There was something about Henry Siegman, the one-time director of the American Jewish Congress (when it was a liberal group) that’s been bothering me for years. He’s very eloquent, but he’s more argumentative and sure of himself than warranted; he is not above simplifying complex matters at Israel’s expense. For example, on Avigdor Lieberman, the controversial head of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, he writes in the Jan. 22nd issue of The Nation:
Several months ago, the same Olmert who worried publicly about the stigma of apartheid appointed Avigdor Lieberman, a man of racist and antidemocratic convictions, as his deputy prime minister. Lieberman, who … holds political views that would have made Rehavam Ze’evi sound like a charter member of the ACLU…. Lieberman advocates not only the ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from the occupied territories but getting rid of Arabs who are Israeli citizens. He has urged that Arab members of Israel’s Knesset be executed for having contacts with Hamas or for failing to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day….
The appointment also raises the question of how a government whose deputy prime minister is a man who does not recognize the right of Palestinians to even one square inch of territory in Palestine can impose draconian sanctions on a Hamas government that will not recognize Israel’s legitimacy. Talk about double standards!
Actually, as the Meretz party leader, Yossi Beilin himself informed us months ago, Lieberman now advocates a Palestinian state alongside of Israel. As part of the negotiations for such a state, Lieberman favors the transfer of the “Little Triangle” of Israeli territory, including the town of Um el Fahem that is populated by Israeli Arabs. Whereas we may find this proposal unacceptable and smacking of racism, this is an advance for a rightist like Lieberman. And, while his appointment to the cabinet is problematic and terrible PR for Israel, he’s effectively a minister without portfolio and his party (as Beilin explained to us at the Greenberg home, Nov. 8) is eclectic, including liberals.
I’m not saying that Siegman’s all or even mostly wrong, but he’s definitely not all correct. To me, tone is almost as important as content, and when some details are fudged or simply wrong, such writing spells trouble. If he represented himself as an advocate for progressive Zionism, this would be better, but instead he lends ammunition to the propaganda machine that is all too eager to dump on Israel and Zionism in any way possible.