Renowned scholar Noam Chomsky told a crowd at the Orpheum Theater Tuesday the United States must pay close attention to inconsistencies in its own practices and those of other countries when making policy decisions in the Middle East.
Chomsky lectured on the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel as the keynote address in a lecture series hosted by the University of Wisconsin Middle Eastern Studies Program. He spoke in front of a sold-out theater, where enthusiastic audience members greeted him with a standing ovation.
Several times, he emphasized the debate should not be if Israel was justified in using force toward Palestine, as it is "transparent" they did not first exhaust all means of peaceful reconciliation.
While Chomsky discussed past relations between the United States and Middle East extensively, noting instances that have built up to the current rocky relations the country has with nations in the region, he focused especially on President Barack Obama's administration.
He said changes in policy will be critical, though Obama's agenda is not yet clear due to a lack of discussion during his campaign and action since taking office.
Chomsky discussed an address made March 20 in which Obama offered a fresh start for relations with Iran.
Under Obama's extension of diplomatic relations, Iran would have to meet terms such as giving up its arms and practices of terror before the U.S. would enter into negotiations, which according to Chomsky are terms the U.S. should reciprocate to be taken seriously.
UW history professor Jeremi Suri said this is not at all a hypocritical policy for the U.S. to follow.
"It could and will set off a major nuclear arms race in the Middle East. If Iran goes nuclear, it will illicit reactions … and that makes everyone's situation quite worse," Suri said.
Suri said Iran may be the United States' best option to pursue better relations with the Middle East, although building a relationship will require hard work over an extended period of time.
"It requires consistency and it requires hard work from now on, not simply waiting for one moment of crisis," Suri said. "The opportunity that has been missed (by working with Israel) is to act as an … honest broker and an alliance builder."
Overall, Chomsky said he is encouraged by what he says is a standard acceptance that injustice is occurring in Palestine and emphasized a need for action.
"We don't have to watch silently as our government implements … the systematic murder of a nation at our hands, and it is on our hands," Chomsky said.
UW sophomores Keegan Elmer and Min Yoon attended Chomsky's lecture, and both said it reframed their view of conflict in the Middle East.
While the Israeli-Palestinian debate has a heated following on the UW campus through various student organizations, Elmer and Yoon said the presence of the debate among students could be bigger and more accessible.