The following short story was published in “Allegro”, the newspaper of the New York local of the American Federation of Musicians. Rich was working at the Omni Park Central at the time, and the incident described occurred in front of that hotel.
Another cocktail hour. The room was full of people not listening to music. They were paying more attention to the free hors d’oeuvres, enjoying their end-of-work-day conversations, closing their deals, and having a few to ease the tensions of the day, but not listening to music. Some all-too-familiar feelings drifted into his head. “Is this worth it?” “Do I even like what I’m playing?” He instructed himself, “Shift into automatic and get through the night.”
He glanced at his watch. Time to take twenty. “Why not?”, he thought. “Local 802 says I can.”
Outside in front of the hotel he watched the flow of traffic and the occasional pretty girl. It was a cool, pleasant late summer’s evening.
A bum approached. A street person. (It seems that we’re supposed to refer to them as “the homeless” out of respect now that there are so many of them.) He had few teeth, needed a shave and a bath badly. His over-size winter coat which one imagines doubles as a blanket was filthy. His long gray tangles drooped over his collar. One might turn away but he had a friendly smile.
“Say, would ya’ hail me a cab?”
So as not to be impolite, even thought it was obvious that the man was not going to need a taxi, “I can’t but the gentleman over there can help you.” pointing to the doorman.
ARTWORK: LOUIS FULGUONI
“Say, you look sharp!” he said, admiring the tuxedo. “Do you always dress like that?”
“Only when I’m working.” Oops. He hoped it didn’t sound like a slight against people who weren’t working.
“Well, if you’re working, how come you can’t get me a cab?”
“I work inside. I’m on a break.”
“Whattaya’ do? Maitre d’?”
“No. I play the piano.”
His eyes lit up. “No kidding! You play the piano in there?”
“Yeah. In the lounge.”
“That’s great! I’ll bet you can make a buck.” He looked out at the street. “Y’know, ya’ gotta make nine hundred dollars a week just to get by in this town.”
The pianist winced a little as his earnings that week were pretty nearly guessed.
The man continued, “I’m not from here, and I’m thinkin’ about gettin’ out soon.”
“Oh yeah, where are you from?”
“Providence, Rhode Island. Where are you from?”
“Rockland County, upstate.”
“So you play the piano in there, huh?”
“You sing, too?”
“I used to sing.”
He stepped closer to where a bad smell became very noticeable, and with breath that stank of cheap wine, he chimed,
“It’s not the pale moon that excites me,
That thrills and delights me,
It’s just THE NEARNESS OF YOU!”
He continued, and the beauty of his voice was startling! Though a little gravelly from exposure to the elements and too much alcohol, the full, rich baritone shone through. His phrasing was lovely, and his pitch and intonation impeccable, starting in D-flat and ending precisely in D-flat.
The pianist was taken aback, “You have a lovely voice.”
A little embarrassed, the man responded, “I went to Catholic school. We sang Gregorian Chant. They teach you how to sing good. You never forget.” Excited, he repeated, “I went to Catholic School. We sang Gregorian Chant.”
The pianist suppressed the inclination to make some platitude about pursuing a singing career.
“Things used to be easier. I used to live in Chelsea. 23rd Street, 24th Street, 25th Street. You could always get a room. That’s all I needed. Just a room.” Then, “I live on the street now.”
An uncomfortable silence. The pianist did not want to say, “I know.”
The homeless man continued, “Maybe the East Village. I haven’t been down there in awhile. Lots of struggling artists. Struggling artists are good people. Y’know, they all chip in on a place together.”
To which the pianist replied, “It’s tough down there, too. The whole city is tough.”
“You know how tough it is, don’t you?” asked the homeless man inquisitively.
“Yeah.” answered the pianist cautiously, aware that the time he spent “paying dues”, living in uncomfortable shared apartments, was still a far cry from the street.
“Down in the East Village, they got those condos down there too now, huh?” Y’know what they do when they wanna make a condo? Throw a little cash at you. Tell you to get out. Like in Chelsea…” He was becoming a little overwhelmed at being taken seriously.
Sensing break-time was over, the pianist wished he could invite his friend inside. He glanced at his watch. “I have to go back to work.”
Offering a grimy hand, the man said, “Thanks.”
Accepting the hand but not the thanks, “It was nice talking with you.”
“Good luck.” said the man, enthusiastically, as if to say, “Sing for me, too.”
