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Why Was Noam Chomsky Barred From Entering Israel?

Chomsky: "It's almost unheard of, outside of totalitarian states, for a government to prevent someone from responding to an invitation at a university to give a talk."

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky has been denied entry into the West Bank by Israel. The world-renowned linguist and political thinker was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah and was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. On Sunday afternoon, he was stopped by Israeli border guards at the Allenby Bridge border crossing from Jordan. After three hours of questioning, Chomsky's passport was stamped with "Denied Entry." His daughter, Professor Aviva Chomsky -- she teaches at Salem State College -- was also denied entry.

No reason was initially given for the decision, but the Interior Ministry later told Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that officials were now trying to get clearance from the Israel Defense Forces. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told Ha'aretz, quote, "We are trying to contact the military to clear things up, and if they have no objection, we see no reason why he should not be allowed in."

Professor Noam Chomsky joins us now from Amman, Jordan. He's the internationally celebrated professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for over half a century. He’s author of over a hundred books on linguistics, mass media, American imperialism, and U.S. foreign policy. His latest is called Hopes and Prospects .

We welcome you to Democracy Now! , Noam Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Can you explain exactly what happened on Sunday?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it's very straightforward. The report that you just read from the Ministry is inaccurate ... but the basic facts are as you described them. My daughter and I, along with two old friends, were going to Ramallah from Amman and were stopped at the border, waited several hours, several hours of interrogation, and finally my daughter and I were denied entry.

The reasons are quite straightforward. I've spoken at Bir Zeit University before, but in every prior occasion, it was a side trip, when I was visiting Israel and giving talks at Israeli universities. This time differs in one respect. I had an invitation from Bir Zeit, and I accepted it gladly, as in many other cases, and I had no intention of going on to speak in Israel as well this time. That’s the only difference. So, essentially, what Israel is saying is that they insist on the right to determine who is allowed to just visit a Palestinian university at their invitation and talk.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the questions that they asked you? How long did they question you for, and how long were you held at the border?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The border, I guess, was about five hours or so. And the questioning, which was intermittent, was maybe two hours. The officer at the immigration post was essentially relaying the questions from the Ministry of Information. He was in telephone or computer contact with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam, say again, who was he in contact with, the border guard?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The Ministry of Information.


NOAM CHOMSKY: Ministry of Interior, sorry. Ministry of Interior.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was he going back and forth with the Ministry of Interior about?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there were two questions, which kept repeating in various forms. One was that they don't like the kinds of things I say about Israel. OK, as quoted on Al Jazeera, that puts them in the category of just about everyone else in the world, every other country. Furthermore, it can't possibly have been the reason, since I've been invited by universities in Israel to give talks specifically about Israel, very critical ones, and the talks I was invited for here were primarily about the United States, U.S. foreign and domestic policies.