Behind Henry Siegman's Turn on Israel

Onetime Insider Now Takes Aim at Jewish Leadership

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 02, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
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At 82, Henry Siegman felt pessimism setting in as he thought of the future of Israel and its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. “The two-state solution,” he recently wrote “is dead.”

Henry Siegman
youtube/charlie rose
Henry Siegman

For this son of German-Jewish refugees, who grew up to lead what was then one of American Jewry’s major organizations, it was the final stage of a process he had been going through for years, ever since leaving the Jewish communal mainstream to stand at the forefront of Israel’s critics.

“It’s hard for me to speak about it,” he said in an interview with the Forward, “but I fear that Israel cannot continue to exist even 50 years if it continues in the current path.”

“He is a depressed two-stater,” said M.J. Rosenberg, another leading voice on the left end of the Jewish community’s political spectrum. “People like him have seen a lot, have been around a lot, and he is very despaired with how things are turning out.”

In the very small realm of Jewish critics of Israel, Siegman, who led the American Jewish Congress during its heyday as one of American Jewry’s big three defense organizations, stands out for his unusual harshness as much as for his unusual background. Growing up in the heart of the Jewish organizational world, personally engaging with Israeli leaders and policymakers and wearing the prestigious badge of the Council on Foreign Relations have given Siegman an elder statesman’s aura in the world of those who point to Israel as its own biggest enemy.

Nevertheless, for activists within the pro-Israel camp, Siegman is no different from other detractors of the Jewish state. His Jewish communal credentials, they claim, are only a cover used to give credibility to views otherwise seen as beyond any consensus.

In his latest article published in the September issue of The National Interest, Siegman opined that the two-state solution is no longer feasible and that Israel’s settlement policy has ushered a one-state reality for Palestinians and Israelis.


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