“Good luck.” he repeated, and offered his hand again.
“Good luck.” a third time, as they shook hands.
“Damn!” thought the pianist as he returned to the keyboard. “Why didn’t I give him twenty bucks?” He turned to the mike, and pouring from him quite spontaneously came his most joyful rendition of “THE NEARNESS OF YOU” in D-flat. And somehow it didn’t matter that the people still weren’t listening.”
My Story Rich Siegel
Rich Siegel is on the Board of Advisors of Deir Yassin Remembered.
Thanks for checking out my “Activist” page. I’m going to be doing a lot more with this in the near future, but in the meantime, a brief statement, some suggested informational web-sites and charities, and a suggested reading/viewing list.
I am an Ashkenazi Jew. My ancestors came to America from countries in Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century, four sets of great grandparents from four different countries. Of those family members that remained in Europe, we know for sure that three of them were murdered by the Nazis. We can imagine that numerous relatives that we don’t know about may have also been murdered, as all of the four countries my family came from were occupied by the Nazis and all of the Jewish communities in those countries suffered heavy losses. At the time of WWll, only one of my grandparents was in touch with family in the “old country”. We therefore know nothing of the fate of the family of my other three grandparents.
When I was a young child my parents and a group of their friends founded the Beth Am Temple in Pearl River, NY. The synagogue was very active in promoting the Zionist agenda, and in promoting Israel Bonds, the purchase of trees in Israel, sponsoring a Zionist youth group, and other pro-Israel activities. As a teenager, I was president of a Zionist youth group, and member of two others, including the one at my synagogue. Also as a teenage, I participated in the massive demonstration at the UN against Arafat’s speaking appearance there, this on the grounds that he was a “terrorist”. In my early 20’s I worked in Israel for a short time, as pianist at the Plaza Hotel in Tiberias (which I never include on my resume!)
Several years ago, as I got sick and tired of all the bad news coming from Israel, and caring deeply about it, I decided that I needed to educate myself thoroughly on the subject. I considered myself fairly well-read and well-informed, but I wanted to know everything. So, I began reading everything I could get my hands on- from both sides of the issue, and talking to everyone I could find who had first-hand knowledge- again from both sides. I fully expected this process to deepen my support for Israel. It did not.
What I found out is that I had been lied to all my life, by people who were also lied to, and that I had supported something that I never would have supported had I been told anything resembling the truth. The truth is this: Zionism was a political agenda which sought to take a land with a 95% non-Jewish population on it, Palestine, and make it into a Jewish-exclusivist state. It accomplished this in 1948 through massacres, campaigns of fear, and military forced mass expulsions, making three quarters of a million people homeless. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine was not completely accomplished at that time, as Zionism failed to conquer all of Palestine and large Arab communities remained, but the process has continued since 1948 by various means, including the military conquest in 1967 of the portion of Palestine not conquered in 1948, and the brutal occupation an illegal settlement of those territories which continues to this day. The Palestinians have been resisting what anyone would resist: having literally everything stolen from them.
The idea that Jews could find a safe haven by committing a monstrous crime against humanity is patently absurd, and yet so many still cling to the tragically ridiculous romance of the Zionist “dream”, more like a nightmare. It is also a terrible irony that the victims of the horrendous crime that the Nazis perpetrated, are now the perpetrators of another horrendous crime. I personally feel very angry that the memory of my murdered relatives is being used cynically, to promote a criminal agenda.
This is obviously the short story, without much detail. I’m thinking about how to use my web-site to offer information on the issue in greater detail. One thing I can do is offer links where more information can be found. And I’m going to shamelessly promote the web-sites (See next page) put up by friends of mine who are doing a great job.
A RABBI RESPONDS
I sent this page to a few rabbis that I’m acquainted with. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation B’nai Yeshurun in Teaneck, NJ responded with his blackberry, from the airport, coincidentally- or not so coincidentally, on his way to Israel:EVERY country on earth was founded through military conquest, including the US. You should be asking yourself why it only bothers you when it involves Jews. You should be more concerned about Indian rights. My flight to Israel is boarding. Answer the question to yourself, but think about it first.
My response to the rabbi:
Thanks Rabbi. That’s the most candid you’ve been. I think your statement is historically incorrect, especially in that you use the word EVERY. However, you are correct in equating what America did to the Native Americans to what we Jews have done to the Arabs of Palestine. It bothers me very much that a man of G-d such as yourself would be cynical enough to justify one monstrous crime against humanity by comparing it to another. It reminds me of badly behaved children on a playground. “Well, Teacher, HE did it, too.”
The ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans happened long ago. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is happening right now. 53 Palestinians were expelled from East Jerusalem just yesterday. (August 2, 2009)
This essay originally published on “Righteous Jews“
I recognize that there is One God, One Love, everywhere present, that the fabric of the Universe is made of this One Love, One Spirit, that The One expresses as star, as rock, as sand, as tree, as flower, as bird, as snail, as fish, as mammal, as all of matter, and all of life from the lowest to the highest, that this One Love expresses as Humanity in all its races and cultures, and that all of Humankind’s religions are attempts to embrace and access the One Love which is our truest, deepest, eternal nature; are attempts to KNOW our eternal nature, and to unite with our source, One God, One Love.
I know, that as God expresses as Me, that God and I are One. I know equally that as God expresses as my brothers and sisters, that I am One with all my brothers and sisters, and that my brothers and sisters are all One with God. I know that the three Abrahamic faiths all teach that there is One God, and so I know that I am one with all Muslims and Christians and Jews, and one with all peoples of all faiths around the world and one with people who do not acknowledge faith. I am unified in Spirit with all of God’s human family. That spirit is made of Love and it thrives in an environment of peace. I embrace all of my human family, and all of the planet, with all its life forms, in the spirit of peace.
I affirm that the spirit of peace lives and thrives in the Holy Land. I affirm that all its children grow up in an atmosphere of peace, justice, equality, abundance, nurturing, and good will. I affirm, as it is written, Lo Yisa Goy El Goy Cherev, V’lo Yilm’ Du Od Milchama. Nation Shall Not Lift Up Sword Against Nation, Neither Shall They Know War Any More.
I deny that old and antiquated ways of thinking have any power any more. I deny that any association of religion with ideas of bigotry, tribal chauvinism, or preferential relationship with God, have any sway over the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths any more. I deny that true followers of the One God, will ever misinterpret the will of God in such a way that they use it to harm their fellow man, any more. I deny that selfish economic motive can have any more power in a spiritually evolving humanity.
I re-affirm that the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths, and all faiths, and those that do not follow a faith, live an accordance with their awareness of all humankind as brethren. I see swords being turned into plowshares in the Holy Land, and all over the planet. I see America shutting down all of its overseas bases and bringing all of its troops home. I see the dismantling of all nuclear warheads, beginning in a place called Dimona. I see my Jewish people re-interpreting our history, taking responsibility for it, ceasing to consider “What’s good for the Jews”, and instead considering “What’s good for all humankind”, knowing that what’s good for all is what’s good for the Jews. I see the end of Jewish supremacy in the Holy Land, and I see those who have been cast out invited to return to conditions of peace and brotherhood. I see Jews humbly surrendering properties that have been stolen to those who lost them.
I see the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths removing any and all notions of bigotry from their religious teachings. I see the end to all bigotry against ethnic and religious groups, the end to all bigotry against women, the end to all bigotry against homosexuals. I see the end to all un-evolved notions of God, as a man with a beard and a book, sitting on a cloud, having any dealing with favorite tribes or people or real estate. I see the end to the concept of “chosen-ness”, and I see all peoples aware that all are equally chosen.
I see myself bringing my family to enjoy Gaza as a peaceful beach resort, with no threat of IDF bombs. I see myself harvesting olives in the West Bank, with my Palestinian brothers and sisters, under conditions of peace, with no threat of settler violence. I see myself traveling the Holy Land, north to south, east to west, being equally welcomed in mosque, synagogue, and church. I see the teachings of Mohammed, of Jesus, and of the Jewish prophets, respected by all. I see the joy of peaceful co-existence, of diversity, and the awareness of unity in that diversity.
I see all these things because I know that all my human brothers and sisters are infinitely capable of knowing their oneness with God, and with each other, and are infinitely capable of taking on their first and most important responsibility: to care for the angels that God gives us to care for: our children and our neighbors’ children.
I release this prayer to God and God’s Universe, as I see the gentle hush of peace in the Holy Land and all over the planet, as I lay myself to sleep with the joyful expectation that the morning will bring the sounds of the playful laughter of all the children of the planet, living in peace.
And I am grateful.
And so it is.
