- Noam Chomskyworld-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He is a laureate professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona and professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than 50 years.
On October 27th, a gunman stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jewish worshipers. The massacre has been described as the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. After the shooting, we spoke with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned professor, linguist and dissident, about Pittsburgh, Israel’s policies toward Gaza and other recent white supremacist and right-wing attacks in the U.S.
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We continue our conversation with Noam Chomsky. Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke to him on November 1st. It was just days after a gunman shot dead 11 Jewish worshipers, October 27th, at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. I asked Noam to talk about anti-Semitism and his own Jewish upbringing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was a Hebrew linguist.
NOAM CHOMSKY: When I was a child, the threat that fascism might take over much of the world was not remote. That’s much worse than what we’re facing now. My own locality happened to be very anti-Semitic. We were the only Jewish family in a Irish—mostly Irish and German Catholic neighborhood, much of which was pro-Nazi, so I could see it better on the ground.
What we’re now seeing is a revival of hate, anger, fear, much of it encouraged by the rhetorical excesses of the leadership, which are stirring up passions and terror, even the ludicrous claims about the Nicaraguan army ready to invade us—Ronald Reagan—the caravan of miserable people planning to kill us all. All of these things, plus, you know, praising somebody who body-slammed a reporter, one thing after another—all of this raises the level of anger and fear, which has roots.
The roots lie in what has happened to the general population over the past 40 years. People really have faced significant distress. An astonishing fact about the United States is that life expectancy is actually declining. That doesn’t happen in developed societies, apart from, you know, major war or huge famine. But it’s happening because of social distress, and not necessarily impoverishment. The people who are demonstrating this fear and resentment may be even moderately affluent, but what they see is they’re stagnating. In the past, there was—you had this dream: You worked hard, you could get ahead, your children would be a little better. Now it stopped. It stopped for the last 40 years as a result of very specific socio and economic policies, which have been designed so that they sharply concentrate wealth, they enhance corporate power, that has immediate effects on the political system in perfectly obvious ways, even to the point where lobbyists literally write legislation. This onslaught has literally cast a bunch of the population aside. They’re stagnating. They are not moving forward. They see no prospects. And they’re bitter and angry about it.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, if you could talk about specifically the targeting of the Jewish worshipers, I mean, and the clear connection that the shooter made between this temple and HIAS, what’s formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the group that has helped to resettle refugees of any religion for well over a hundred years? And he repeated words that Trump has begun using more and more about, you know, they’re helping the “invaders” come in. If you could respond specifically to that?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s whipping up terror about invasions, people pouring across the border to plan to kill us all, to destroy our civilization. You take people who are already somewhat disturbed and living under harsh conditions, this can incite them to acts of extreme violence against targets like the Jewish temple. All the anti-Semitic tropes are pointing in that direction, but most—also against Afro-Americans, immigrants, any vulnerable population or population that’s easy to target for lots of cultural and historical reasons, all this amplified by the loud speaker up in the White House and his minions, who are doing what they can to terrorize the population, create the conditions under which you can get something like the attack on the synagogue.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to turn, then, to a clip of the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, who was interviewed by Ayman Mohyeldin on MSNBC on Sunday, so it was soon after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
RON DERMER: To simply say that this is because of one person or it only comes on one side is to not understand the history of anti-Semitism or the reality of anti-Semitism. One of the big forces in college campuses today is anti-Semitism. And those anti-Semites are usually not neo-Nazis on college campuses. They’re coming from the radical left.
AMY GOODMAN: This is right after the white supremacist attack on the synagogue, and the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is now injecting, saying this comes from both sides. If you could respond to this? Interestingly, two days later, when Trump and his family went to Pittsburgh, the only—and this is pointed out in The New York Times—the only public official standing there to greet him was Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. People like the Pittsburgh mayor and the others said this was not the time to come.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think it’s quite easy to understand. There is an alliance of reactionary repressive states developing under the U.S. aegis. Israel is a leading member of it. Saudi Arabia is another, one of the most brutal, regressive, harsh states in the world; United Arab Emirates; Egypt under the harsh, brutal dictatorship; the United States; Israel.
And the United States, of course, very—especially under this—the alignment goes way back, but the Trump administration has gone way out of its way to lend support to Israeli crimes, Israeli expansion. And the Israeli right wing, of course, which is increasingly dominant, is delighted. So, the fact that, say, the Israeli ambassador would come out and say that is really no more surprising than the fact that John Bolton would praise the election of a strong advocate of torture, murder and repression. It all fits the same pattern.
