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And Noam Chomsky Took Time to Answer some Tough Questions for The 11th Hour

Rabbi Larry Schlesinger and Professor Noam Chomsky took some time to answer some of the world's toughest questions.

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The 11th Hour’s Op-Ed columnist and blogger Bill Knowles had some pretty serious questions about President Trump, the Middle East and the number one issue our country is facing going forward. He sought to find the answers, and two very smart men rose to the challenge. Locally, Rabbi Larry Schlesinger, a member of the Macon-Bibb County Commission and nationally, Noam Chomsky. Chomsky you ask? Yes, author of over a hundred books and countless articles, linguist, political activist, historian, social critic and Professor Emeritus of MIT, that Chomsky. So… what happens when a Rabbi and a Professor walk into a bar, or decide to try and answer the nation’s foremost problems? Read on.


Q: What do you think of the remarks made by Secretary of State Kerry about Israel and in his opinion Israel cannot be “Democratic and Jewish” at the same time?  Also, do you feel the abstention by the US on the United Nations resolution regarding Israel will be positive for peace in the future?

Professor Chomsky:  “The only interesting issue about the abstention and Kerry’s speech is the reaction. The resolution was virtually identical to UNSC 446 in 1979, passed with US and two other abstentions.  And numerous others, including some the US voted for.  What’s changed is the world.  Israeli violations are far more extreme than in the past and world opposition is correspondingly stronger.  And crucially, the US and Israel are much more isolated in the world scene.  Hence the extensive coverage and the intense and often hysterical reactions in the US-Israel.”

Rabbi Schlesinger:  “Like Secretary of State Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe in a two-state solution which is the only realistic solution to the dilemma.  Given the population numbers, an Israel side by side with a nonthreatening and nonviolent Palestinian State is the only way that the State of Israel can possibly remain predominantly Jewish.

(As for the abstention) Not really; I’ve been disappointed with the real influence and effect of the United Nations for decades.  My understanding is that following the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Israeli government initiated its policy of a ring of settlements around Jerusalem, its capital, in the east as its first line of defense against military aggression.  It is realistically in the power and in the court of Palestinian leadership to further the peace process by (1) formally recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and (2) renouncing terrorism that has in large measure been its modus operandi for the past fifty years.”

Q: In my opinion, it may have something to do with the fact that Netanyahu is blaming the US for “colluding” with the UN in developing the resolution and then followed up by Kerry’s statements condemning the Israeli settlements as opposed to the explanations then SOS Vance gave as to why the Carter Administration felt the abstention on UNSC 446 was necessary, however, I do not agree with your statement that 446 is virtually identical to the one presented in UNSC 2334 as 446 deals more with creating a committee to examine the situation in the settlements, and although 446 did condemn Israel for the occupation, 2334 is virtually all about condemnation.

Professor Chomsky: “What Kerry’s motives were, I have no idea.  But the contents were essentially nothing, just as 2334 is virtually identical to 446.  True, there are some slight differences. Unlike 446, 2334 condemns “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,” aimed at Palestinians.  It’s also more pro-Israel in the respect you mention: it doesn’t even bother with a meaningless commission.  And it’s much more pro-Israel than some of the others that the US let pass or even signed. The only difference, then, is what I mentioned: as Israeli crimes become more flagrant, US-Israeli isolation in the world is increasing.  I don’t see any other reason for the massive coverage and in the US and Israel, hysterical reactions.”

Q: I also asked Rabbi Schlesinger if he felt that the United States “colluded” with the UN against Israel. 

Rabbi Schlesinger: “I can neither agree nor disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement since I have no knowledge of any of the facts that the Prime Minister has indicated he will share with the Trump administration once in office.  I tend to see the recent United States’ abstention vote at the UN as something of President Obama’s parting shot directed personally at Prime Minister Netanyahu who, much to the President’s consternation and frustration during his two terms in office, consistently stood firm on issues regarding the security of the State of Israel”

Q: Do you think that there is a diplomatic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Professor Chomsky:  “There would be a possible diplomatic solution if the US would end its unilateral support for Israeli crimes.  The alternative is not what Kerry and others (today, Thomas Friedman) constantly describe: one state.  Rather, it is the Greater Israel that has been taking shape before our eyes for almost 50 years, with constant US support, and no “demographic problem.”

Rabbi Schlesinger: “Yes I do, but Palestinian acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist and its renunciation of terrorism ought to be ‘givens’ prior to the resumption of peace talks, and not positions to be negotiated along the way.  The bottom line is that the entire Middle East is poised for significant economic growth and development; it’s just that major global corporations are justifiably hesitant about putting their people and resources in the middle of a shooting match.”

Now before you get the wrong idea, I did not have the Rabbi and the Professor together asking questions or even on a conference call.  Because of both men’s busy schedules I submitted a series of questions to them via email and they were both gracious enough to consent to a written interview, although I do think a three way discussion with these gentleman would be an incredible experience.  


Q: What do you think the number one issue should be for the next President to combat?

Professor Chomsky:  “Global warming and nuclear war.”

Q: I agree that nuclear war is certainly a concern.  I saw that you stated back in February that you feel that the world is closer to a nuclear war now than in the Cold War period and you based your opinion on the fact that Russia and the US have so much room for human error and that China’s program would probably be expanding because of the growing tensions in the world.  Do you feel that now that North Korea has tested large scale nuclear devices and Iran has been allowed to continue their programs that there is just as much of a threat from one of these rogue nations to sell the devises to some terrorist organization and if so, what do you feel the next President should do to stop that from occurring?

Professor Chomsky:  “North Korea is a pretty crazy place, but it’s a near certainty that their nuclear weapons system is intended as a deterrent.  Any use and they’d be wiped out instantly.  It’s a serious problem, but the record shows that it can be dealt with diplomatically.  I’ve discussed it in a recent book, Who Rules the World, citing sources. Iran may or may not have had a nuclear weapons program; US intelligence is uncertain.  But for the coming years any such program is on hold – and if there is one, it too would be designed as a deterrent, as US intelligence has advised.”

Q: Do you feel President Obama has helped or hurt race relations in the United States?  Lastly, overall, what score on a A-F scale would you give to President Obama in his handling of the US over the last eight years?

Professor Chomsky:  “The racist reaction to him may have harmed race relations.  (As for the grade) Can’t calibrate that way.”

Q to Rabbi Schlesinger:  Have you been happy with relations that President Obama has had with Israel or would you consider his foreign policy a failure as Alan Dershowitz has, who has said in recent days that the President will go down as one of the worst foreign policy presidents ever?

Rabbi Schlesinger: “Personally, I wouldn’t say that President Obama’s foreign policy in general was a ‘failure’.  After all and despite the ISIS threat, our country has been at relative peace for the past eight years.   Over the past eight years and in line with previous administrations, the United States has continued its economic and military support of the State of Israel which is the only stable democracy in the Middle East.  Once all the dust settles, I think that President Obama will probably best be remembered for shepherding the country through the Great Recession that hit just months after he took office.”

So there you have it dear readers…my last column about President Obama while he is in office with special thanks to Professor Noam Chomsky and Rabbi Larry Schlesinger for their sincere answers to my questions.  I promise I’ll be just as tough on President Trump when the time comes. 

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  1. January 21, 2017 at 1:50 am

    Love that you guys publushed this. Great, informative article!

  2. Bill Kravitz
    January 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Chomsky’ insights? Very valuable. These were not “tough questions” for him, but merely questions he has been answering for many years, backed up by scholarship, research, and activism. As for the rabbi? One can tell he has little useful to offer on these topics.