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Jewish “Elder Statesman” Calls Israeli Policy of Settlements “Suicidal”

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2012

At 82, Henry Siegman, referred to by The Forward (Oct. 5, 2012) as a “Jewish elder statesman,” believes that Israel’s policy of building settlements on the West Bank is “suicidal.”  
The Forward notes that, “Henry Siegman felt pessimism setting in as he thought of the future of Israel and its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. ‘The two-state solution,’ he recently wrote, ‘is dead.’ For this son of German Jewish refugees who grew up to lead what was then one of American Jewry’s major organizations, it was the final stage of a process he had been going through for years …”  
Siegman, who for many years led the American Jewish Congress, wrote an article in the September issue of The National Interest, in which he opined that the two-state solution is “no longer feasible and that Israel’s settlement policy has ushered a one-state reality for Palestinians and Israelis.”  
According to The Forward, “Siegman said he reached this conclusion after determining that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will not withdraw from the West Bank and that there is no viable political alternative in Israel … In his article, Siegman offers a dramatic solution, one that he believes could shift the debate and draw international attention.”  
Siegman argues that, “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.”  
In an interview with The Forward, Siegman said he was suggesting a Palestinian public campaign for equal rights. To Siegman, it is clear that Israel is at fault for reaching the brink of a binational one-state: “If Israel believes that in this part of the world it can permanently deprive millions of Palestinians of their rights, that is absurd. Israel is signing its own death warrant.”  
In an earlier interview, Siegman described to The New York Times his early childhood, hiding in a cellar in Belgium as his family evaded the advancing Nazi troops finally leaving occupied Europe. He said that it was his childhood experience that helped him understand Palestinian fear. He said that growing up amid Orthodox Zionists, “I also bought into the slogan that Palestine is a land without people for a people without a land.” He was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi and served as a chaplain in the Korean War.  
Siegman laments that the organized Jewish community has shifted toward a single focus on Israel, and has engaged in unquestioning support of any Israeli policy. “I’m not alienated from Israel,” he says. “I’m alienated from the people who are now running it into the ground.”  
Siegman believes that the discourse within the Jewish community, at least the parts that aren’t influenced by the major organizations, is broadening. He gives J Street and author Peter Beinart some of the credit for making the discussion easier. But his conclusion is not hopeful: “I find greater openness to an honest discussion, and I also find that my pessimism is now more widely shared.” •

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.