Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Self-Hating Jew?

For those who are not familiar with the work of Henry Siegman, he was an ordained Orthodox rabbi who later served sixteen years as the Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress, the same organization that today can be absolutely depended upon to shamelessly try to defend the indefensible.

In recent years, Siegman has emerged as one of the most articulate, persuasive, and uncompromisingly candid critics of the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians.  Yesterday, the Hebrew edition of Haaretz published a column by Siegman, “Is Israel’s Legitimacy Under Challenge?”

It is worth quoting at length; I have added emphases of his most striking comments:

“Since the Goldstone report, Israel's political leaders and public have been agitated over what they claim to be a worldwide effort to "delegitimize" the Jewish state…[The Netanyahu government] concluded that this threat, believed to be motivated by anti-Semitism, is a greater danger to the country's existence than the nuclear threat from Iran.”

“Most Israelis, particularly the present government, have been blithely indifferent to repeated international condemnations of Israel's systematic theft of Palestinian territory on which it has been settling its own Jewish population in blatant violation of international law. In fact, Israel's legitimacy within its 1967 borders has never been challenged by the international community. It was not an anti-Semite seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state, but Theodore Meron, an internationally respected jurist and the legal advisor to Israel's Foreign Ministry, who following the war of 1967 conveyed the following legal opinion to Israel's Foreign Minister Abba Eban: "[C]ivilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention," to which Israel is a signatory. That Convention's ban on population transfer is "categorical and not conditional upon the motives for the transfer or its objectives. [The Convention's] purpose is to prevent settlement in occupied territory of citizens of the occupying state."

“There is therefore something bizarre in Israel's insistence that condemnations of its violations of international law are not intended to challenge the illegality of its settlements and continuing occupation but the legitimacy of its very existence. If Israel keeps it up, that insistence may well turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Perhaps Israel's right wing government believes that by accusing the international community of seeking to undermine its existence it will distract attention from an increasingly untenable claim that Israel is a model democracy that also enshrines Jewish values….The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizenry cannot hide its changing (or changed) character. A political arrangement that limits democracy to a privileged class and keeps others behind military checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls does not define democracy. It defines its absence.”

“The claim that Israel is the incarnation and defender of Jewish values is contradicted by its treatment of an Arab population that has now lived for over two generations under Israel's military subjugation.  Israel's problem is not the Palestinian or Arab refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state. It is, rather, the increasing difficulty of Jews familiar with Jewish values to recognize it as a Jewish state.”

“Rather than demanding that Palestinians declaim on Israel's democratic and Jewish identity, or conjuring non-existent threats to Israel's existence, Netanyahu and his government would be better advised adjusting Israel's policies toward a people that has lived under its unforgiving military occupation in a way that honors their country's democratic and Jewish beginnings. That would contribute far more to its "legitimacy" and to its long-range security than its present undemocratic and very un-Jewish course.”

Standby while the indefatigable ignoramuses or breathtakingly dishonest Israeli and American Jewish rightwingers swing into full smear mode against Siegman.  They’ll have a tough time making the usual charge—but they’ll come up with something.   Hold your noses.

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