The nth Annual Chomsky Rant in Bad Taste; Are We Moving Forward?

Contrary to all expectations, the main speaker at this year’s annual Palestine Awareness Week (PAW) is… Noam Chomsky. The purpose of this opinion, however, is not to criticize Chomsky’s rhetorical methods (Ophir and Faketerman, Vol. 128, Issue 65) or to contextualize the misleading remarks he makes (Maurer, Vol. 128, Issue 64). Rather, my grievance is with the organizers who continue to give Chomsky a forum to repeat the same message — time and time and time yet again.

Chomsky also spoke this January about the war in Gaza, and at several other widely publicized events during the four years of my time at MIT at venues similar to the present one. The problem with Chomsky is not that his views are “extreme” or “controversial;” the problem is that the only speakers Palestinian activists invite are Chomsky or his equivalents. Even more, the film that will be screened this week, Occupation 101, is literally the same one that was screened for last year’s PAW on April 1, 2008.

In a letter that appeared in the May 4, 2007 issue of The Tech, activists stated that, “The main objective of PAW is to educate.” If we are being educated, why are we being inundated with the same opinions — to the exclusion of all other discourse — on arguably the most complex political situation in current world affairs? With no irony, activists further expressed in their letter, “PAW demonstrates a commitment to productive and soft-spoken educational discourse.” Chomsky?… soft-spoken? Right.

What appalls me most is how little has changed in the Palestinian activist camp since I came to MIT. During my sophomore and junior years, I served as the president of the ASA group MIT Students for Israel. At the beginning of my tenure, I admit that we invited speakers to campus, who upon reflection, I now see were offensive to students who have national aspirations in conflict with my own. Events of this nature — perhaps the MIT community might have noticed — ceased in the last two years.

Israel activists instead have participated in MISTI Israel and worked on scientific problems in Israeli universities and companies; they have formed Hibur, a partnership between MIT and Technion (the Israel Institute of Technology); they have sponsored Israeli cultural events; they have taught Hebrew classes on campus through the Ulpan program; and they have taught in Israel and in the Palestinian territories through MEET (Middle-East Education through Technology). These examples are illustrative of Israel activism at MIT today. I hope you agree that they reflect values of MIT as an institution — of making change by doing, of looking at new ways of tackling complicated problems, of not dwelling on the past.

Through PAW, Palestinian activists have continually stated aims such as: “provide an on-campus venue for open dialogue” (Vol. 127, Issue 63). I openly ask, where is this dialogue? How does inviting the most acerbic and confrontational speakers year after year for PAW promulgate any interchange between sides, except a silent and frustrated one? To illustrate my case, allow me to share that in the weeks before PAW 2008, a friend and I proposed working with PAW activists to plan an actual dialogue event between Arab/Palestinian students and Jewish/Israeli students over the film Promises, reserved 6-120 for the event, only to have the idea postponed and postponed into oblivion by PAW activists. Dialogue?

It is time to set Chomsky and his cohorts aside. The problems of the 21st century will not be solved by revering our over-opinionated antecedents; I submit that they are the ones who have failed us by refusing to change, to listen, to reflect. PAW has, in my honest opinion, been trapped in this obsolete (shall I say Chomskian?) paradigm for the last four years. Let’s peel away the hypocrisy and the pretense: I challenge Palestinian activists to recognize this over-politicized flag-waving for what it is: counterproductive. Although I will not be here to see it personally, I sincerely hope that PAW 2010 will obviate the concerns presented in this article, and will start a new chapter for the Palestinian student group.

Stephen Fried is a member of the Class of 2009.