Jewish News, Chomsky vs Israel

I haven’t had so much time to write in the blog. I didn’t respond at length to Mendes et al, but I’ll just write again that anyone interested should compare my article to what they claim I wrote in it. The AJN then wrote a story on the controversy, almost certainly based exclusively on Mendes’ version of events. I was not contacted, I doubt Overland was, and it seems plain they didn’t read the offending article. I wrote a letter requesting corrections be printed in the next AJN. I doubt they will (they did not even respond to what I wrote – an impressive display of the standard of journalism practiced at the AJN). So I’ll reprint my email to AJN. The point is that my views were grossly misrepresented. It’s not worthwhile having a discussion in such a dishonest framework.

What is striking, in my view, is in the midst of the demand that Overland stop printing critics of Israeli government policy, Israel has just prevented Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank. eg stories here and here and here. Haaretz is Amira Hass, Ynet features commentary by Norman Finkelstein. The fanaticism of the Israeli government is really getting extreme. The atmosphere has lurched so far to the right, that they can’t even understand how badly this will play internationally. I mean, this is a country that calls itself the only democracy in the region – apparently Jordan is more tolerant of Chomsky (who is no admirer of the Jordanian government either) than Israel. And Lebanon is too. In Turkey, Chomsky’s publisher was on trial for publishing his writings – so Chomsky flew to the country and ask that he be charged too. Charges were dropped. Israel is apparently more intolerant. And if memory serves correctly, World Orders, Old and New was based on lectures Chomsky gave in Eygpt (yep, in Cairo). So Egypt is more tolerant of foreign critics than Israel (Chomsky says: “President Mubarak, one of the most brutal dictators in the region”).

I enjoyed this in Hass’s article

Chomsky told Haaretz that it was clear that his arrival had been known to the authorities, because the minute he entered the passport control room the official told him that he was honored to see him and that he had read his works.

The professor concluded that the officer was a student, and said he looked embarrassed at the task at hand, especially when he began reading from text the questions that had been dictated to him, and which were also told to him later by telephone.

Chomsky told Haaretz about the questions.

“The official asked me why I was lecturing only at Bir Zeit and not an Israeli university,” Chomsky recalled. “I told him that I have lectured a great deal in Israel. The official read the following statement: ‘Israel does not like what you say.'”

Chomsky replied: “Find one government in the world which does.”

“The young man asked me whether I had ever been denied entry into other countries. I told him that once, to Czechoslovakia, after the Soviet invasion in 1968,” he said, adding that he had gone to visit ousted Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubcek, whose reforms the Soviets crushed.


Ynet and Haaretz op eds have appeared in support of Chomsky (with a Haaretz editorial to that effect too).


Dear Jewish News,

The article by Peter Kohn in the latest issue of AJN (May 14 2010) brazenly misrepresents what my article in Overland actually said. You also feature a quote by Dr Mendes which misrepresents my position, apparently without ever having bothered to contact me or read my article to find out what I think. I would like you to print corrections next week.

What you misrepresent is the following:

1) It is claimed that I voiced support for a boycott against Israel.
2) It is claimed that I “accused the Jewish community of hiding behind accusations of anti-Semitism”
3) Mendes claims that extreme views are published, as opposed to “mainstream, ‘two-state’ views”.

My article is available online. It can be read at

A brief check would have established the following:

On 1)

My position is against a boycott of Israel, and I specifically argue against the position advocated by Curthoys for a boycott. I say that this is not a frivolous position, but ultimately not the right one. Instead, I call for a boycott of the settlements in the occupied territories. This is not the same thing, and is obviously not the same thing. To give relevant quotes.

[Altman] dismisses calls for a boycott of Israel. To me, this is unreasonable. I agree that the campaign for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) is likely to be ineffective in the struggle for Palestinian rights, and I have argued this at length elsewhere.

In other words, there is a very credible case that Israel has instituted an apartheid regime in the West Bank and Gaza and, given that most people now accept that it was correct to boycott apartheid in South Africa, the onus, in my view, falls on those of us who oppose a blanket boycott to explain why.

To me, a targeted boycott of the Occupied Territories would make obvious sense in a way that a blanket boycott does not. A boycott based around what we actually object to isn’t controversial: refusing to buy a product from a West Bank settlement is as straightforward as refusing to buy clothes produced in a sweatshop. Recently, the Norwegian government divested from a company building the Separation Wall in the West Bank. Similarly, the World Council of Churches, representing over 550 million Christians, recommended an international boycott of West Bank settlements. These are campaigns that hardly need momentum and that go hand in hand with the struggle for the creation of a viable Palestinian state in line with the two-state solution, which has the support of almost every government in the world.

