The broken Jewish heart of Henry Siegman

Henry Siegman is a longtime participant in American Jewish issues. The 84 year old is the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and former executive head of the Synagogue Council of America, two of the major, mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States. What distinguishes him from so many others is that he is also an ordained Orthodox rabbi.

Unlike many, Siegman in public interviews is unafraid to speak as one committed to Judaism. The other morning on Democracy Now he sat down with the intrepid Amy Goodman, one of the most extraordinary reporters in the United States. Her regular NPR show is an oasis in the desert of American radio.

Siegman started his remarks with a Talmudic saying, in the Ethics of the Fathers: Don’t judge your neighbor until you can imagine yourself in his place.’”So, my first question when I deal with any issue related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue: What if we were in their place?”

His answer: “No country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live … our media rarely ever points out that these are people who have a right to live a decent, normal life, too. And they, too, must think, ‘What can we do to put an end to this?’


Born in Frankfurt in 1930, the son of a father who was an important European Zionist leader, he barely escaped Hitler’s claws and arrived as a 12 year old at Ellis Island. Ordained a rabbi he served as a chaplain in the Korean War where he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He seemed the quintessential American Zionist but as a believing Jew he began to distance himself from the policies of the Israeli government.Unlike many of his co-religionists the Jewish state had not replaced Torah in his belief system.

Asked by Goodman about Gaza he replied, “It’s disastrous. … 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 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.

If you don’t want to kill Palestinians, if that’s what pains you so much, you don’t have to kill them. You can give them their rights, and you can end the occupation. And to put the blame for the occupation and for the killing of innocents that we are seeing in Gaza now on the Palestinians—why? Because they want a state of their own? They want what Jews wanted and achieved?”
Unlike many, Siegman sees through the massive propaganda and does not begin with “the rockets,” those pathetic weapons sadly launched by Hamas. He has a sense of history. He begins with the root cause of the conflict the 50 year state violence visited on Palestinians by israel.

As a rabbi, Siegman continuously invokes “Jewish values.”

If you follow Jewish tradition, the lesson of those persecutions, we have always said, until the state of Israel came into being, is that you do not treat people in that kind of an inhumane and cruel way. And the hope always was that Israel would be a model democracy, but not just a democracy, but a state that would practice Jewish values, in terms of its humanitarian approach to these issues, its pursuit of justice and so on. ..That decent people in israel can watch evil and do nothing about it. That is the most important lesson of the Holocaust, not the Hitlers and not the SS, but the public that allowed this to happen. And my deep disappointment is that the Israeli public, precisely because Israel is a democracy and cannot say, “We’re not responsible what our leaders do,” that the public puts these people back into office again and again.

Siegman understands as few others in North America that Binyamin Netanyahu has publicly sworn to never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state.He told Goodman.” the policy of this government and of many previous governments, which is to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. And they have built up their army and their armaments to implement that policy. And the difference between Hamas and the state of Israel is that the state of Israel is actually doing it. They’re actually implementing it, and they’re actually preventing a Palestinian state, which doesn’t exist. And millions of Palestinians live in this subservient position without rights and without security, without hope and without a future. That’s not the state of—the state of Israel is a very successful state, and happily Jews live there with a thriving economy and with an army whose main purpose is preventing that Palestinian state from coming into being. That’s their mandate.

He finished his interview with the sad obsrvation of the terrible price Zionism has wreaked on Judaism.


For many American Jews—and,  I suspect, for most American Jews—Israel has become the content of their Jewish religious identification. It has very little other content. I rarely have been at a Shabbat service where a rabbi gives a sermon where Israel isn’t a subject of the sermon. And typically, they are—the sermons are not in the spirit of an Isaiah, you know, who says, “My god, is this what God wants from you? Your hands are bloody; they’re filled with blood. But he doesn’t want your fast. He doesn’t want—he despises the sacrifices and your prayers. What he wants is to feed, to feed the hungry, to pursue justice and so on.” But that’s not what you hear from rabbis in the synagogues in this country. So, what I meant by that is that there’s much more to Judaism and to the meaning that you give to your Jewish identity than support for the likes of Netanyahu.



