Book Review

The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & The Palestinians

by Noam Chomsky. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1983, 481 pp. $10.00, Pb, ISBN: 049608-187-7.

reviewed by L.A. Rollins

The Fateful Triangle is a fact-filled, insightful look at the "special relationship" between the United States and Israel. Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at M.I.T., examines the origins of this "special relationship," its disastrous consequences for the Palestinian (and other) Arabs, and its danger for everyone.

Concentrating mainly on Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Chomsky provides a wealth of ideas and information in conflict with the Zionist mythology which pretty much predominates in the mass media and academia. The result is a devastating debunking of one-sided Zionist propaganda.

The pro-Zionist bias of most American journalists and scholars is one particularly obvious aspect of the aforementioned "special relationship." As Chomsky puts it, "The truth of the matter is that Israel has been granted a unique immunity from criticism in mainstream journalism and scholarship, consistent with its unique role as a beneficiary of other forms of American support" (p. 31). He cites numerous examples of this immunity from criticism, including the silence and/or misrepresentation about Israel's terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities in Egypt (the Lavon affair) and the "clearly premeditated" attack on the "unmistakably identified" U.S.S. Liberty, an attack which, according to Chomsky's count, left 34 American crewmen dead and another 75 wounded. Chomsky asks, "Can one imagine that any other country could carry out terrorist bombings of U.S. installations or attack a U.S. ship killing or wounding 100 men with complete impunity, without even critical comment for many years?" (p. 32)

Of course, as Chomsky acknowledges, Israel did come in for an unprecedented amount of criticism because of "Operation Peace for Galilee," the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But he debunks the attempt by some die-hard Zionist apologists to blame such criticism on -- get this -- media bias against Israel! As Chomsky shows, there was (and is) no widespread anti-Israel bias in the American mass media, although there was, temporarily at least, a reduction in the usual degree of pro-Israel bias. As Chomsky writes:

The charge that the American media were "pro-PLO" or "anti-Israel" during the Lebanon war--or before--is easily unmasked, and is in fact absurd. It suffices to compare their coverage of the occupied territories, the war, the treatment of prisoners, and other topics, with what we find in the Hebrew press in Israel, a comparison always avoided by those who produce these ridiculous charges. Again, the annals of Stalinism come to mind, with the outrage over Trotskyite "critical support" for the "workers' state." Any deviation from total obedience is intolerable to the totalitarian mentality, and is interpreted as reflecting a "double standard," or worse. (p. 289)

Among those accusing the media of anti-Israel bias was the self- styled Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which, as Chomsky points out, " ... specializes in trying to prevent critical discussion of policies of Israel by such techniques as maligning critics, including Israelis who do not pass its test of loyalty ...." (p. 14). Chomsky has himself been a victim of defamation by the Anti- Defamation League and knows whereof he speaks.

It is somewhat unusual for an American author, especially a Jewish ones to blow the whistle on the ADL's propaganda antics.

But it is even more unusual to see public criticism of big-time "Holocaust" survivor and pseudo-saint Elie Wiesel and his Wiesel words regarding Israel's less lovely activities.

Regarding Israeli policies in the occupied territories, for example, Wiesel has said:

What to do and how to do it, I really don't know because I lack the elements of information and knowledge ... You must be in a position of power to possess all the information ... I don't have that information, so I don't know ... [D. 161]

Similarly, after the Sabra and Shatila massacres, Wiesel said, "I don't think we should even comment [on the massacre in the refugee camps] since the [Israeli judicial] investigation is still on .... We should not pass judgment until the investigation takes place." (p. 386)

Wiesel, of course, is well known for passing judgment on the actions of other governments, but when it comes to the State of Israel he whistles a different tune. In fact, Wiesel has said, "I support Israel-period. I identify with Israel-period. I never attack, I never criticize Israel when I am not in Israel." (p. 16)

Chomsky points up Wiesel's hypocrisy in the following passage:

Recall Wiesel's unwillingness to criticize Israel beyond its borders, or to comment on what happens in the occupied territories, because "You must be in a position of power to possess all the information." Generalizing the principle beyond the single state to which it applies for this saintly figure, as we should if it is valid, we reach some interesting conclusions: it follows, for example, that critics of the Holocaust while it was in progress were engaged in an illegitimate act, since not being in a position of power in Nazi Ger many, they "did not possess all the information." (D. 3871

Of course, one of Wiesel's repeated accusations against "the world" is that it did not say (or do) enough about "the Holocaust" while it was in progress. One wonders how Wiesel will weasel out of this contradiction in his position.