“This essay was first published in Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists. (2012). Editor: Avigail Abarbanel. Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle UK.”
I consider myself a cult survivor. I was raised in the cult of Atheist-Zionism-Posing-as-Judaism. I stated this to a few select friends several years ago, and they thought it was funny. The statement brought with it a pregnant pause, as though a punch line was going to follow, as though I were telling a joke. No punch line. I’m serious. More recently, subsequent to Israel’s 2006 Lebanon war and the massacre in Gaza of 2008-2009, I find that I can say this and it is taken seriously. People know that something is very seriously wrong with Israel, and with the culture that supports Israel. They may not understand it, but they’re more open than they were.
My family’s involvement with Zionism goes back to its beginnings. It includes a grandfather who fought with the Jewish Legion to “liberate” Palestine from the Turks in WWI, great-great-grandparents who went to Jerusalem for their retirement in the 1920’s, the best buddy of an uncle who smuggled arms from Czechoslovakia to Jewish terrorist groups in Palestine in the lead-up to the 1948 war, grandparents who were officers in their local B’nai Brith chapter, and a cousin who was involved in “Operation Mural”. He currently represents Jewish/Zionist NGOs at the United Nations office in Geneva. His wife writes Muslim-bashing books under a pseudonym.
During my childhood, Zionism and Israel were held up on a pedestal. They were central to our existence, our identity, our raison d’être. They were our sub-cultural equivalent of “Mom and apple pie”. I grew up convinced that they were perfect and beyond reproach. There was simply nothing in my environment to indicate otherwise. Finding out that I had been lied to all my life, and that I had been supporting something that I would never have supported had I been told anything resembling the truth, has been absolutely shattering.
My Atheist-Jewish parents got together with a group of their Jewish friends in 1963 to start up a new Reform synagogue in the suburb of Pearl River, New York, which previously had not had a synagogue. Some in this group were atheists, some had religious beliefs. I grew up in Beth Am Temple, where the belief system echoed that of my parents:
“We’re proud to be Jews, members of this ancient group that everybody hates for no reason. We love Israel, our Jewish country that we need as our refuge in case another Hitler comes to power. Everybody hates Israel for no reason, just like everybody hates Jews for no reason.”
We knew about relatives who had perished in the holocaust. Although they were distant cousins, the holocaust loomed large for us. Our awareness of the massive loss of Jewish life during that dark time formed a significant part of our sense of who we were. This combined with the liberal political agenda of the 1960s and 1970s. We opposed the war in Vietnam. We supported African Americans in their struggle for equal rights. We opposed American overseas military activity while supporting Israeli military activity, and saw no contradiction in this. Israel was different. There were antisemitic Arab hordes trying to drive the Jews into the sea. It was about survival.
I took Hebrew School and Judaism seriously. When I was old enough, I began fasting on Yom Kippur even though my parents did not fast. Lessons on the holocaust were presented to me both in Hebrew School and in my parents’ discussions of their personal philosophy. One aspect of the history made a big impression on me: There were Germans and other Europeans who protected Jews from the Nazis, often at great personal risk. I thought about what I might do if I were in their situation. What would it be like to know that your people were committing monstrous crimes against humanity, and to have to make a choice between loyalty to them and doing the right thing? Opposing America’s crimes in Vietnam was a clear choice, but considering the possibility of having to oppose my people, the Jews, seemed impossible. I was glad that there was no reason to do this.
There was a paradoxical element to our worldview. We considered that it was through our “Jewish values”, our superior Jewish intellect and morality, that we were able to embrace progressive agendas. As contradictory as this was—I consider chauvinism antithetical to anything progressive—there was evidence to support it in my environment. Jews tended to be liberal Democrats, anti-war and pro-civil rights. The majority of the population in my town, Irish and Italian Catholics, tended to be conservative Republicans, pro-war, and racist. This was back when there were real differences between Democrats and Republicans.
