On this day: Noam Chomsky is born

December 7 1928: the world’s most famous anarchist thinker


Known for his vociferously anti-capitalist and anti-western views, as well as for his poster adorning the walls of many a university room, philosopher and academic Noam Chomsky has made no secret of his views on Israel.

Born Avram Noam Chomsky to a well-off Jewish family in Philadelphia, his father was a professor of Hebrew. He has recalled his childhood in “a Jewish ghetto”, spoken of experiencing antisemitism and said that Judaism formed the major part of his cultural heritage. His masters thesis, completed at the University of Pennsylvania, was titled The Morphophonemics of Modern Hebrew and he later spent time living on a kibbutz in Israel.

Known as one of the founders of modern linguistics, his academic career has long been overshadowed by his political activism, from opposition to the Vietnam war in the 1960s to more recent criticisms of US foreign policy.

In the 1980s he sparked controversy by defending the right to free expression of a French academic who had denied the Holocaust. In an interview with the JC regarding the Faurisson affir, he said it was because he thought it wrong that the state had the right to “determine the truths of history.”

He has written more than 150 books and has now taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for 55 years. He has lectured in both Israel and the Palestinian territory, and last May was barred by Israeli immigration officials from entering the West Bank to give a planned a lecture at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. Later the Israeli government said the border guards had been “overzealous” and that Professor Chomsky was welcome to return to Israel.

He then met Hizbollah’s spiritual leader Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah in Lebanon, telling him Israel had a “persecution complex.”

What the JC said: Slightly-built, almost inconspicuous in a green-grey jumper and slacks, the mild-mannered Noam Chomsky seems an unlikely bogeyman-in-chief to Establishment - particularly Jewish Establishment – opinion….He is probably the Diaspora’s most outspoken critic of Israel and the most systematic opponent of American foreign policy. Despite that soft-spoken manner, Chomsky argues with seductive logic, forensic rigour, sardonic humour – and moral commitment.

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Last updated: 9:46am, December 7 2010