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IN OTHER WORDS…

Of Noteworthy Items in the Press

Noam Echad: As a child, he summered at Camp Massad in the Poconos, where he organized Zionist youth groups and wooed his future wife with his fluency in Hebrew. He developed an analysis of modern Hebrew grammar for his undergraduate and master’s thesis. And he and his wife seriously contemplated immigrating to Israel to join a kibbutz.

Noam Chomsky, arch-critic of Zionism, was once a staunch supporter of Israel.

“I’ve been intimately involved with Israel since childhood, it’s a large part of my life,” Chomsky tells Larissa MacFarquhar in the March 31 issue of The New Yorker.

In a wide-ranging profile of the eminent MIT linguist, MacFarquhar delves into his enigmatic persona, mining his kashrut-observant, synagogue-attending childhood for clues to his enduring ability to garner both adulation and scorn.

“Chomsky’s intellectual influence is still extraordinary,” she writes. “On an academic list of the 10 most frequently cited sources of all time (a list that includes the Bible), he ranks eighth — above Hegel and Cicero, just below Plato and Freud.

“What’s more, although Chomsky long ago became alienated from the American political center, elsewhere in the world he is a superstar,” MacFarquhar continues. “Wherever he goes, he is sought by mainstream politicians and the mainstream press, and when he speaks it is to audiences of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands.”

The eldest child of Eastern European Orthodox immigrants, Chomsky was reared in a household where Israel and the Hebrew language had a central place. His father William authored the classic history “Hebrew: The Eternal Language,” and his mother Elsie wrote two children’s books about courageous Zionist heroes fighting evil Arabs.

“Chomsky was preoccupied with politics even as a child, and his views have not changed significantly since he was 10,” MacFarquhar writes — on all topics except Israel, that is.

“After the Six-Day War,” Chomsky tells The New Yorker, “Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who was a professor at Hebrew University — a Talmudist, very highly respected, Orthodox Jew, and so on — warned right away: He said if we hold on to this occupation we’re going to turn into what he called Judeo-Nazis. Unfortunately, he was right. Israel is becoming more and more like South Africa.”

* * *|

Slave Labor: As the Supreme Court readied to hear “the most important civil rights case in a quarter of a century,” Stuart Eizenstat offered a moral defense of affirmative action programs.

“Between 1619 and 1865, about 8 million Africans and their descendants were enslaved in the United States,” the former treasury secretary and lead Holocaust reparations negotiator writes in the March 31 issue of the Los Angeles Times. There is “a permanent responsibility for each generation to understand the ways in which those sins occurred and to recognize their continuing legacy.”

But unlike Germany’s coming to terms with the Holocaust, he argues, recognition of the sins of slavery should not come in the form of reparations.

“Because slavery took place so long ago, the nexus of injury is too distant to hold later generations responsible for individual reparations,” Eizenstat writes. But “even though direct reparations are infeasible, American society can do more to remember and atone for slavery.

“Affirmative actions programs, rather than small reparation payments, could deal much more effectively with the lingering effects of slavery and discrimination,” he writes. “Together with social and health programs for all disadvantaged Americans and courses in our school systems, affirmative action is the best way for our generation to deal with the cloud that slavery and discrimination have cast over American history.”

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