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Democracy Now: Noam Chomsky at United Nations: It Would Be Nice If the United States Lived Up to International Law

World  (tags: UN, Noam Chomsky, principles, tactics, US Law, International Law, BDS, BD tactics, principles, civil rights, human rights, activism )

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"One important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe that's too much to ask,"


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Evelyn B (63)
Thursday October 23, 2014, 8:08 pm
NOTE: This is effectively a follow up to
In U.N. Speech, Noam Chomsky Blasts the United States for Supporting Israel, Blocking Palestinian State - DemocracyNow!

Noam Chomsky at United Nations: It Would Be Nice if the United States Lived up to International Law

After world-renowned scholar Noam Chomsky gave a major address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly last week, Amy Goodman interviewed the world-renowned linguist and dissident before an audience of 800 people. Chomsky spoke at an event sponsored by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. ďOne important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe thatís too much to ask,Ē Chomsky said.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Iím Amy Goodman, as we return to MIT professor Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. Last week, he spoke before over 800 people in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly, before ambassadors and the public alike, on the issue of Israel and Palestine. After his speech, I conducted a public interview with Professor Chomsky.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the mostóthe single most important action the United States can take? And what about its role over the years? What is its interest here?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, one important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course, it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe thatís too much to ask, but live up to its own laws. And there are several. And here, incidentally, I have in mind advice to activists also, who I think ought to be organizing and educating in this direction. There are two crucial cases.

One of them is whatís called the Leahy Law. Patrick Leahy, Senator Leahy, introduced legislation called the Leahy Law, which bars sending weapons to any military units which are involved in consistent human rights violations. There isnít the slightest doubt that the Israeli army is involved in massive human rights violations, which means that all dispatch of U.S. arms to Israel is in violation of U.S. law. I think thatís significant. The U.S. should be called upon by its own citizens toóand by others, to adhere to U.S. law, which also happens to conform to international law in this case, as Amnesty International, for example, for years has been calling for an arms embargo against Israel for this reason. These are all steps that can be taken.

The second is the tax-exempt status that is given to organizations in the United States which are directly involved in the occupation and in significant attacks on human and civil rights within Israel itself, like the Jewish National Fund. Take a look at its charter with the state of Israel, which commits it to acting for the benefit of people of Jewish race, religion and origin within Israel. One of the consequences of that is that by a complex array of laws and administrative practices, the fund pretty much administers about 90 percent of the land of the country, with real consequences for who can live places. They get tax-exempt status also for their activities in the West Bank, which are strictly criminal. I think thatís also straight in violation of U.S. law. Now, those are important things.

And I think the U.S. should be pressured, internationally and domestically, to abandon its virtually unique roleóunilateral role in blocking a political settlement for the past 40 years, ever since the first veto in January 1976. That should be a major issue in the media, in convocations like this, in the United Nations, in domestic politics, in government politics and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of the media, can you talk about that, and particularly in the United States? And do you think that the opinion in the United States, public opinion, is shifting on this issue?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the role of theóthe media are somewhat shifting from uniform support for virtually everything that Israel does toóand, of course, silence about the U.S. roleóthatís not just in the case of Israel, thatís innumerable other cases, as wellóbut is slowly shifting. But nevertheless, about, say, Operation Protective Edge, one can read in news reporting, news reporting in The New York Times, major journal, a criticism of Hamasís assault on Israel during Protective Edge. Hamasís assault on Israelónot exactly what happened, but thatís what people are reading, and thatís the way itís depicted. Israel isóover and over itís pointed out, "Look, poor Israel is under attack. It has the right of self-defense." Everyone agrees to that. Actually, I agree, too. Everyone has a right of self-defense. But thatís not the question. The question is: Do you have a right of self-defense by force, by violence? The answer is no for anyone, whether itís an individual or state, unless you have exhausted peaceful means. If you wonít even permit peaceful means, which is the case here, then you have no right of self-defense by violence. But try to find a word about that in the media. All you find is "self-defense." When President Obama rarely says anything about whatís happening, itís usually, "If my daughters were being attacked by rockets, I would do anything to stop it." Heís referring not to the hundreds of Palestinian children who are being killed and slaughtered, but to the children in the Israeli town of Sderot, which is under attack by Qassam missiles. And remember that Israel knows exactly how to stop those missiles: namely, live up to a ceasefire for the first time, and then they would stop, as in the past, even when Israel didnít live up to a ceasefire.