My sub-culture didn’t mix well with the local majority culture. In the second grade a girl told me that her father said I killed Jesus. I told her I’d never killed anybody. I was a skinny smart kid who wore glasses, got very good grades, and sucked at sports. In my family, sport was not stressed and academic achievement was. I was a target for the tough non-Jewish kids I grew up with. And I was bullied quite a lot. Taunts of “Jew-boy” and “faggot” were frequent—lack of prowess in sport being ample evidence of homosexuality in the tribe of the playground, and there was occasional violence. I was also a bully, although it took me many years to see this. I took my humiliation out on kids who were more vulnerable than me: the fat kid at school, and my younger brother at home. I found refuge in music, discovering early on that music was power. It earned the respect of my peers. I didn’t get bullied on school concert days. Music also provided something else, which I did not have language to describe at the time. It filled a void produced by the spiritual desert I was raised in. The rejection of God, the belief in the privilege of belonging to a universally despised and superior people, and the pressure to achieve academically to prove that we were indeed superior, were not working for me, although consciously I accepted all of it. Music was spirituality—a term I would have rejected at the time. It provided a sense of wholeness, which my anti-religious religion was not providing.
There was one childhood incident that gave me pause. On a visit to see an elderly aunt who lived at an Orthodox Jewish nursing home, my brother and I encountered Orthodox Jewish kids. Their parents did not allow them to play with us. My parents explained that because they were Orthodox they viewed us as goyim. It occurred to me that even the kids at school who bullied me were still allowed to play with me. By the time I reached high school the bullying had become overt Jew-hatred. Kids would throw pennies at me. “Pick it up, Jew boy.” They were just as cruel to the very few African American kids at Pearl River High School, delivering taunts of “nigger” and making jungle noises. My parents decided to leave this racist town, and move to a place with a larger Jewish population.
Spring Valley was only a few miles away but worlds apart. The daily humiliations ended and I thrived. My experience of what we called antisemitism had served to make me more committed to Judaism, and by extension to Zionism, as the two were inseparable in our belief system. I believed Jews were persecuted, and that I had been personally persecuted, for being moral, intelligent, progressive.
I was an active teenage Zionist. In 1974 I went with a group of kids from my Jewish summer camp to protest against Arafat’s appearance at the UN, on the grounds that he was a terrorist. I had never seen so many people in one place before. The sea of humanity stretching several city blocks reassured me that I was on the right side. There was a disturbing incident at a Zionist youth group I attended. Our adult sponsors wrote Zionist lyrics to songs from West Side Story, and passed around lyric sheets for a sing-along: “When you’re a Jew you’re a Jew all the way.” One repeated line stated, “We’ll kill those Syrians.” I remember feeling uncomfortable. Did I really want to sing about killing people? I rationalised that it must be OK. Arabs are our enemies. The adults in charge wouldn’t do something wrong. I sang along. (Apologies to Leonard Bernstein, and to Syria.)
After I graduated from college I took a trip with my family to Israel, to celebrate my youngest brother’s Bar Mitzvah. The previous Bar Mitzvahs in my family, mine and my other brother’s, were held at Beth Am, but now my mother was fulfilling a life-long dream with her youngest, celebrating a Bar Mitzvah at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Afterwards I was approached by an Orthodox Rabbi and it was the first and only time in my life that I’ve ever laid tefillin.
While we toured Israel I managed to secure employment playing piano at a luxury hotel. My family left, and I began my adventure in my Jewish country. My experience there was confusing. I was often taken for being a goy. I am light-complexioned, with light hair and green eyes, but so are many Ashkenazi Jews. Perhaps I don’t carry myself Jewish. I often heard disparaging comments like sheygetz, that people assumed I didn’t understand. Then when it was revealed that I was indeed Jewish, there was warmth and welcome. Acceptance was clearly conditional. I didn’t like the way it felt. It was not lost on me that I’d had my ass kicked as a kid for being a Jew, that Orthodox Jewish kids were not permitted to associate with me, and now as an adult in my Jewish country, I was rejected as a presumed goy.
I didn’t like the feel of the place and was glad to leave, when an offer came to play shows on a Caribbean cruise ship. The job was fun at first but it soon became a challenge. I was getting burned out from many months at sea, but I was afraid of getting off ship, being unemployed and forced into medical school—something my father wanted me to do. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to be a Jewish stereotype (“my son the doctor”), but that I had my own direction as a musician. I would take a week or two off here and there, and run up to New York to look for work, without success. On one road trip back to the Port of Miami I checked into a road-side motel in Southern Georgia.
I realise that in discussing my “revelation on the road to Miami” I leave myself open to various interpretations. Some might not be so kind. However, simply stated, I checked into a motel an atheist who was going through some emotional turmoil, and checked out a believer in One God. I have remained one ever since. Not a god who had an only son who died for my sins, and not a god who deals in real estate, but One God, One Love that connects us all to Him/Her/It, to each other, and to Eternity, to the fabric of the Universe, which is One Love.