AMY GOODMAN: This issue of the number of people who died this weekend, the horrific massacre—11 Jews died. The model of the coverage, of knowing who each person was, hearing their names, their life stories, their ages, who their families were, knowing when the funerals are taking place through the week—what about this being a model for what’s happening in Gaza? I mean, for example, on, I think it was, Friday, six Palestinians were killed, with those ongoing protests near the separation wall. Israeli military has gunned down more than 200 Palestinians. That was Friday. Six Palestinians died. And on Sunday, three Palestinian teenagers were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip. Your thoughts on Dermer trying to make this connection to get away from the issue of white supremacy and, somehow, someway, blame the left?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, remember, all of this in Gaza is being done with overwhelming U.S. support, even U.S. weapons, literally.
Gaza is on the verge of becoming, literally, uninhabitable. The international monitors—U.N. and others—have warned that within just a few years, it may be literally unlivable. I mean, right now, there’s virtually no potable water. The sewage pours into the sea, because Israel has bombed and destroyed the power plants and the sewage plant.
Back in 2005, when Israel withdrew its illegal settlers in Gaza and moved them to illegal settlements in the West Bank, it imposed a siege on Gaza. The official terms for that—official, not making this up—are “We have to impose a diet on Gaza, not harsh enough so they’ll all die”—implication being that wouldn’t look very good—”but harsh enough so that they can barely survive.”
And there have been—quite apart from the brutal siege, there have been repeated attacks on Gaza by the Israeli army. Gaza is virtually defenseless. This is one of the strongest armies in the world, lashing out to devastate Gaza.
There’s always pretexts. There are pretexts for everything. Hitler had a pretext for invading Poland: He was protecting Germany from the wild terror of the Poles. And the Israelis, with U.S. backing, have concocted pretexts—no time to go through it here, there’s plenty in print about it. Every one of them collapses on inspection. It’s just a punching bag.
And the effect on the people of Gaza is to create utter desperation. The current march is just an attempt to somehow break the siege, make life possible. The problem could be overcome easily, simply by providing them with the opportunities for survival. That’s it. Not trying to block every attempt at political unification of the factions. It’s often been a pretext for another attack.
Some of what’s gone on—parts of it we’ve seen—are just grotesque, like when a highly trained Israeli sniper murders a young woman far from the border who’s trying to help—a Palestinian volunteer medic, young woman, who’s trying to help a wounded man, and a sniper murders her. Highly trained snipers. They know what they’re doing. The international monitors who have gone through the hospitals are shocked by the kinds of wounds they’re finding, purposely designed to maim people so they’ll barely—not kill them, but maim them, so they won’t be able to have a—even take part in the minimal life that exists there.
Actually, Trump had a solution to this, to the misery of Gaza and the prospect that 2 million people, half of them children, will soon be in a situation of, literally, beyond the possibility of survival. They had a lifeline, what’s called the UNRWA support, international support, which was barely keeping them alive. So, Trump’s reaction is to cut it, cut support for it. And he even had a reason. He said, “They’re not being grateful enough to me for my efforts to give them the ultimate deal that I’m planning.” Ultimate deal, which means give up all your rights and forget it.
I mean, the war in Yemen, which finally, at last, is getting a little bit of attention, has been a major horror story. The most careful estimates of the killing, that are now just coming out, show that there may be seven or eight times as high as what has been—the numbers that have been given. They’re on the order of 70,000 or 80,000. The analysis of these Saudi-Emirate programs, a long study that came out of the Fletcher School of International Diplomacy at Tufts University recently, showed, quite persuasively, that the policies of the attackers are aimed at destroying the food supplies, making sure the population starves to death. They’re also trying to close the port through which some supplies come.
All of this is fully backed by the United States. U.S., and Britain secondarily, supply the arms. The U.S. supplies the intelligence for the Saudi Air Force, which is carrying out massive atrocities. All of these things are happening. For years, they’ve barely been discussed. Now, finally, you’re seeing pictures on the front page of starving Yemeni children, even a call for a ceasefire—much belated, little attention to our crucial responsibility for it.
Just like our responsibility, which is overwhelming, for the plight of the miserable people trying to escape from the troika—Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala—the three countries that have been completely under our thumb and are suffering bitterly for it, now trying to escape. So we turn them into an invasion mob planning to destroy us. All of this is surreal. It only is overshadowed by the failure to attend even minimally to the literal existential threats, that are not remote.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider this one of the gravest times, in your lifetime, in U.S. politics, Noam?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s one of the gravest times in human history. Humans have been around for 200,000 years. For the first time in their history, they have to decide—and quickly—whether organized human society is going to survive for very long. So, is it the most gravest moment in my life? Yes. But also in all of human history.
AMY GOODMAN: The world-renowned professor, linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky. He was speaking to us from Tucson, Arizona, where he now teaches at the University of Arizona. He’s also institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years.