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

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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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 The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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