Exile and the Prophetic: Henry Siegman — Elder Jewish (prophetic) statesman

If you have the time you should listen to the recent discussion on the future of Israel and Palestine organized by the Middle East Policy Council in Washington, D. C. All of the panelist comments are of interest.

I initially focused on Stephen Walt’s address and his desire to expand the dialogue of Israel/Palestine beyond the Two-State arena. His ruminations on the end of the Two-State solution are worth the price of admission.

I was especially drawn to his assertive comments on exposing the hypocrisy of those who seek to silence dissent:

We need to expose how the other side works. Free speech is a very powerful principle in the United States, and most Americans don’t like the idea of suppressing debate. When groups in the lobby try to suppress free speech, it’s important to publicize that that’s exactly what they’re doing. When people like Elliot Abrams or Alan Dershowitz make ludicrous charges, they should be publicly scorned; their employers should get letters and phone calls condemning what they’re doing. But please note, the goal is not to silence them, to keep them from participating: The goal is to deligitimate the use of smear tactics and make them backfire.

Walt, who is Professor of International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, is known to many. But the comments by Henry Siegman, President of U.S./Middle East Project and former Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, are telling.

More important than his present credentials are Siegman’s specifically Jewish ones. From 1978-1994, Siegman was Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress. Less known is that Siegman grew up in an Orthodox Zionist environment and is an ordained Orthodox Rabbi. He also hails from Germany. Birthdate: 1930.

In an article in the Forward last year, Nathan Guttman described Siegman’s shift on Israel in relation to his background: “Siegman’s journey to the far-left corner of the Middle East worldview began with his early childhood, hiding in a cellar in Belgium as his family evaded the advancing Nazi troops until finally leaving occupied Europe. He told The New York Times in a previous interview that it was this childhood experience that helped him understand Palestinian fear.”

After being a convinced Zionist and Israel supporter, at some point, Siegman got sober. At his age, he isn’t pulling any punches.

At the Middle East Policy Council event, Siegman declared that the Middle East peace process is “probably the greatest scam in modern diplomatic history, and future historians are going to be absolutely in awe in how that was pulled off.” For Siegman, this isn’t a recent development:

From the day after the 1967 war, there has not been a single Israeli government that has seriously considered the possibility of allowing a truly independent Palestinian state and sovereign Palestinian state, terms explicitly used by the road map that everyone, including the United States, Israel and the Palestinians signed on to, implicit in the Oslo Accords and promised repeatedly, even now, by Bibi Netanyahu in the famous Bar-Ilan speech. There was never any idea entertained by any Israeli government that the West Bank would not remain under complete control. Palestinians could call their self-government — whatever forms of autonomy that would permitted could be called — would be allowed to call it a state or an empire or whatever they wanted to call it, but it would be completely under Israeli control.

In the Nation several years ago, Siegman called Israel out in no uncertain terms. Notice the language he uses to describe Israel:

Israel’s relentless drive to establish “facts on the ground” in the occupied West Bank, a drive that continues in violation of even the limited settlement freeze to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed himself, seems finally to have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project. As a result of that “achievement,” one that successive Israeli governments have long sought in order to preclude the possibility of a two-state solution, Israel has crossed the threshold from “the only democracy in the Middle East” to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.

Colonial project. The only apartheid regime in the Western world. This from an elder Jewish statesman strongly affiliated with the Jewish establishment. He knows all the players, maneuverings and policies close-up.

What should be done in the face of this sham? In a recent National Interest article, Siegman expressed the need for a bold departure: “Nothing would expose more convincingly the Israeli disguise of the one-state reality now in place than a Palestinian decision to shut down the Palestinian Authority and transform their national struggle for independence and statehood into a struggle for citizenship and equal rights within the Greater Israel to which they have been consigned.”

“Within the Greater Israel to which they have been consigned” – like colonial project and apartheid applied to Israel and the Jewish establishment, these words resonate in deeply disturbing ways, don’t they?

As someone who came from the other side of history, Siegman knows what it’s like to be “consigned.”

Siegman’s mission: to free the “consigned” of all peoples and to end the Jewish colonial and apartheid project.

Where else to start as a Jew than with the Palestinian people?