That frameworkóand, of course, the rest of the framework is the United States as an honest broker trying hard to bring the two recalcitrant sides together, doing its best in this noble endeavoróhas nothing to do with the case. The U.S. is, as some of the U.S. negotiators have occasionally acknowledged, Israelís lawyer. If there were serious negotiations going on, they would be led by some neutral party, maybe Brazil, which has some international respect, and they would bring together the two sidesóon the one side, Israel and the United States; on the other side, the Palestinians. Now, those would be possible realistic negotiations. But the chances of anyone in the media eitheróI wonít even say pointing it out, even thinking about it, is minuscule. The indoctrination is so deep that really elementary facts like theseóand they are elementaryóare almost incomprehensible.

But to get back to youróthe last point you mentioned, itís very important. Opinion in the United States is shifting, not as fast as in most of the world, not as fast as in Europe. Itís not reaching the point where you could get a vote in Congress anything like the British Parliament a couple days ago, but it is changing, mostly among younger people, and changing substantially. Iíll just illustrate with personal experience; Amy has the same experience. Until pretty recently, when I gave talks on these topics, as Iíve been doing for 40 years, I literally had to have police protection, even at my own university, MIT. Police would insist on walking me back to my car because of threats they had picked up. Meetings were broken up, and so on. Thatís all gone. Just a couple of days ago I had a talk on these topics at MIT. Meeting wasnít broken up. No police protection. Maybe 500 or 600 students were there, all enthusiastic, engaged, committed, concerned, wanting to do something about it. Thatís happening all over the country. All over the country, Palestinian solidarity is one of the biggest issues on campusóenormous change in the last few years.

Thatís the way things tend to change. It often starts with younger people. Gradually it gets to the rest of the population. Efforts of the kind I mentioned, say, trying to get the United States government to live up to its own laws, those could be undertaken on a substantial scale, domestically and with support from international institutions. And that could lead to further changes. I think that theófor example, the two things that I mentioned would have a considerable appeal to much of the American public. Why should they be funding military units that are carrying out massive human rights violations? Why should they be permitting tax exemption? Meaning we pay for itóthatís what a tax exemption means. Why should we be paying, compelled to pay, for violations of fundamental human rights in another country, and even in occupied territories, where itís criminal? I think that can appeal to the American population and can lead to the kinds of changes weíve seen in other cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Final question, before we open it up to each of you: Your thoughts on the BDS movement, the boycott, divest, sanctions movement?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, BDS is a set of tactics, right? These are tactics that you employ when you think theyíre going to be effective and in ways that you think will be effective. Tactics are not principles. Theyíre not actions that you undertake no matter what because you think theyíre right. Tactics are undertaken, if youíre serious, because you think theyíre going to help the victims. Thatís how you adjust your tactics, not because I think theyíre right in principle, but because I think they will be beneficial. That ought to be second nature to activists.

Also second nature should be a crucial distinction between proposing and advocating. I can propose now that we should all live in peace and love each other. I just proposed it. Thatís not a serious proposal. It becomes a serious proposal when it becomes advocacy. It is givenóI sketch out a path for getting from here to there. Then it becomes serious. Otherwise, itís empty words. Thatís crucial and related to this.

Well, when you take a look at the BDS movement, which is separate, incidentally, from BDS tacticsólet me make that clear. So, when the European Union issued its directive or when theóthat I mentioned, or when, say, the Gates Foundation withdraws investment in security operations that are being carried out, not only in the Occupied Territories, but elsewhere, thatís very important. But thatís not the BDS movement. Thatís BDS tactics, actually, BD tactics, boycott, divestment tactics. Thatís important. The BDS movement itself has been an impetus to these developments, and in many ways a positive one, but I think it has failed and should reflect on its, so far, unwillingness to face what are crucial questions for activists: Whatís going to help the victims, and whatís going to harm them? What is a proposal, and what is real advocacy? You have to think that through, and it hasnít been sufficiently done.

So, if you take a look at the principles of the BDS movement, there are three. They vary slightly in wording, but basically three. One is, actions should be directed against the occupation. That has been extremely successful, in many ways, and it makes sense. It also helps educate the Western populations who are being appealed to to participate, enablesóitís an opening to discuss, investigate and organize about the participation in the occupation. Thatís very successful.

A second principle is that BDS actions should be continued until Israel allows the refugees to return. That has had no success, and to the extent that itís been tried, itís been negative. It just leads to a backlash. No basis has been laid for it among the population. It is simply interpreted as saying, "Oh, you want to destroy the state of Israel. Weíre not going to destroy a state." You cannot undertake actions which you think are principled when in the real world they are going to have a harmful effect on the victims.

