Interview with Henry Siegman, former Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee on Israel’s War On Gaza
Given his background, what American Jewish leader Rabbi Henry Siegman has to say about Israel’s founding in 1948 through the current assault on Gaza may surprise you. From 1978 to 1994, Siegman served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation’s “big three” Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Germany three years before the Nazis came to power in 1933, Siegman’s family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement that pushed for the creation of a Jewish state. In New York, Siegman studied the religion and was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, later becoming head of the Synagogue Council of America. After his time at the American Jewish Congress, Siegman became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. In the first of our two-part interview, Siegman discusses the assault on Gaza, the myths surrounding Israel’s founding in 1948, and his own background as a German-Jewish refugee who fled Nazi occupation to later become a leading American Jewish voice and now vocal critic of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories.
“When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis — and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success,” Siegman says. Responding to Israel’s U.S.-backed claim that its assault on Gaza is necessary because no country would tolerate the rocket fire from militants in Gaza, Siegman says: “What undermines this principle is that no country and no people would live the way that Gazans have been made to live. … The question of the morality of Israel’s action depends, in the first instance, on the question, couldn’t Israel be doing something [to prevent] this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human life? Couldn’t they have done something that did not require that cost? And the answer is, sure, they could have ended the occupation.”
Kazerooni and Prince on KGNU – Hemispheres – on Israel’s War On Gaza (July 29, 2014) – My Babblings on Zionism.
This (above) is an interview with Ibrahim Kazerooni and myself. It took place at KGNU’s Boulder studio on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. It is our analysis of Israel’s War On Gaza. The program begins about 3 minutes into “the stream”.
I am repeated asked…why do you do this? …the never-ending harsh criticism of Israel. I can answer that in a few words: They (the Zionists, Israel’s blind supporters) are doing it (their punishment, oppression of the Palestinians) in my name. I cannot accept that. Some years ago Jewish groups popped up all over the country with the same title “Not In My Name” … I have always liked that. If in the USA “our” numbers remain a minor trend within the Jewish Community, I am convinced that they are growing with national organizations like Jewish Voice For Peace and local Jewish groups popping up everywhere. Of course others who have become critics of Israel’s Occupation come to their understanding in other ways..and there are more of us, even here in the USA where the media is so one-sided and slanted towards excusing every growing Israeli war crime.
At the same time, let’s be clear about all this: this issue is more, much more than a “Jewish-Moslem”, “Israel-Palestinian” concern. It has emerged as a great universal humanitarian concern, similar in some ways to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and it is in this manner, that Israel’s treatment and oppression of the Palestinian people is increasingly understood…and not all the clever spin of Israel’s p.r. machine has been able to stop that. Nor will it be able to now nor in the future. The sympathy, support for the just struggle of the Palestinian people to create their own independent and viable state will continue.
I remember well, when I first questioned Israeli intentions and actions as a young adult…something in me cracked. It was as if the bubble I was living in – the Israel I wanted to believe existed, but didn’t, could never be reconstructed in my mind. Myth and reality. I’ll take reality every time, painful as it might be. Were the dollars I gave enthusiastically as a pre-Bar Mitzvah kid being used to plant trees or buy bullets for the Israeli military? From that point on – I was 23 – since, I have essentially always been suspicious of Israeli P.R., propaganda, actions and wondered, what about the Palestinians? I have seen the same process in others – for some it was the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon which resulted in the horrific massacre at Sabre and Chatilla camps, conducted it is true by Lebanese fascist elements, but directed by Ariel Sharon, Israel’s military leader at the time and later prime minister. And now, as the bombs rein down on Gaza, and ultra-orthodox Israeli rabbis call for nothing short of the extermination of the Palestinians there, I hear other Jewish voices, expressing a deep pain, angst as they come to grips with the reality of “the Zionist project.”
