I first started reading Noam Chomsky at university. His political works were sometimes dense and impenetrable, but his reasoning on Israel/Palestine, written as a Jew, moved me deeply. When I finally met him in 2005 in Boston, during the research of my first book, My Israel Question, his humility and insights caused me to consider the ways in which I approached the Middle East issue. The brutal realities of the occupation, something I saw with my own eyes, took me on a certain path. This wasn’t Judaism; it was revenge.
Seeing Chomsky tonight in New York, at the massive Riverside Church near Columbia University (photos here), was quite an experience. People lined up around the block and 2000 people eventually filled the pews; a space where Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Arundhati Roy have spoken in the past. It’s haunted by history and progress.
Introduced by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, who gave a very moving tribute to one of the greatest intellectuals and activists of the modern age, I sat there almost in tears. Chomsky’s achievements are legendary, from campaigning for East Timor, Palestine, the under-class and poor. He’s humble.
His speech, over one hour long, discussed the global financial crisis, US imperialism, worker’s rights, the false idol of Obama and Haiti. It was like listening to a history lesson of the past and present. Some people find his delivery a little dull, and I understand that, but I can’t help but feel inspired by his practical solutions. Friends who know Chomsky often joke that he has an encyclopaedic knowledge and they’re right. But it’s not just his brains that convince me. It’s what he has done with it, empowering literally millions across the globe. Goodman said his work has saved lives and I believe it.
Chomsky didn’t really discuss Israel/Palestine (his recent dissection of Obama’s Cairo speech was spot-on), but it didn’t matter. Chomsky has been mocked, slandered, defamed and attacked by decades, yet his popularity and influence remains stronger than ever. He’s the threat of a good example.
Morality in public life and policy matters.