  1. 1
    mushafta Says:

    You see Francesco 49- you just don’t get it. It’s not your brain. You’re not slow. You’re not retarded. You’re not a buffoon. You just don’t get it.

    It’s about compassion, understanding, bathing your bright intellect in your heart.

    Just listen to the words above:

    “Asked by Goodman about Gaza he replied, “It’s disastrous. … 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 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.”

    If you don’t want to kill Palestinians, if that’s what pains you so much, you don’t have to kill them. You can give them their rights, and you can end the occupation. And to put the blame for the occupation and for the killing of innocents that we are seeing in Gaza now on the Palestinians—why? Because they want a state of their own? They want what Jews wanted and achieved?”

  2. 2
    mushafta Says:

    Well Francesco 49- seems Ted is not alone in condemning Israel!
    Tale a look at what is happening in Latin America. Is Ted really the odd man out?

    Montevideo (AFP) – Latin America’s leaders are among the most vehement in condemning Israel’s Gaza offensive — labelling the Jewish state “terrorist”, recalling ambassadors, and offering near-unanimous, unwavering support to Palestinians.

    “I can’t remember another similar situation where (all the countries in the region) have reacted practically as a bloc,” said political scientist Reginaldo Nasser, a professor at the Pontifical University in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

    One of the most symbolic recent developments came from Bolivian President Evo Morales — one of the leaders of Latin America’s far left — who put Israel on its list of “Terrorist States” and eliminated a visa waiver program for Israeli citizens.

    More than 1,400 Palestinians have been killed and 8,000 injured, two-thirds of them civilians, in Gaza in 24 days of fighting between Hamas and Israel. The conflict has also cost the lives of 61 Israeli soldiers, as well as two civilians and a Thai farm worker killed by rocket fire.

    More than 245 of the dead Palestinians were children, UNICEF has said.

    – Diplomatic recalls –

    Brazil President Dilma Rousseff this week called the Israeli military operation a “massacre.”

    Tensions between the two countries had already escalated a week earlier, when Brazil recalled its envoy from Tel Aviv, a move that prompted Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman to call the Latin American powerhouse a “diplomatic dwarf”.

    Rousseff’s condemnation did not go as far as some of her peers. Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro denounced “a war of extermination that has lasted nearly a century” against the Palestinian people. A lawmaker from his party used the term “genocide” — a term rejected by Rousseff.

    Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and El Salvador have also recalled their ambassadors for consultations, while Costa Rica and Argentina, which have the largest Jewish populations in the region, called the Israeli ambassador for meetings at their foreign ministries.

    The region has universally condemned the violence from Israeli military operations, urged a ceasefire and the resumption of negotiations between the two sides.

    On Thursday, Uruguay President Jose Mujica asked for “an immediate withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza and suggested it may also recall its envoy in Tel Aviv.

    Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor expressed “deep disappointment” over the recalls, saying they constituted “encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terror organization by many countries around the world.”

    Other politically leftist Latin American countries had years earlier broken diplomatic relations with Israel, including Nicaragua in 2010, Venezuela and Bolivia in 2009, after a previous military campaign in Gaza, and Cuba, in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War.

  3. 3

    No, no, my dear Mushafta: It’s you who does not get it. Because you cannot show the argument is faulty, you now attack my character and claim that it is compassion and empathy that I lack. So those who disagree with Ted are somehow morally deficient.

