Noam Chomsky Denied Entry Into West Bank

Noam Chomsky, a prominent Jewish-American intellectual and frequent critic of the Israeli government, was denied entry into the occupied West Bank by Israeli authorities on Sunday. According to Israeli officials, Chomsky tried to enter from Jordan. Israel says he was not allowed in to give a speech at Birzeit University in the West Bank because he had not put in a request in advance. But Chomsky says he was told at the border by Israeli immigration that they didn't like his viewpoint on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision to bar him has caused outrage in some Israeli circles that regard the action as an assault on free speech.

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Israel has barred Noam Chomsky, the prominent Jewish-American intellectual from entering the occupied West Bank. Chomsky's a frequent critic of Israel's policies in the occupied territories.

As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Jerusalem, the decision to refuse him entry has sparked a fierce debate in Israel about free speech.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Noam Chomsky is not a man to mince his words. Author of such books as "Manufacturing Consent" and "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy," he's an icon of the American left for his outspoken critiques.

Yesterday, he tried to enter the West Bank from Jordan at a border crossing controlled by Israeli authorities. He was held and questioned for several hours and ultimately told he would not be allowed in.

Mr. NOAM CHOMSKY (Linguist, Philosopher): One thing was they said that they didn't like the kinds of things I said about Israel.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chomsky spoke to NPR from Jordan.

Mr. CHOMSKY: I said, yeah, that's true. Plenty of countries don't like criticisms they make of them. And not only am I allowed in without question, but sometimes they've even facilitated my entry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chomsky says he was scheduled to give a lecture at Birzeit University in the West Bank, where he has spoken before. On previous trips, though, his talks were paired with a visit to Israel. This was not the case this time, and he believes that that might account for Israel's refusal.

Mr. CHOMSKY: And I think Israel is articulating its insistence that it controls who Birzeit is allowed to invite. I really don't know of other cases that -outside of totalitarian states where people are denied entry because they're being they're giving a talk at a university.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israeli officials embarrassingly called what happened a misunderstanding or said it was because Chomsky did not take the unusual step of seeking approval from the Israeli military for his visit. The episode has kick-started a fresh debate in Israel on the issue of free speech. And Israeli authorities have come under harsh criticism.

Israel's most widely read daily said it would not be an exaggeration to say the decision to shut out Professor Chomsky is an attempt to put an end to freedom in the state of Israel. A former Supreme Court judge here also condemned the move.

But some defended the decision to bar Chomsky. One member of the Knesset was quoted in the Israeli media as saying Israel was right to stop, quote, "one of its accusers from coming in." He said Chomsky should try to enter through one of the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt. In his publications and comments, Chomsky has, for example, compared some Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians to those employed by Nazi Germany. Today, Chomsky compared Israel to South Africa during apartheid.

Mr. CHOMSKY: It's rather reminiscent of South Africa in the early 1960s when they began to be recognized. They are becoming a pariah state and reacted pretty much the way Israel's reacting today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel's authorities now say if Chomsky seeks the prior approval, they will review his request to travel to the West Bank. It's a step the intellectual says he won't take.

Mr. CHOMSKY: It's not the government's business to decide who's going to give a talk at a university. I wouldn't implicitly grant them that right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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