Sad Henry Siegman

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No amount of Palestinian malfeasance or Iranian threat has ever really bothered Siegman. Israel is always the bad guy. This week he asininely argued that settlements are the “only rationale for Iranian hostility towards Israel,” and that Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines in a peace accord with the Palestinians “would remove the threat” of the Iranian bomb. 

Published in Israel Hayom, August 15, 2013.

It’s hard to believe that once upon a time Henry Siegman was executive director of the American Jewish Congress; a position he held for over 20 years. Since then, he has become one of Israel’s greatest detractors, always attacking Israeli policy with such animus and coming up with the most outrageous arguments to undermine the pro-Israel community.

This week he used his International Herald Tribune column to asininely argue that settlements are the “only rationale for Iranian hostility towards Israel,” and that Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines in a peace accord with the Palestinians “would remove the threat” of the Iranian bomb. Therefore, “Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories would be a far more certain answer to the existential threat Netanyahu claims faces Israel than an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

Siegman preposterously asks: “If Netanyahu is convinced Iranians intend another Holocaust against the Jews in Israel, are the settlements worth risking such a tragedy?”

Siegman then continues to proudly relate how he undercut the American Jewish community in its struggle against President George H. Bush’s freeze on loan guarantees for Soviet Jewish immigration, by telling Bush’s national security advisor Brent Scowcroft that Israel had no moral justification to ask for these U.S. loans as long as Prime Minister Shamir continued settlement in the West Bank. Scowcroft was then able to rebuff AIPAC’s claim that the Jewish community was united in opposition to Bush’s stance.

But why am I surprised? This is same Siegman who for years served as a propagandist for Yasser Arafat, sitting at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on a five million dollar grant from the EU to study “reform” of the Palestinian Authority. (He did a wonderful job at that reform!) There, he would regularly convene learned “roundtables” with Israel’s erstwhile pals Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, national security advisors in the Ford, Carter and Bush Sr. presidencies who never have had a good word to say about Israel; with Robert Malley, the former Clinton administration NSC staffer who sold to the world a revisionist version of the failed Camp David summit (the collapse was Barak’s fault, not Arafat’s); and with other frustrated old-school “experts” who once sang the praises of Oslo.

In 2003, they were the first to fashion linkage between the war against Saddam Hussein and Palestinian statehood, echoing Saddam himself. “A firm U.S. drive to establish a Palestinian state,” they argued, “would facilitate cooperation with the U.S. in its war on global terrorism and in its efforts to encourage the spread of democracy throughout the world”. “Only the credible promise of a Palestinian state will encourage an end to Palestinian terror,” they sweetly added.

Of course, we have since learned that the opposite was true. Arafat turned up the violence the minute Barak offered him a full-fledged state. Rewarding the Palestinians for their violence only guarantees more violence.

Siegman is relentlessly out to “save Israel in spite of itself” – just like former State Department official George Ball of 30 years ago. In Siegman’s re-writing of history, the main problem with the Oslo process was not Palestinian treachery and terrorism, but the failure of Israel and the US “to spell out what the Palestinians would get at the end of the process.”

Siegman wrote that “it should not come as a surprise that Palestinians failed to observe Oslo’s proscription of violent resistance to the occupation.” Why? “Because of the relentless expansion of Jewish settlements on their land.” This is what “destroyed Palestinian trust and confidence” in the process and led, understandably, “to the killing and chaos that now reign.” If this is not a bald apology for terrorism, I don’t know what is.

The other idea that gets Siegman apoplectic is the “mind-boggling,” “outlandish,” “pernicious” and “absurd” idea that “Israel’s claim to the West Bank and Gaza is on a par with that of the Palestinians.” Heaven forbid that Jews should even claim historic, religious or national rights to these God-given Palestinian territories.

It’s not just Prime Minister Netanyahu today who is the bad guy. It’s all Israeli leaders over the past several decades, according to Siegman. He has savaged Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Ya’alon, Ehud Barak, Meir Dagan, Aharon Zeevi and Efraim Halevy” – who “all are cut from the same military cloth.” They all believe “that the Palestinians must be defeated militarily” before Israel returns to any political process.

To Siegman, any process that doesn’t meet “even the minimal Palestinian national aspirations” – defined as removal of all the settlements and a complete withdrawal to the 1967 lines (allowing for minor border corrections and land swaps) – is a farce meant to swindle the Palestinians out of their rightful place in history. The fact that Barak offered, and Arafat rejected, 97 percent of “everything” at Camp David is of no consequence to Siegman. It was just another Israeli “cleverly fabricated pretense” at peace-making.

No amount of Palestinian malfeasance and corruption has ever really bothered Siegman. In 2003, Siegman wrote that it was an “absurd idea” that a peace process with the Palestinians must await the transformation of the PA into a democratic and accountable institution. That’s just a “transparent ploy to delay a political process,” he proclaimed. He then mocked the George W. Bush administration’s emphasis on Palestinian accountability and transparency. This, despite the fact – or perhaps because of the fact – that Siegman served as director of an International Task Force for Palestinian Institution Building funded by the European Commission and by Norway.

Today, Siegman has decamped to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where his hostile views on Israel are better received and from whence he continues to berate Israel. “If Israel does not return essentially to its pre-1967 borders and facilitate the emergence of a viable and successful Palestinian state, the glorious Zionist enterprise will come to an end,” he declares.

Undoubtedly, Henry Siegman would terrifically mourn that loss.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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