David Samuels conducts a fascinating interview for Tablet with Noam Chomsky, which serves to remind us that a) Chomsky is a very clever fanatic; b) Samuels is an excellent interrogator; c) being in opposition to Judaism is a form of Judaism; but d) people who believe, as Chomsky does, that they resemble the ancient Jewish prophets are terrible narcissists.
Here's an interesting bit about Chomsky's early Zionism, and his adventures with the socialist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, of which I was once a member (and for which I farmed chickens for much too long in the Jezreel Valley):
Did your mother also come from a religious family?
She came to America with her family when she was 1 year old. They were so religious that she told me that when she was a teenager, talking with her girlfriends on the street, if she saw her father coming toward them, she would get them to cross the street so that she didn't have to suffer the embarrassment of having her father walk past her and not acknowledge her because she was a girl. It was a very Orthodox family. Of course, they grew up here, and the kids lost it quickly. My father came here in 1917. He and my mother shared many interests and experiences in common.
They were so dedicated. I remember friends of my father and mother,
a couple of women, who when they called a department store downtown,
they would insist on talking Hebrew, in the hopes of convincing them to
hire a Hebrew-language operator. I mean they all spoke English. It was
real dedication. It had to be. How do you revive a dead language?
Was that what motivated you to live in Israel?
My wife and I were there in '53. We lived in a kibbutz for a while and planned to stay, actually. I came back and had to finish my Ph.D. We thought we'd go back.
Was it the idea of the kibbutz, or was it the fact of speaking Hebrew, or what was it?
It was political. I was interested in Hebrew, but that wasn't the driving force. I liked the kibbutz life and the kibbutz ideals. It has pretty much disappeared now, I should say. But that time was incredible in spirit. For one thing it was a poor country. The kibbutz I went to, and I picked it for this reason, was actually originally Buberite. It came from German refugees in the 1930s and had a kind of Buberite style. It was the center for Arab outreach activities in Mapam (a left-wing party, now deceased, affiliated with the kibbutz movement). There was plenty of racism, I should say. I lived with it. But mostly against Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries).
When you think of the motivations of people like your parents or the people who founded those Mapam kibbutzim, you don't think of those motivations as being inherently linked to some desire to oppress others?
By then I was old enough to separate from my parents. I'd been on my own intellectually since I was a teenager. I gravitated toward Zionist groups that were not in their milieu, like Hashomer Hatzair.
My father grew up in Hashomer.
I could never join Hashomer because in those days they were split between Stalinist and Trotskyite, and I was anti-Leninist. But I was in the neighborhood. It was a Hashomer kibbutz that we went to, Kibbutz Hazorea. It's changed a lot. We would never have lasted. It was sort of a mixed story. They were binationalists. So up until 1948 they were anti-state. There were those who gravitated toward or who were involved in efforts of Arab-Jewish working-class cooperation and who were for socialist binationalist Palestine. Those ideas sound exotic today, but they didn't at the time. It's because the world has changed.
But there was an element of oppression I couldn't get around. If you know the history, you know that most idealistic anti-nationalist settlers insisted on a closed Hebrew society, you can't hire outside labor, that sort of thing. You could see the motivation. They didn't want to become what the first settlers were: landowners who had cheap Arab labor. They wanted to work the land. Nevertheless, there's an exclusionary character to it. Which then led into the policy of the state and became quite ugly later. So it was kind of an internal conflict that was never resolved.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.