Funny, I believe both Kazerooni and I made the points we wanted to make in this podcast…but after the program was over and I was thinking about it, I concluded that some of the more profound remarks were made by long time friend and companero, RonForthofer, who called in. His main point was that the goal of this Israeli war against Gaza was to make life so miserable for the Palestinians there, the destruction of virtually the entire infrastructure, that organized life there would simply collapse (no electricity, less and less drinkable water, all institutions of modern life – schools, hospitals, etc) and that the goal here is an ethnic cleansing. Ibrahim K spoke about how the Israeli authorities keep close track of the caloric intake of Gaza residents, and like the Nazis did at Leningrad, are trying to keep the Palestinian Gazan diet at levels barely above that necessary to sustain life. The whole idea is to trigger a complete collapse of life in Gaza, sometimes slowly by the stranglehold Israel (and Egypt) conduct against Gaza; sometimes more quickly as with the current genocidal madness military campaign.
Let’s End The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Once And For All: Towards A Ceasefire, An End to the Israeli Occupation, Towards A Negotiated Settlement of the Conflict
(Note 1: This is the first of a series I hope to write on the current Israeli war on Gaza. There will be a follow-up piece specifically on U.S. policy. I also hope to be writing some stuff with dear friend and frequent co-collaborator, Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni.
Note 2: a few hours after I posted this a 12 hour cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza Palestinians was agreed by both parties. Today is “El Quds” Day…the last Friday prayer of the Ramadan month of fasting. It might not mean much to North Americans and Europeans, but in the Moslem World, it is an important day. It means “Jerusalem Day”…and today the West Bank blew up in opposition and anger to the Israel war on Gaza, so much so that Mohammed Abbas and his Fateh group fears losing control of the situation, greatly complicating the Israel’s position. It is also true, although essentially blacked out in the US, that the Secretary General of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, gave an important speech today in which he pledged support for the Gaza Palestinians. In the West Bank already at least seven have died, hundreds arrested. For Israel it now means that it is opposing Palestinians on two fronts, [possibly three] simultaneously – Gaza and the West Bank – it is more than likely that this deteriorating situation for Israel is behind the call for a 12 hour cease-fire.
Note 3: the piece has been published at Foreign Policy In Focus.
It goes on…now in its 19th day…Israel’s punishing military offensive against Gaza. Although it might happen – these conflicts have ended abruptly in the past – at the moment there is no ceasefire in site. The asymmetrical blow-for-blow continues. As many have pointed out, it is not a war, but an Israeli premeditated killing spree of Palestinian civilians. Nor is this the first time. Each day the casualty numbers mount. The published statistics are at best only “guestimates”with the real figures being significantly higher. How many more Palestinian civilians will be pulled from the rubble in the months after the fighting stops? How many bodies will never be found? Read more…
Day of the Vulture in Argentina
July 24, 2014
By Conn Hallinan
It is no surprise that right-wing Republican and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer should be trying to wring hundreds of millions of dollars out of Argentina for a debt that Buenos Aires doesn’t really owe him. He screwed tens of millions of dollars out of poverty-stricken Peru and the Republic of Congo using the same financial sleight of hand. What may surprise people, however, is that key leaders in the administration of former President Bill Clinton are helping him do it.
To read the full article go to: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/day_of_the_vulture_over_argentina_20140724
“Il y a deux Histoires: l’officielle, mensongère, qui nous est enseigné, et l’Histoire secrète où se trouves les vraies causes des événements, une Histoire honteuse” – Balzac, Les Illusions perdues. (Rough translation: History comes in two versions: there is the official history, that which we learn in school with its lies and half truths; then there is the secret history in which the more accurate causes of historical events unfolds, a shameful and shameless tale.”)
1. Nothing Left To Uncover About World War II?
Putting the Dieppe Raid of August 17,1942 in its more global context, at least up until recently there are a number of historians who argue that, really, there is nothing left to say about World War II, that so much has been researched, written, made into documentaries and feature films about the war that anything new would simply be in part or in large measure redundant.