In any case, as you may have noticed, Chomsky does not dispute the historical reality of "the Holocaust." But even so, I think that anyone who will publicly criticize the hypocrisy of such a sacred cow (or should I say, sacred weasel?) as Elie Wiesel, merits the attention of revisionists.

It should be noted that while Chomsky is highly critical of Israeli policies and actions, he is not fundamentally anti-Israel. He supports "a two-state political settlement that would include recognized borders, security guarantees, and reasonable prospects for a peaceful resolution of the conflict." (p. 3) From this position, he criticizes Israel's consistent "rejectionism" - the rejection of any political settlement accomodating the "national rights" of the Palestinian Arabs.

Chomsky also criticizes the American policies which make Israeli rejectionism possible. And he points out the hypocrisy involved in criticizing Israeli policies while supporting their subsidization with billions of dollars of American aid each year. As Chomsky puts it:

Clearly, as long as the United States provides the wherewithal, Israel will use it for its purposes. These purposes are clear enough today, and have been clear to those who chose to understand for many years: to integrate the bulk of the occupied territories within Israel in some fashion while finding a way to reduce the Arab population; to disperse the scattered refugees and crush any manifestation of Palestinian nationalism or Palestinian culture; to gain control over Southern Lebanon. Since these goals have long been obvious and have been shared in fundamental respects by the two major political groupings in Israel, there is little basis for condemning Israel when it exploits the position of regional power afforded it by the phenomenal quantities of U.S. aid in exactly the ways that would be anticipated by any person whose head is not buried in the sand. Complaints and accusations are indeed hypocritical as long as material assistance is provided in an unending and ever-expanding flow, along with diplomatic and ideological support, the latter, by shaping the facts of history in a convenient form. Even if the occasional tempered criticisms from Washington or in editorial commentary are seriously intended, there is little reason for any Israeli government to pay any attention to them. The historical practice over many years has trained Israeli leaders to assume that U.S. "opinion makers" and political elites will stand behind them whatever they ado, and that even if direct reporting is accurate, as it generally is, its import will gradually be lost as the custodians of history carry out their tasks. (p. 2)

Chomsky's got a point here, and it's an important one. What better way would there be to moderate Israeli policies than to cut off (or at least drastically reduce) American aid to Israel? But even if so, how is such an aid cut-off for reduction) to be accomplished? That is the question. Unfortunately, I don't know the answer. And, as far as I can see, neither does Chomsky.

Of course, there is much more to The Fateful Triangle than I have been able to indicate in this review. To mention just one more subject, those who are interested in some of the more extreme examples of Zionist thinking will find them here, especially in the section on "The Rise of Religious-Chauvinist Fanaticism." In this section, Chomsky quotes the following notable statement:

We will certainly establish order in the Middle East and in the world. And if we do not take this responsibility upon ourselves, we are sinners, not just towards ourselves but towards the entire world. For who can establish order in the world? All of those western leaders of weak character? (p. 155)

No, this is not a passage from the plagiaristic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The statement was made by Rabbi Elazar Valdmann of Gush Emunim in the pages of Nekudah, the journal of the religious-chauvinist West Bank settlers. There is a pop song on the radio these days which says, "Everybody wants to rule the world." I don't know if everybody wants to rule the world, but obviously the good rabbi wants to do so. I wish him the worst luck possible in getting what he wants.

Despite some shortcomings, The Fateful Triangle is one of the best exposes of Zionist mythology now available. Even those who have read Alfred Lilienthal's The Zionist Connection will probably find Chomsky's book an excellent supplement. It is, in any case, a worthy example of what James J. Martin has dubbed "inconvenient history."


From The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1985 (Vol. 6, No. 2), pages 240-244.