In his reply to Altman’s essay (Overland 197), Ned Curthoys refers to a blanket boycott as a possibly effective means for ending the occupation. Yet the high profile recruits to the BDS campaign that he cites, Naomi Klein and Neve Gordon, support a targeted boycott of the Occupied Territories. …I would be greatly heartened if Curthoys would be willing to slightly amend his position on this basis, which I think would help broaden its appeal.
[Emphasis added]

You will also note in this quote, I say this campaign goes hand in hand with the struggle for a two state solution. Which brings me to 3) – my alleged opposition to a two state agreement. The emphasised bit reflects Mendes’ honesty in his comments. I will quote again from my article

Supporting a two-state solution is simply a concession to the current realities of the Middle East. Israel is the superpower of the region, backed by the superpower of the world. It is surrounded by weak countries, with hostile populations, but usually puppet governments who covertly support Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Within this context, the prospect that Israel will be forced to do anything is slight. The prospect that Israel will be forced to do something that its population overwhelmingly opposes – like dismantling the Jewishness of the Israeli government – is non-existent. [Emphasis added]

Finally, your article claims I “accused the Jewish community of hiding behind accusations of anti-Semitism”. This is an outrageous charge. Firstly, and most obviously, I’m a member of the Jewish community no less than the letter writers. I obviously haven’t accused the Jewish community of anything. I specifically gave examples of specious charges of anti-Semitism. Those named were Dr Philip Mendes, AUJS and ECAJ. Dr Mendes publically queried whether a talk I gave – whose contents he knew nothing about beyond the title – was connected to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I also noted that ECAJ and AUJS in a senate submission practically defined anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism. Conflating the Jewish community and communal organisations and a certain academic is ridiculous. As a point of interest, I do make comments about the Jewish community in Australia: if you want to comment on my views, perhaps you should read them before doing so.

However much we deplore the chauvinism of the leadership of the Jewish community, there’s something else that must be said: how many people outside the Jewish community vocally criticise Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians? John Pilger doesn’t live in Australia, but he has spoken out on Palestine for decades. How many gentile intellectuals do the same? There is a widespread silence on Palestine in Australia, but not disproportionately to the Jewish community’s discredit. Indeed, in a recent survey on the views of Australian Jews, some 20 per cent did not identify as Zionist. If we allow for the 5 per cent questioned who said they had no interest in current events in Israel, that leaves some 15 per cent of the Jewish community who may hold completely unorthodox views on Israel and Palestine. Considering only 28 per cent of the broader public considers themselves ‘pro-Palestinian’, according to a poll commissioned by the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine, it seems to me that Jewish dissent is beginning to take its toll on Zionist orthodoxy, and in the coming years, this may well cause major headaches to the resident Zionist chauvinists. Furthermore, 29 per cent of Australian Jews think Israel ‘should be willing to dismantle’ ‘all or most’ of the settlements in the West Bank as part of a permanent peace. There’s a promising market in the Jewish community into which an end to the occupation can be sold.

There is more to be said in response to the attack made on me in the article in AJN. However, given the sheer quantity of falsifications crammed into such a small article, this is hardly a framework within which an honest discussion can be had.


Michael Brull


They didn’t contact me, so I had no way of knowing they’d do this. The AJN (May 21 2010) issued a “clarification” on their letters page. (it’s probably one of the most highly read pages anyway). It said

THE report “Academics slam journal for unbalanced coverage” (AJN 14/05) stated that in his Overland article, Michael Brull voiced support for a boycott of Israel, accused the Jewish community of hiding behind accusations of anti-Semitism and implied the author opposes a two-state solution. In fact, Brull argues against a blanket boycott of Israel and is in favour of a targetted boycott of West Bank settlements. Further, in the article, he only claims certain elements within the Jewish community level charges of anti-Semitism and he does not argue against a two-state solution.

It’s to their credit that they printed this.

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  1. […] internet access.) So I wrote an article outlining my views, and noting that the Jewish News had more or less accurately represented my views in their corrections. THE report “Academics slam journal for unbalanced coverage” (AJN 14/05) stated that in his […]

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