The Great Henry Siegman on Israel

In today’s Financial Times, Henry Siegman states that Israel is trying to annex large portions of the West Bank and thereby frustrate plans for a true Palestinian state. “The issue is not whether Hamas recognises Israel,” Siegman says. It is whether Israel recognizes the right of Palestinians to statehood. Hamas, he points out, has in spite of its rhetoric not launched suicide bombers against Israel in over a year. Meanwhile, Israel continues to baffle and crush Palestinian hopes for a state.

Three points:

1. Once again, this bold statement, by an American, did not—could not— appear in an American newspaper. It had to appear in Europe. What does this mean? That Americans continue to maintain one-dimensional understanding of Israel. Americans’ ideas of Israeli history and policy are “a fantasy built on a fantasy,” Tony Kushner told me earlier this year. Reality requires frank discussion, including even Jews like Siegman and Kushner (whose honorary degree from Brandeis, recognizing his work as a playwright, became a rallying point for rightwing opposition!). Americans don’t get frank discussion.

2. Siegman is a brave man. He headed the American Jewish Congress for 16 years. He is now the Council on Foreign Relations’ leading expert on the Middle East. He speaks out again and again on these matters and has suffered god only knows how much threat and vituperation.

3. As the vision of a Palestinian state dissolves, the left will migrate slowly but inevitably toward another ideal: a one-state pluralistic solution.