    You see, it’s not as simple as the Palestinians want a state of their own. If only! What you don’t seem to get is the Hamas Charter. Read the thing, for crying out loud. Just read it. Don’t project your own Western/Christian desire for peace and tolerance onto Hamas. It doesn’t work. My gosh, there are Palestinians outside of Palestine who support Israel. Of course, we don’t support everything Israel is doing. We don’t support bulldozing houses, we don’t delight in civilian casualties, we don’t support bombing UN buildings, but Hamas terrorists are not, I repeat, are NOT what you imagine them to be. You just can’t make sense out of the strange history of the Israeli/Palestinian peace offers, and you won’t until you get a good grasp of the Hamas Charter. Maybe you should read some books on Islamic radicals, those who want Islamic hegemony, the minority (three hundred million) who will not rest until Israel is destroyed completely, who do not want to live in peace with Israel and the west. Why don’t you pick up a book on that. I think you’d find it to be an eye opener. We in the west don’t like to talk about things like that, we find it scary, frightening, to think there is real evil in the world. We’re rather believe that everyone is good willed, everyone just wants to live in peace, and all we have to do to achieve it is open a hand in friendship, offer government grants, free this and that, and others will be moved to embrace us. We just can’t for the life of us imagine that there might be people in this world who think differently, radically different. That’s what I think you are overlooking, and I understand why you are overlooking it. I don’t want to think about it either. But you need to study the mind of the radical Islamist. Again, we are dealing with a minority, but the minority is about 300 million. That’s as big as the U.S.

    Just think of some of those radical conservative Catholics, the homeschoolers, the aggressive right wingers. I don’t know how much you’ve had to deal with people like that, but I have. They are stubborn, self-righteous, unbending, and they look upon you with suspicion when you oppose them. But imagine these people now, living in a country with a very weak legal infrastructure, armed, and operating with a set of scriptures that tells them it is okay to kill the infidel, that it is their duty to do so. Imagine they lack the communal pressure against such an interpretation. For example, a right wing Catholic who wants to shoot a PM would not find support in the Church, but imagine if such a person was living in a country surrounded by people who did support such an interpretation. Then you’ll begin to get some idea of what we are dealing with. I’ve spoken with people who study this, who have been to the Middle East. Yes, most of them are wonderful. And you’d be surprised how many Arabs living in Israel speak highly of Israel. They will tell you they live there because it is a wonderful place to live. YOu can have a good life in Israel, whether you are muslim, christian, gay, lesbian, etc. Can’t say that about Muslim countries. And I have spoken to people in the Canadian military who have served in Afghanistan. They have some real insights into the “thinking” of many of these radicals. You have to look outside the CBC for a genuine understanding of Islamo-Fascism. It’s a difficult topic, but you cannot bury your head in the sand.

    • 4
      mushafta Says:

      Thank you Francesco 49. You are very articulate, exact in logic and very well grammered all round.

      I know very well of the high numbers of Islamic militants and their desire to take out Israel. And thank you for the elaborate details on this.

      Maybe you could explain why Israel will not concede Palestinian freedom and land.

      And, where do you suspect this is all going? You did not explain the South American support for Palestine. Would it possibly have anything to do with their personal experience of oppression from the U.S.? ( Cuba, Nicaragua, etc.)

      So what is your solution my dear friend Francesco 49?

    • 5
      mushafta Says:

      So Francesco 49, today’s news reports another U.N. School hit by Israeli shells leaving 10 dead. Is this morally ok with your values and logic? Despite the world wide condemnation? All the fault of Hamas?

  4. 6

    No, it is not okay to hit a U.N. School. The first condition for a solution is to be open to a solution, and if you read the Hamas charter, there is no openness to a solution. Maybe I’ll cut and paste sections of the Hamas charter that deals with this kind of thing. But as Dershowitz always points out, you and another Arab can work out a solution in an hour, one that will be acceptable to you and the Arab, or anyone with a modicum of reason. Look at what Bill Clinton was able to accomplish. Why did Arafat walk away? It was an unbelievable deal. That’s the problem here. Israel is a great country to live in. Everyone’s rights are respected. They want peace. Just look at the history; peace offer after peace offer, land offer, after land offer. It is astounding that it repeatedly is rejected. Again, just do a bit of research. There’s no doubt there are extreme elements of Zionism in Israel, but Israel is very tough on those people. They’re not running the show. It is the radical element that is the problem. We can’t ignore that. But of course that does not justify destroying a U.N. school. But listen to those who are defending Israel. Listen to the points they make and test each one. I’ll come back with quotes from the Charter is that’s okay.

    • 7
      mushafta Says:

      I’m not buying it Francesco 49.
      You’ve already dismissed Jimmy Carter who has a lot of credibility in my eyes. And the continued pounding of Palestine will only deteriorate any efforts of peace.