Nothing could be further from the truth; to the contrary, it would be more to the point to argue that historians have just scratched the surface. True enough the general outlines of the war in Europe are clear enough although, even here, a certain blurred vision fueled in large measure by Cold War blinders endured until the collapse of Communism in 1989 and 1991. Much of the narrative has been reworked in the past quarter century. On the other hand, where, in English (or any other European based language is the complete or comprehensive of the war in Asia? It remains largely unknown both in terms of what actually transpired there and how the war itself shaped the post war evolution throughout the continent from Indonesia to China. Read more…
The Rouen Chronicles: The Dieppe – 2 The Botched Dieppe Raid of August 17, 1942 (in two parts) – Part One
1. A family vacation in the Dieppe Region
A quarter of a century ago next month, our family was fortunate enough to spend two weeks on vacation in France, a week of that time vacationing in the region in and around Dieppe. Today, Dieppe is a small French port and fishing town of 35,000 in Normandy on the English Channel long frequented by British tourists who make the 70 mile journey across “La Manche.” It includes some of 16th century Europe’s best cartographers. Although its importance has dwindled some, Dieppe has a rich history; it was a key transit point in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries between the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. It was in large measure from Dieppe and nearby ports that the Arcadians and Cajuns, who would make up the French-speaking populations of Eastern Canada and Louisiana, would depart. Read more…
(Note: This summer I was thrilled to participate in a trip through OFI (Orangutan Foundation International) in which we got to see orangutans in the rainforest of Indonesia. We also got to meet Dr. Birute Galdikas, who has been studying and advocating for orangutans in Indonesia for over 40 years.)
So Vivid Yet So Fleeting
By Molly Prince
My dad suggested I write about the trip
because the experience is
so vivid yet so fleeting.
And he is right.
I can feel Indonesia
from my consciousness
at an alarming rate
as Denver floods back in.
Denver with its dry air and Western food and high technology.
My cats and my people,
tap water I can drink and internet and phone and
quiet invaded by ambulance sirens
instead of the constant chirping of birds
and whirring of insects of Indonesia
with the hot, humid air, rice and tofu,
chicken and shrimp, cooked greens and potatoes,
dangerous tap water, mango, pineapple and durian fruit,
traffic jams and overcrowded Jakarta and the serenity of the Sakonyer River,
selamat pagi and terima kasih,
women in colorful head coverings, Muslim prayer calls,
crocodiles and black water rivers.
There is the background.
The main points seem very simple.
The gorgeous rainforest
pulsing with life
home to the majestic orangutan and a rich ecosystem
including proboscis monkeys, Bornean bearded pigs, clouded leopards,
hornbills, butterflies – a seemingly endless list.
All being destroyed
just a little bit left
like the glacier at Glacier National Park
so that people can have junk food and money.
We all need money.
But we don’t need to be billionaires.
Palm oil plantation owners are billionaires.
Not just the orangutans but the whole ecosystem.
Not just the eco-system but all the ecosystems.
Not just all the ecosystems but
the macro system,
all the systems of the earth that work together
to make the planet hospitable to life.
Not hospitable to life = climate crisis = we can not eat money.
“Only when the last tree has been cut down,
the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught
will we realize we can not eat money.”*
Then there are the orangutan themselves.
They are interesting and humanlike and
I love listening to Dr. Birute talk about orangutans
and evolution and their social structures and
it was an incredible experience of a lifetime
to be so close to them.
I am honored and I love them.
They are the star of the show.
But also, it is the show as a whole that I care about.
Dr. Birute Galdikas.
Also the star of the show.
A celebrity to me
although her personality is
certainly not that of a celebrity.
Deliberate and thoughtful
brilliant and patient
stubborn, tenacious and fragile.
I love her.
She has done a superhuman amount.
She has worked miracles.
And still, it is possible that
it won’t be enough.
Irene said, “most people’s favorite is the care center.”
The care center is not my favorite.
It was amazing to see the orangutans there
but the care center makes me sad.
It begins and ends with sad
it does have magic and hard work and
in the middle.
It begins with orphaned orangutans
And it ends with
where are these orangutans to go?
Saved and cared for and ready to
be released back into the wild
and there is
not enough wild.
My favorite is the orangutans in the jungle.
My favorite is the orangutan babies with their mamas
in the jungle.