and Gaza from Israeli occupation, but to destroy Israel as a Jewish-majority, multi-ethnic democracy and establish in its place an Islamist regime, is widely viewed as paranoid and as racist Israeli propaganda, though the terrorist groups have been quite vocal about their goal, and their patterns of violence consistently heighten in the aftermath of Israeli concessions, which are demanded by the peace movement, such as the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon.
Chomsky, who has effectively campaigned against Israel for more than three decades, has played a central role in promoting the now widely accepted fictions, which he presents as the ugly but concealed “truth,” though the same misinformation appears in the mainstream media.
For example, Chomsky began asserting several years ago — along with the mainstream media — that Israel steals water from the Palestinians. Israel, they claim, deprives Palestinians of the water that springs from within the occupied territories, and diverts it for the country’s own indulgent purposes and economic benefit. This “nugget” of misinformation is repeated in both the leftist and mainstream media, including National Public Radio, the New York Times, Harper’s, and many other publications and documentaries.
Chomsky repeats the rumor in his article “U.S. Inaction Powers Uneven Mideast Battle,” published in the Seattle Times on August 20, 2001, reprinted from the Los Angeles Times. “While they try to survive without water to drink or fields to cultivate, the people whose lands have been taken can enjoy the sight of the ample housing, green lawns, swimming pools and other amenities of the heavily subsidized Israeli settlements,” he explains.
This story of the seizing and unfair distribution of natural resources is used by the left as an explanation for the occupation. Without some such explanation, the occupation simply doesn’t make sense — so long as the left wants to depict Israel as a greedy, racist colonizing power and Palestinians as the exploited indigenous population. The leftists, and to an extent the mainstream media, need an explanation to fit the ideology. After all, why would Israel be motivated to maintain the military occupation — which is financially costly, continually puts their soldiers/civilians at risk, and is used by anti-Semitic regimes to direct international hatred and punishment toward Israel — if Israel receives no economic gain from the occupation, or essential resources it would otherwise lack?
However, research that uses primary sources demonstrates that Israel doesn’t steal water from the Palestinians at all. Israel doesn’t deprive the poor Arabs of essential water so that the rich Jews can have swimming pools and green lawns. Any leftist or mainstream journalist willing to do the research through consulting reliable sources would discover that, in fact, the Palestinians receive water from Israel.
Rigorous research based on governmental data, analyses from water experts, and official sourcebooks reveals that every year over 40 million cubic meters of water that springs from within the 1967 borders of Israel is exported into the Palestinian territories. The research, conducted by Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA), a media watch group open about its non-partisan, pro-Israel ideology, reveals that despite the ongoing scarcity of water within Israel, the maligned country also pipes 600,000 cubic meters of water to ten otherwise dry villages in South Lebanon, and 55 million cubic meters to Jordan.
From 1967, when the Israeli occupation began, to 1995, water usage by Palestinians in the West Bank increased by 640 percent. During the occupation, Israel has expanded the water system for Palestinians in the Hebron region, drilled new wells near Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm, and built new water supply systems or had old ones upgraded for more than 60 towns on the West Bank.
Among the countries in the immediate region, Israel has the second lowest annual per capita usage. As a result of its water conservation efforts, Israel’s water usage has not even increased proportional to its population increase. From 1984 to 1995, Israel’s population increased 32 percent, but its water use grew by 3.3 percent. By contrast, Jordan’s population increased by 59 percent during the same period, while its water use increased by 133 percent.
After accounting for all the various factors, the research reveals that Palestinian consumers pay slightly less for their water than Israeli consumers. Because Israel has increased the amount of water available in the territories, including through exporting its own water, Palestinians have swimming pools. Pictures of these pools, however, never appear in the leftist or mainstream media, since exposing them would undermine the ideological story the left and the media establishment have going.
The lie about water is but one of thousands of libels flung against Israel by leftist leaders and by much of the media establishment in service of mutually reinforced ideologies and goals. The media obsessively present superficial and frequently inaccurate coverage, along with selective pictures on the violent conflict. In doing so, they offer the left a backdrop for its often blatantly anti-Semitic campaign against Israel. In turn, well-known leftist intellectuals provide the mainstream media with the explicit accusations to fill in the blanks of the media’s implied story.
Ironically, Noam Chomsky portrays himself as the strong and humble target of “mud-throwing” by the Jewish community. “I don’t mind the denunciations, frankly. I mind the lies,” he argues in the documentary. “You know, vilification is a wonderful technique. There’s no way of responding to it. If somebody calls you, you know, an ‘anti-Semite’, what can you say? ‘I’m not an anti-Semite?’ … The person who throws the mud always wins. Because there is no way of responding to such charges.”
Calling Noam Chomsky an “anti-Semite” is not a “lie”; it is an accusation, backed by evidence. Chomsky dodges accountability by conflating “lies” (factual inaccuracies) with accusations of bigotry, as if they were the same illegitimate smear. From there, he portrays the target of slander as the perpetrator. Any accusation of anti-Semitism against him as a response to his misinformation campaign is a “lie,” a vilification, an illegitimate use of language that offers him “no way of responding.” Like so many other leftists, Chomsky uses rhetoric in an attempt to silence a people who are appropriately alarmed by anti-Semitism, and who have a right to name it as they see it.
Chomsky’s unrelenting misinformation campaign against Israel is sufficient grounds for making the accusation. But the lies are only part of the picture. For instance, years ago, he expressed his support for free speech by coming to the aid of French neo-Nazi Holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson. He then wrote the preface to Faurisson’s book, in which Chomsky expounds on the right to free speech.