      By the way, put yourself into a Palestinian’s shoes- you’ve just lost your family. Why wouldn’t you vote in an extremist group like Hamas? What do you have to lose? What is there left but rubble and more dead bodies?
      How do you counsel someone with raging anger? These are human beings!

  5. A good article. It is beyond comprehension that this barbarism this evil of killing the innocents is allowed to continue. All good people around the world must speak, and must act.

    • 9
      mushafta Says:

      Right on Gordon! And they are…more and more are “getting it”!

    • 10
      mushafta Says:

      The world is watching Francesco 49! Just look at the reactions …..

      Latin America condemns Israel atrocities against Palestinians
      The Government of Ecuador confirmed on Tuesday its recognition of Palestine as an independent state with pre-1967 borders and urged the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) to stop the violence carried out by Israel against the Gaza Strip.

      “My country recognizes the State of Palestine as an independent state with pre-1967 borders,” said Xavier Lasso, the representative of Ecuador to the Security Council of the UN.

      Lasso said that “two years ago, the Security Council welcomed the state of Palestine as an observer but progressive people in the world want to see the state of Palestine as a full member of this assembly soon.”

      Also, the Ecuadorian representative demanded “a forceful action against Israeli attacks on unarmed Palestinians.

      Meanwhile, Bolivia and Nicaragua have condemned attacks by Israel.The Representative of Nicaragua to the United Nations condemned the slaughter vigorously against the people of Gaza while calling the international community to assist Palestinians to achieve peace.

      The Bolivian representative, Sacha Llorenti condemend the Israel attack against the Palestinian people on behalf of President Evo Morales and called upon the Non-Aligned Countries (NAM) and the Group of 77 and China (G77) to intervene to cease attacks and hostilities in the Gaza Strip, where so far more than 600 deaths and thousands of injuries are recorded.


      0 #3 Johnston Fernando 2014-07-26 07:57
      For an oppressed nation there is no weapons other than rockets and stones. When Palestinians live under an apartheid regime in Israel, rockets and stones are the only weapons. Killing innocent people is brutal. Why do the civilized world that talk about human rights just allow this Israel massacre?

      0 #2 Namal R. 2014-07-25 19:12
      The Zoinists who use heavy and lethal weapons to massacre unarmed Palistines who are been kept in an open prison for over 65 years should be punished, condemned and should be brought to justice.
      The Zionists who run and control world’s financial, arms, trade and media markets want to erase Palestine from the world’s map and to occoupy their land while restricting their movement, trade and their lives.
      Zionists who create troubles and wars throughout the world should be condemned by the international community.
      It is time to rice up against Zionist suppression and Zionist racist criminals.

  6. 11



    The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement was issued on August

    18, 1988. The Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as the HAMAS,

    is an extremist fundamentalist Islamic organization operating in the

    territories under Israeli control. Its Covenant is a comprehensive

    manifesto comprised of 36 separate articles, all of which promote the

    basic HAMAS goal of destroying the State of Israel through Jihad

    (Islamic Holy War). The following are excerpts of the HAMAS


    Goals of the HAMAS:


    ‘The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian

    movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is

    Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of

    Palestine.’ (Article 6)

    On the Destruction of Israel:


    ‘Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will

    obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.’ (Preamble)

    The Exclusive Moslem Nature of the Area:


    ‘The land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [Holy Possession]

    consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. No one

    can renounce it or any part, or abandon it or any part of it.’

    (Article 11)

    ‘Palestine is an Islamic land… Since this is the case, the

    Liberation of Palestine is an individual duty for every Moslem

    wherever he may be.’ (Article 13)

    The Call to Jihad:


    ‘The day the enemies usurp part of Moslem land, Jihad becomes the

    individual duty of every Moslem. In the face of the Jews’ usurpation,

    it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised.’ (Article 15)

    ‘Ranks will close, fighters joining other fighters, and masses

    everywhere in the Islamic world will come forward in response to the

    call of duty, loudly proclaiming: ‘Hail to Jihad!’. This cry will

    reach the heavens and will go on being resounded until liberation is

    achieved, the invaders vanquished and Allah’s victory comes about.’

