Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he had learned of the decision not to allow Noam Chomsky to enter Israel from the press, but the 81-year-old Jewish-American intellectual said senior Interior Ministry officials were behind the ban.
"We read about it in the paper," Netanyahu said during a Knesset session in which Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron criticized the decision to bar Chomsky from entering the West Bank to speak at the Palestinian Birzeit University in Ramallah.
Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an outspoken critic of Israeli policy, was stopped Sunday while trying to enter the country from Jordan through the Allenby Bridge.
According to officials at Birzeit University, Chomsky was scheduled to deliver a lecture at the university and was delayed at the border crossing for more than four hours. A human rights activist who was with Chomsky at the crossing confirmed that the linguist was not allowed to enter Israel.
The Interior Ministry also confirmed that he was not allowed to cross the bridge.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "There is no change in our policy. The idea that Israel is preventing people from entering whose opinions are critical of the state is ludicrous; it is not happening. This was a mishap. A guy at the border overstepped his authority.”
Regev suggested that if Chomsky tried to enter Israel again, he would succeed.
However, Chomsky said in a television interview from Jordan with Al Jazeera that the Interior Ministry official who interviewed him was on the phone with other ministry officials during the several hours of questioning at the West Bank border and that he was taking instructions from his superiors.
“There were two basic points,” Chomsky told the Arab news network. “One was that the government of Israel does not like the kinds of things I say — which puts them into the category of I suppose every other government in the world. The second was that they seemed upset about the fact that I was just taking an invitation from Birzeit and I had no plans to go on to speak in Israeli universities, as I have done many times in the past, but not this time.
“This very unusual behavior only happens in totalitarian states,” said the professor, slamming the Israeli move as “an act of interference with the independence of the university."
Anat Shalev and news agencies contributed to the report