Thereís a third category having to do with civil rights within Israel, and there are things that could be done here. One of the ones I mentioned, in factóthe tax-free status for U.S. organizations that are engaged in civil rights and human rights violations. And remember, a tax exemption means I pay for it. Thatís what a tax exemption is. Well, thatís an action that could be undertaken. Others that have been undertaken have had backlashes which are harmful. And I wonít run through the record, but these are the kinds of questions that always have to be asked when youíre involved in serious activisms, if you care about the victims, not just feeling good, but caring about the victims. Thatís critically important.

AMY GOODMAN: MIT professor, world-renowned linguist, dissident, Noam Chomsky, speaking last Tuesday in the hall of the United Nations General Assembly before 800 people in an event hosted by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. If youíd like a copy of todayís show, you can go to our website at

We wish a very happy birthday to our video producer, Robby Karran. For all our New York viewers, Democracy Now! co-host Juan GonzŠlez will be one of the journalists questioning the New York gubernatorial candidates in tonightís debate. The debate will be broadcast live at 8:00 p.m. on PBS stations across New York. Iíll be speaking in Vienna, Austria, Friday at an event hosted by ORF, Austriaís public broadcaster, then on Saturday speaking at the Elevate Festival in Graz, Austria. Again, you can go to for more details.

Rose Becke (141)
Thursday October 23, 2014, 10:02 pm
Love him Thanks Evelyn

fly bird (26)
Thursday October 23, 2014, 11:21 pm
Thanks Evelyn. it WOULD be wonderful, If the United States Lived Up to International Law!!!

Darren Woolsey (218)
Friday October 24, 2014, 2:19 am
And thankfully Noam Chomsky is still alive to argue!

M B (62)
Friday October 24, 2014, 5:04 am
What will it take before things change ?

Angelika R (143)
Friday October 24, 2014, 12:48 pm
thanks Evelyn! One can only second that!!!
here's something else that looks quite interesting:(also featuring Chomsky)
Foreign Policy for All Project-a working paper and conference read about the event here -conference on 8 Nov in Cambridge, MA

Angelika R (143)
Friday October 24, 2014, 1:41 pm
I admit-embarrassing too- that lateyl I missed closely following this with all the other issues currently troubling the world...have also been wondering what is up with the resuming peace/cease fire agreement talks in Cairo, isnt the "waiting"time up already? seems like long ago..

Angelika R (143)
Friday October 24, 2014, 1:47 pm
for those who may have missed this petition (I gave the ink on a few other posts)-SIGN PEASE !

once again . ** Tell your member of Congress: Turn the water on for the people of Gaza **

Angelika R (143)
Friday October 24, 2014, 2:28 pm
Following up on Chomsky's great words and appeal to the public, the American public, to advance change by their actions, pressing their govts., I'll repeat my call here as well to all US friends:

USE this opportunity right now before midterms election, while most of you will be receiving daily emails asking your contribution "to save the (democratic)Senate" and RESPOND/reply to those emails by TELLING them what needs to be done! : -Cut miitary aid for Israel, stop supporting war crimes!-
If I can do that, and I've been doing it for weeks, EVERYONE can!
They will read it, sooner or later. There have been reports that actually some or many Senators and Reps are WAITING for their constituents to tell them! they would never dare raising the topic on their own, understandably-SO HELP THEM!

John B (185)
Friday October 24, 2014, 7:33 pm
Thanks Evelyn for the great post. Wonderful interview. Read and noted.

Kathleen M (208)
Friday October 24, 2014, 7:54 pm
Noted. Bless Norm Chomsky! Thanks for posting, Evelyn.

Edith B (146)
Friday October 24, 2014, 8:10 pm
Thanks for the post, I am learning a lot about this situation that our news media does not report.

Jonathan Harper (0)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 3:42 am

Jonathan Harper (0)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 3:44 am

Angelika R (143)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 5:13 am
That is GOOD Edith! I'm sure Chomsky would be thrilled to hear you say this! (like all of us are as well.)

Evelyn B (63)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 5:43 am
Edith - I hope you also watched the other part - his presentation to the UN.

It is true that there are dimensions to the Middle East situation that are covered erratically in the mainstream media (applies to other issues as well! Like the TPP and the TAP/TIPP, anf fracking!), where those with influence manage to project a very biased picture. I'm glad that some of these postings help develop one's own understanding.

Ben O (130)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 9:26 am
I with You, Noam Chomsky!

