TCS Daily

Linguistic Crimes

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - March 10, 2004 12:00 AM

In an online chat with readers of The Independent (the transcript of which is reproduced here), a reader asked MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky whether anti-Semitism is "on the increase." Chomsky's reply was as follows:

In the West, fortunately, it scarcely exists now, though it did in the past. There is, of course, what the Anti-Defamation League calls "the real anti-Semitism", more dangerous than the old-fashioned kind: criticism of policies of the state of Israel and US support for them, opposition to a vast US military budget, etc. In contrast, anti-Arab racism is rampant. The manifestations are shocking, in elite intellectual circles as well, but arouse little concern because they are considered legitimate: the most extreme form of racism.

(Emphasis mine.) Notice that Chomsky didn't put his comments into any context. He blithely and categorically stated that while anti-Semitism existed in the past, "it scarcely exists now" in the West.

This contention is astonishing, and it got me to wonder just how much Chomsky -- and those supporters of his who agree with his claim that anti-Semitism "scarcely exists now," really know about the issue of anti-Semitism in the West. There is no better way to find out, of course, than to test that knowledge. Chomsky and his supporters should break out their Number Two pencils and take the following quiz.

  1. In late 2003, the United Nations considered a draft resolution condemning anti-Semitism. If adopted, the resolution would have been the first condemnation of anti-Semitism in the 58-year history of the world body. What was the ultimate fate of the resolution?

(a) The resolution was not passed because it was near the end of the calendar year, and delegates were leaving for their home countries. But a firm commitment was made to pass the resolution at the beginning of 2004, and indeed, it was passed in January of this year, largely unchanged.

(b) The resolution was passed, but not before condemnations of anti-Semitic lesson plans for Palestinian schoolchildren-lesson plans that are endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization-were excised from the resolution, and a clause condemning Israeli "atrocities" in the occupied territories was added.

(c) The resolution failed as a result of opposition from Arab and Muslim countries. Additionally, Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen went back on a promise given to Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom to introduce a resolution specifically aimed at condemning anti-Semitism if Israel would drop efforts to get anti-Semitism condemned in a general resolution attacking religious intolerance.

  1. Jews make up approximately 2 percent of the population in the United States. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population. What is the comparison between the two groups in terms of hate crimes committed against them, according to figures from as late as 2002?

(a) Jews were victimized by a hate crime twice as much as African-Americans were.

(b) Jews and African-Americans were victimized at roughly the same levels.

(c) African-Americans suffer approximately three times as many hate crimes.

  1. According to a poll conducted in Great Britain in January of this year, what percentage of the British population was unable to agree with the proposition that "A British Jew would make an equally acceptable prime minister as a member of any other faith"?

(a) 12 percent.

(b) 47 percent.

(c) 29 percent.

Now, let's see how you did:

  1. The correct answer was (c). The resolution was ditched thanks to opposition from Arab and Muslim states, and thanks to double-dealing from the Irish foreign minister. When foreign minister Cowen was attacked in the Irish parliament for not having introduced a clause against anti-Semitism in the resolution generally condemning religious intolerance, the excuse that he gave was that such a clause would have undermined "consensus and a wide level of co-sponsorship" for the religious tolerance resolution if the UN were bothered to condemn anti-Semitism in the process.
  1. The correct answer is (a). According to figures from Public Eye (measuring statistics from 1995-2002) and the FBI's hate crimes report from 2002, Jews were more than twice as likely to suffer from hate crimes as were African-Americans -- thus raising the question whether Chomsky thinks that prejudice against African-Americans is even more "scarce" than anti-Semitism.
  1. The correct answer is (b) -- as shown in this blog post. (This perhaps bodes ill for Michael Howard, the leader of the British Conservative Party -- who is Jewish.) The poll also found that one person in seven believed the scale of the Holocaust was exaggerated, that 20 percent of Britons believed Jews did not make "a positive contribution to political, social and cultural life," and that 18 percent believed that Jews had too much influence in Great Britain.

These three questions only scratch the surface of the level of anti-Semitism in the West. I could, if I wanted, pick out more, but the above questions suffice to show that not only an alarming degree of individual anti-Semitism exists in the West, but also that such anti-Semitism is institutional in nature (as evidenced by the failure of the UN to condemn anti-Semitism, and the complicity of a Western country like Ireland in that failure). Anti-Semitism has been called the world's oldest prejudice, but as the above quiz shows, sadly, it remains alive and well.

Which leads to our final question:

  1. Noam Chomsky's contention that anti-Semitism "scarcely exists" in the West is

(a) Palpably ignorant.

(b) Dangerously misleading.

(c) Both (a) and (b).

I pick answer (c). The facts simply suggest no other conclusion.


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