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Future of the Prophetic: Israel's Ancient Wisdom Re-Presented.
Posted in American Jewish Community, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Occupation, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 6 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. pabelmont says:

    The following is very important, because it tends to honor the use of Holocaust and Nazi and “never again” symbols as morally admissible persuaders for pro-Palestinian views on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

    ” Nathan Guttman described Siegman’s shift on Israel in relation to his background: “Siegman’s journey to the far-left corner of the Middle East worldview began with his early childhood, hiding in a cellar in Belgium as his family evaded the advancing Nazi troops until finally leaving occupied Europe. He told The New York Times in a previous interview that it was this childhood experience that helped him understand Palestinian fear.””

  2. Don says:

    “Where else to start as a Jew than with the Palestinian people?”

    Cool thought, Prof Ellis.

  3. American says:

    ”When people like Elliot Abrams or Alan Dershowitz make ludicrous charges, they should be publicly scorned; their employers should get letters and phone calls condemning what they’re doing. But please note, the goal is not to silence them, to keep them from participating: The goal is to legitimate the use of smear tactics and make them backfire.”…..Walt

    ..’publicly scorned’…’make them backfire’. O.K. now that Walt has said it I want everyone that had a fit over my ‘shunning’ suggestion to eat their objections.
    I am telling you, you cannot debate the uber zionist any more than you can debate with a tin foil hat and die hard racist. You have to denounce them, their accusations and beliefs and make them social and political pariahs in the world.
    Every time the oh so ‘reasonable’ crew suggest debating the zionist they are only adding to the absurd idea that there is anything there ‘worthy’ of debate.
    There isn’t. Take away their ‘bully power’ by making them pay a price for it every time they try to use it.

  4. American says:

    I remember Siegman’s article in The Nation, but he was on the job even before that and didn’t mince words then either.
    Siegman should get a Medal of Freedom award along with all the other whistle blowers on Orwell Isr and Orwell USA.

    link to lrb.co.uk

    Vol. 31 No. 2 · 29 January 2009
    pages 3-5 | 2223 words

    ——————————————————————————–

    Israel’s Lies
    Henry Siegman

    Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defence but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

    I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

    Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further.

    continued

  5. RE: Siegman declared that the Middle East peace process is “probably the greatest scam in modern diplomatic history, and future historians are going to be absolutely in awe in how that was pulled off.” ~ from Marc Ellis’ commentary (above)

    HOW THEY PULLED IT OFF: By using two state fakery*! ! !

    * REGARDING “TWO STATE FAKERS”, SEE: “Flotilla 3.0: Redeeming Obama’s Palestine Speech with Gaza’s Ark”, By Robert Naiman, truth-out.org, 3/25/13

    [EXCERPT] . . . Bibi doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; Bibi’s government doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; AIPAC doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; and Congress – which defers to AIPAC – doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state. Of course, many of them mouth the words – not Bibi’s government, they don’t even do that – but those who mouth the words oppose any practical measure that would help bring an independent Palestinian state into existence. They’re “two state fakers.” Settlement freeze? Impossible. UN membership for Palestine? Can’t be done. No, according to the two state fakers, the only option on the menu in the restaurant for the Palestinians is to return to negotiations without a settlement freeze, negotiations that for 20 years have brought more land confiscation, more settlements, more restrictions on Palestinian movement and commerce, more oppression. And so, Obama was saying, my hands are tied. Don’t look at me. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – link to truth-out.org

    • P.S. THE BEAT GOES ON, THE BEAT GOES ON, DRUMS KEEP POUNDING A RHYTHM TO THE BRAIN, LA DE DA DE DE, LA DE DA DE DA*:
      “Kerry says Israel, Palestinians serious about peace”, by Reuters – Thu, May 9, 2013
      LINK – link to news.yahoo.com

      JOEL KOVEL 1-20-13:

      . . . As with everyone I know of in official political culture, Friedman [Kerry - J.L.D.] assumes that Israel is a rational actor on the international stage who will obey the calculus of reward and punishment that regulates the conduct of normal states. The presumption is that if you tell it the truth, and even pull back US support, it will get the message, reflect, and change its ways. But Israel is not a normal state, except superficially. It will make adjustments, pulling back here, co-operating there, making nice when necessary, crafting its message using a powerful propaganda apparatus employing the most up-to-date social science. But this is simply tactical and no more predicts or explains the behavior of the Zionist state than an individual sociopath can be explained by the fact that he obeys traffic signals while driving to the scene of his crime. . .

      SOURCE – link to mondoweiss.net

      * P.S. Sonny & Cher: The Beat Goes On [VIDEO, 02:14] – link to youtube.com