Ben O (130)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 9:27 am
And, thanks Evelyn!

Past Member (0)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 10:11 am
Yes it would, & it would be nice if Obama stopped making new laws according to his liking ......& ignoring the ones we have already.

Past Member (0)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 11:04 am
There is no doubt in my mind, after doing some reading, that this man is completely delusional.

Roger G (148)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 12:31 pm
noted, thanks

Gary L (138)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 1:24 pm
oh and you Barbara are clear and have no agenda Noam Chomsky is one of the most creditable decent people on the planet and you have the gall to call him delusional that's all haters have is misinformation and lies

Gary L (138)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 1:26 pm
and I'm sure you'll complain to care2 about my post I'm starting to think that care2 is really a fraud

Past Member (0)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 1:59 pm
There I think I would have to agree with you. But here's a tip: Next time, type bul**hit. See, naughty words are against the COC.

fly bird (26)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 4:38 pm
There Are Some Things About Gaza That I Still Can't Wrap My Head Around

Angelika R (143)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 4:51 pm
Thx Jess! Stunning illustrations and great compelling maths there!

Lois Jordan (63)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 5:08 pm
Noted. Thanks, Evelyn. I just subscribed to Moyers mailings. And, also signed the petition Angelika posted above.

John Coleman (18)
Saturday October 25, 2014, 8:35 pm
The UN is far from a "democracy" and ""international law" is an oxymoron as well as a farce being administered by countries that neither abide by "international law" or even civilized norms in many cases. When Russia, China, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Iran, etc abide by the stupid UN "Treaties" and other farces that pass for "international law" and the "cult of submission" knows as islam improves its "human rights" records for example maybe we can discuss the alleged "failings" of the US if and only if we in the US are willing to give up OUR rights/freedoms/standards of living/etc for the alleged "greater good" pushed by you idiots on the Left!!!!! Chomsky is a communist hack!!!!!!!!

Angelika R (143)
Sunday October 26, 2014, 3:14 am
Thanks Lois ! It is important to remind your Senators and Reps right now of their other duties besides begging and collecting campaign $$ !

Thomas M (8)
Sunday October 26, 2014, 8:33 am
I agree with most of what Chomsky said. However, it is always cute to cut the failings of the US. He missed the point with me on the big picture. Every nation in the world needs to take a gut check and re-evaluate. I am tired of the US being pushed into the role of the world's policeman. I am also tired of being called a leftist because I care about humanity and peace. It is not about ME, it is about everyone and how they fit into the world community.There were several comments blaming Obama. Could you imagine what would happen if Romney or McCain were in charge. Russia would have been bombed by now. We would have nuked the Middle East, Cliven Bundy would be the Secretary of State or Defense, Sarah Palin would be Secretary of Stupidity, Ted Cruz would be Secretary of Religion, Rand Paul would the Secretary of Confusion, on and on and on. PLEASE VOTE IN THE MIDTERM ELECTION IF YOU WANT A CHANGE.

Past Member (0)
Sunday October 26, 2014, 2:30 pm
\If you want abstract philosophy fine, but Noam Chomsky 's knowledge of facts and history seem to come from his personal reveries and delusional scenarios. He also has the very irritating habit of consistently misquoting his sources ~ so much so that even his rivals and enemies seem to support his stance.

*It is always important to check the sources quoted by Chomsky, especially when he is discussing Israe.

Try Benny Morris or Noel Merton.

Angelika R (143)
Monday October 27, 2014, 5:13 am
"But they naturally are all anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ... even if they come straight from the Israeli Government itself - LOL!! " -Yep and I'm joining in the smile here as that IS so true-THEY have been digging their own grave and are busier by the days and weeks to keep that up!

Evelyn B (63)
Monday October 27, 2014, 5:49 am
The most unbearable "anti-Semites" are those self-hating Jews who dare not only to criticise Israel, but also quote statements that seemed politically appropriate at the time - but come back to haunt the speaker!! (And it is very difficult to remove such quotes from historical public records - one has to try to get alternative versions used more widely in the hope that the actual words will be forgotten!!) Such people make the unquestionning supporters of Israel very uncomfortable, and angry because they just cannot allow themselves to question the political philosophy and the direction that the State Of Israel has taken in recent decades.

So - must demean them - even if some such speakers are respected by academia all round the world!!


Gary L (138)
Saturday November 1, 2014, 12:20 pm
there are people here criticizing Noam Chomsky who couldn't possibly understand anything a decent person says' because they are bigots and haters sort of like southern pseudo Christians or Nazi's in Germany
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