Noam Chomsky has made a shocking discovery:

In the West, fortunately, [anti-Semitism] 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.

Pejman Yousefzadeh points out several examples of anti-Semitism, mainly in Europe. Ian at Inoperable Terran makes fun of Chomsky’s name and implies he wears buttocks headgear. Meryl Yourish has yet to comment, but I suspect she would disagree with Chomsky as well.

Now, while I find Chomsky to be amazingly irritating, he’s no idiot. He’s also a Jew. So how could he say such a thing? Well, for one thing, he’s 74. He thus has vague personal memories of the Holocaust and his family surely experienced massive anti-Semitism in the Philadelphia of that era. It may simply be that he’s using a much higher threshold definition. He may mean that there’s not much real anti-Semitism anymore in the sense that Dinesh D’Souza meant that we’ve experienced The End of Racism. (Interesting aside: Dean Esmay is the first reviewer on the Amazon listing.) If that’s what he’s saying, he’s probably right. We certainly don’t have the same degree and type of anti-Semitism as we had in the 1950s and before.

The other explanation–and they’re not mutually exclusive–is that Chomsky is a highly successful intellectual living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This means that he has spent the preponderance of the past half-century or so among the people who are among the least likely to be anti-Semitic. And, indeed, he has thrived in a profession where Jews have long been prominent even if, as Alan Dershowitz has noted, they weren’t supposed to “act Jewish.” (“Dress British, think Yiddish.” )

Still, I find the rather offhanded way he deals with the subject puzzling. As a guy who “revolutionised the study of language,” he should have realized that his statement would have created an uproar. One would think he’d have at least elaborated a bit.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    OR the correct answer is C,

    Noam Chomsky is a whack job.

    equally as plausible.

  2. Journey to Matacombe says:

    Noam doesn’t seem to realize/care that the collapse of the state of Israel would be a death sentence for millions of Jews who don’t have family elsewhere to move to if they were allowed to. Somehow, I don’t think it would make him miss his morning oatmeal.

  3. brayden says:

    As a guy who “revolutionised the study of language,” he should have realized that his statement would have created an uproar.

    But as a structural linguist, Chomsky pretty much ignores verbal content. Or so I’m told.

  4. Deborama says:

    This is more than a question of language. The Guardian featured two essays in the form of a debate on the question “is anti-Zionism anti-semitism?” (it’s linked in my blog but I can’t get it in here) In the US we have a childish debating style and this ends up being reduced to ad hominems like “what? are you saying xxx xxx is an anti-semite!!! But the real debate is more subtle than that.

  5. James says:

    This quote is largely taken out of context; the essay from which it was lifted, namely an interview of Chomsky by David Barsamian, which can be found in his book “Chronicles of Dissent.” The point Chomsky was trying to make was that according to the definition of pro-Israel lobbyists, an anti-Semite these days is any (non-Jewish person) who criticizes Israeli policy, and that, furthermore, such lobbyists have gone to great lengths to stifle criticism of actual anti-Semites. It is in this context that Chomsky is discussing the fall of anti-Semitism in the West as it existed, say, sixty years ago(when the US was actively supporting facism).

    Please check your sources before you criticise.

  6. James Joyner says:

    It’s not lifted from anything; it’s a newspaper interview that I linked back in December.