    (Article 33)

    Rejection of a Negotiated Peace Settlement:


    ‘[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and

    international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of

    the Islamic Resistance Movement… Those conferences are no more than

    a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of

    Islam… There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by

    Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a

    waste of time, an exercise in futility.’ (Article 13)

    Condemnation of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty:


    ‘Egypt was, to a great extent, removed from the circle of struggle

    [against Zionism] through the treacherous Camp David Agreement. The

    Zionists are trying to draw other Arab countries into similar

    agreements in order to bring them outside the circle of struggle.

    …Leaving the circle of struggle against Zionism is high treason,

    and cursed be he who perpetrates such an act.’ (Article 32)

    Anti-Semitic Incitement:


    ‘The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and

    kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the

    rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind

    me, come and kill him.’ (Article 7)

    ‘The enemies have been scheming for a long time … and have

    accumulated huge and influential material wealth. With their money,

    they took control of the world media… With their money they stirred

    revolutions in various parts of the globe… They stood behind the

    French Revolution, the Communist Revolution and most of the

    revolutions we hear about… With their money they formed secret

    organizations – such as the Freemasons, Rotary Clubs and the Lions –

    which are spreading around the world, in order to destroy societies

    and carry out Zionist interests… They stood behind World War I …

    and formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the

    world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge

    financial gains… There is no war going on anywhere without them

    having their finger in it.’ (Article 22)

    ‘Zionism scheming has no end, and after Palestine, they will covet

    expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates River. When they have

    finished digesting the area on which they have laid their hand, they

    will look forward to more expansion. Their scheme has been laid out

    in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’.’ (Article 32)

    ‘The HAMAS regards itself the spearhead and the vanguard of the

    circle of struggle against World Zionism… Islamic groups all over

    the Arab world should also do the same, since they are best equipped

    for their future role in the fight against the warmongering Jews.’

    (Article 32

  7. 12

    Following the publication of the Goldstone Report in 2009, which catalogued the high proportion of civilians to combatant deaths among Gazans, loud complaints were heard from many ordinary citizens of Gaza: Why do you protect Hamas fighters, while exposing civilians? Hamas responded by claiming — quite ironically — that many of those counted as “civilians” by the Goldstone Report, especially among the police, were actually Hamas combatants.

  8. 13

    Whatever the facts turn out to be during the current encounter, more and more Gazans are beginning to understand how ill-served they have been by Hamas. And now, media reports are documenting the extraordinary wealth accumulated by Hamas leaders at the expense of ordinary Gazans. As one report put it:

    “With multi-million-dollar land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza’s rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggled with 38% poverty and 40% unemployment.”
    The report went on to detail the newly acquired wealth of specific Hamas leaders, strongly suggesting that this violent theocracy has now also become a criminal kleptocracy, at the expense of the people of Gaza.

    During a recent radio interview, I was asked what I would do if I were a resident of Gaza, suffering from unemployment and Israeli rockets counterattacks? My answer was simple: I would try to overthrow the Hamas regime and make a deal with Israel under which Gaza would give up its rockets in exchange for a “Marshall Plan” that would feed and normalize its residence.

    Such a plan would require international inspection of imports and the end of the “tunnel economy” that has enriched Hamas leaders and allowed the importation of lethal rockets. The current Hamas leadership is unlikely to accept any plan that takes away their money and weapons, but if the people of Gaza were to demand change — a real “Gaza Spring” — anything is possible.

  9. 14

    Do you mean to tell me that Hamas leaders are just as greedy and money hungry as Capitalists? But 49, that doesn’t fit our narrative! Only western CEOs and investors and capitalist pigs horde money, not Hamas or any other Muslim leaders. They are just interested in justice for the oppressed, that’s all. That’s what our narrative says. Don’t make things complicated. Stop being a puppet of the Zionist lobby. The oppressors are the owners of the means of capital, the oppressed are the poor and the terrorist groups that defend them, who would not be terrorists if it were not for the capitalist pigs. Get with the program!

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