Chomsky also asserted that the Jewish people have adopted “a central doctine of their murderers” of Nazi Germany. The documentary highlights Chomsky’s words on screen just after showing film clips of starving Jews in concentration camps, and mass graves with dead bodies piled onto one another.
Chomsky also chose to make at least one joint public appearance with Israel Shahak, a Holocaust survivor and mentally deranged man who traveled the world campaigning against the evils of Judaism, telling lies about the Jewish tradition that are so abominable and absurd that the Klan would be humbled. Chomsky wrote an endorsement for Shahak’s book, which is filled with the same extreme anti-Semitism.
Chomsky’s influential anti-Semitism is not atypical on the left. Rather, it is indicative of, and due to, the politics of the left, which has a long-standing tradition of explicit anti-Semitism that goes back hundreds of years. The cumulative effect of the left’s deceptive dance with the media establishment is currently the most dangerous manifestation of anti-Semitism, and has proven to be destructive both to Israelis and Palestinians.
Because the Israeli occupation is falsely explained, the conflict is further exacerbated by a misinformed public. The public, and especially the “peace activists” of the left, come to believe that tiny Israel is an imperialist power, and that Palestinian terrorism against Israeli citizens is the desperate, last-resort effort of the poor to overthrow oppression (apartheid, fascism). The activists want to support the “good guys,” the suffering, against the “bad guys,” the inhuman exploiters.
There has no doubt been plenty of wrongdoing on Israel’s part (made difficult to discern because so much misinformation is circulated). However, the real dynamic is that Israel is the target of highly organized and funded racism. The targeting of Israel is a continuation of the racism Jews have experienced in the Arab world for over a thousand years, a racism that currently manifests in the form of organized terrorist attacks, misinformation campaigns, manipulation of the UN in demonizing Israel, and the global promotion of the goal of destroying the Jewish-majority state. Part and parcel to the organized targeting of Israel is the mistreatment of Palestinians by most of the Arab world, used as pawns by openly imperialistic Arab regimes in their racist campaign against Israel.
Israel’s economic success, largely self-generated, is depicted in the misinformation campaign as the consequence of Palestinian suffering. But the real dynamic is that oppressive, terrorist regimes, such as the one that rules Palestinian society, undermine the potential for eventual prosperity. Prosperity does not always depend on colonial exploitation, and suffering and poverty do not result only from foreign-based oppression.
Had the public been accurately and historically informed, it might have demanded that pressure be put on Arab regimes to give equal rights to Palestinians, as well as women and minority ethnic groups, in their countries, and to stop supporting or funding or organizing terrorism against Israel. The public might have demanded safety for Jews who live in Arab-majority lands, including the Palestinian territories. Activists might not have limited their concern to those Palestinians who lost their lands upon fleeing invading Arab armies in 1948; they might equally have demanded fair compensation for Middle Eastern Jews and their descendants whose land and property were confiscated by Arab countries fifty years ago. Concerned activists might have organized against Palestinian terrorist groups, and their networks of support (granted, a more difficult and dangerous activity than organizing against Israel). If such international pressure worked, Israel’s existence would no longer be threatened, Jews would perhaps be able to live in safety in Arab majority lands, and Israel would have no reason to maintain the occupation.
Israelis, who elect their political representatives, already favor by a strong majority giving up the territories, dismantling the settlements, transferring the Jews who are living in the territories in an agreed-to ethnic cleansing, and co-existing side by side with an independent Palestinian state — in exchange for reliable peace. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinian leadership more than 97 percent of the West Bank, 100 percent of the Gaza, the dismantling of most settlements, and East Jerusalem for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The offer was rejected because the terrorist powers ruling Palestinian society reject co-existence. The second “intifada,” organized during peace negotiations, was launched to garner international support for the rejectionist goals. The “peace movement” and a growing percentage of the international public has fallen in line by essentially accepting the portrayal of terrorists as desperate freedom fighters, and the Palestinian population as oppressed only by Israel, not by the armed fundamentalists.
The Israelis, subjected to an orchestrated “intifada” and more terrorism in response to their government’s offer of a contiguous, independent Palestinian state, saw no alternative to militarily fighting back against the violence. Israeli voters responded to the widely supported Palestinian terrorism by giving the right an unprecedented margin of victory in the recent elections.
It is hard to comprehend exactly what the “peace movement” had in mind in organizing against Israel on “behalf” of the Palestinians, when most Israelis have long agreed with the goal of an independent Palestinian state. The left’s strategies suggest the demonization of Israel, the contrived story of “good guys” and “bad guys” — a secular version of a Passion play — is more important to the left than the actual welfare of the Palestinian people, whom the left supposedly champions.
The outcome of the latest Israeli election should have prompted sincere activists to reexamine their strategies. Instead, the left, prioritizing its anti-Semitic scapegoating, continues to misrepresent and exacerbate the conflict for its own purposes. But had leftist leaders and the international media valued accurate information over ideology, this destructive role could not have been possible.
Peace and justice require accurate information. Political analysis, if it is to be used as a tool in resolving deadly conflicts, must be based on real and verified facts. Noam Chomsky and his leftist cohorts, along with their “elite opposition,” have played a central role in worsening conditions for Palestinians and Israelis alike by disseminating misinformation and fabricated explanations to serve their own agendas.