By stopping the illustrious American scholar Prof. Noam Chomsky at the Allenby Bridge and barring his entry into Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the government's outrageous treatment of those with the audacity to criticize its policies has reached new heights. Israel looks like a bully who has been insulted by a superior intellect and is now trying to fight it, arrest it and expel it.

Chomsky is a controversial and bold intellectual. His linguistic research has brought him unquestionable respect, but his political writings and speeches, in which he bluntly and acerbically attacks any government that he thinks deserves it, have made him unpopular both inside and outside the United States.

Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine any country that would not feel honored to be visited by Chomsky, apart from Israel, which has its own accounts to settle with him. As a Jew who lived here for a brief period in the 1950s and is fluent in Hebrew, Chomsky takes a great interest in events here. In many articles, petitions and open letters, he has been sharply critical of Israel's actions and policies.

Like many other members of the intellectual left in the U.S., Chomsky has roundly condemned the occupation and displayed sympathy for the Palestinian struggle against it. In recent years, he has often been quoted as calling Israel an apartheid state. But despite this, he has firmly opposed any blanket boycott of Israel. He says it is the settlements that should be boycotted, as well as the bodies that support them, both in Israel and abroad (including in the U.S. ), but that it makes no sense to boycott the Israeli public in general or its academic institutions.

Israel, however, has lost its last remnants of tolerance for anyone who does not join its shrinking chorus of supporters. On the right, but not only there, Chomsky is seen as a deserter, a traitor and an enemy of the people. The details of the incident, as reported by Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass, sound as if they were taken from the theater of the absurd or from some political satire on places and times that have gone down in infamy. The questions that were posed to Chomsky by a border inspector, on orders from his superiors, have to be read and reread to be believed.

"Israel," Chomsky was informed, "doesn't like what you say." Is this a reasonable pretext for a democratic state to detain someone for questioning or hold him up at the border? And who is this "Israel" that doesn't like what Chomsky says? The general public? The Interior Ministry? The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories? The government?

One does not have to be an ardent supporter of Chomsky in order to agree with his view that Israel is behaving like South Africa in the 1960s, when it understood that it was an outcast, but thought it could solve the problem with the help of a better public relations campaign.

Now that the affair has come to light, Interior Ministry sources are claiming it was COGAT that should have handled Chomsky, and that his detention was the result of a misunderstanding, whereas COGAT is claiming that it did not know of the scholar's arrival. This, at best, is blatant disingenuousness.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should apologize to Chomsky and make sure that he is allowed to move freely around Israel and throughout the West Bank, including Bir Zeit University. It is not yet too late to repair some of the damage caused by this harmful folly.