I immediately had to re-think my childhood, my atheist parents who were founders of a synagogue, the tribal paranoia and martyrdom and the disdain for any notion of spirituality. I saw clearly the worship of the twin idols of Jewish identity and Israel. I identified the spiritual desert for what it was, and brought my new awareness home to a family that included two troubled younger brothers. My parents assumed that I had been converted by a Catholic girlfriend. I offered that if they would care to look into the Jewish religion, they would find that God is actually a big part of it.
I quit working the ships, settled in New York and soon became an in-demand freelance musician. I began to look for a Jewish place of worship where I would be comfortable. Orthodox Judaism was out of the question because of its multitudes of laws and the endless debate and analysis about them. Why would the Master of the Universe give a hoot if I push a baby carriage on the Sabbath, inside or outside a wire perimeter hung between telephone poles? I wasn’t going near any of that. I investigated Reconstructionist Judaism but found that they were worshipping Jewish tribal identity and Israel much the same as in my Reform synagogue.
Finally and reluctantly I began looking outside Judaism. The “New Thought” movement, consisting of various types of churches and centres, has worked nicely for me for many years. I’m a member of the Congregation of Universal Wisdom, which does not offer religious services, and I attend services regularly at Unity churches and Religious Science centres. I enjoy the focus on One God without tribalism, and often provide music for religious services.
Remarkably, for many years, having identified contemporary Jewish culture as a cult, and having gone outside Judaism to worship, I was still so totally indoctrinated into Zionism, that I continued to believe all the mythology. I still believed that Israel had never done anything to harm anyone, that we went to Palestine wanting good neighbourly relations, but the Arabs just hated us for no reason. Distanced from Judaism and Jewish culture, I still held a “liberal Zionist” stand politically.
I got married in 1998 to my lovely wife Xuan who is Chinese. I married for love disregarding the Jewish directive against intermarriage. The following year we left the city for suburban New Jersey. In 2004 my wife, pregnant with our daughter Emily, came to visit me at an out-of-town job. While waiting for her outside the train station in Providence, Rhode Island, I discovered a table that activists had put out displaying literature about the Israel-Palestine conflict. (Outreach works!). Curious, I picked up some material, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, by Phyllis Bennis. I got to the section about the Deir Yassin massacre. Jews massacring Arabs. My jaw dropped. This had somehow been concealed from me all my life.
I’ve been reading continuously since then. I’ve come to understand that Zionism has been a political agenda that sought to take a land with a 95% non-Jewish population, and turn it into a Jewish-exclusivist state. It achieved this in 1948 through massacres, campaigns of fear, and military forced mass expulsions—taking over most of Palestine and making over three quarters of a million people homeless, establishing the state of Israel on mostly stolen land. In 1967 it conquered the balance of Palestine, beginning an era of brutal occupation and settlement in occupied areas. It’s not rocket science to come to the conclusion that this is criminal, and just as easy to dismiss the various excuses commonly given for it.
Becoming active in the cause was automatic. I remembered having learned as a child about individual Europeans who protected Jews against Nazis, and having admired their commitment to doing right while insanity prevailed in the world around them. I had pondered what I would do in their position, later to discover that I had been in their position all my life without knowing it. I also credit my parents, because even in their atheism, and even though they taught me the lies they had been taught about Israel, they always valued justice and human rights more than anything else. I learned that from them. Today they are disillusioned with Israel.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve lost long-term friends and some family members. But I really don’t feel a sense of loss about it. I see those relationships as having been Jewish relationships, based on a requisite tribal agenda, rather than genuine friendships. The friends and family that matter are still with me.
Perhaps the most difficult part was coming to appreciate the reality of the criminality of Zionism at the same time as becoming a father. It’s excruciating to know that Palestinian fathers cannot keep their children safe because of the insanity of this programme that unknowingly I supported all my life. This adds to my passion as an activist. I find it painful to witness the spectacular hypocrisy of a people who are still whining, “Where was the world during the holocaust?” while committing another holocaust in Palestine. It’s a depravity that paradoxically I find both familiar and unfathomable. The willingness among Jews to obsess with Jewish suffering while being completely immune to Palestinian suffering, scares me. I don’t want to believe that I come from a place that sick.
Remembering myself as a child, both a victim of bullying and an unconscious bully, I’ve sometimes been tempted to excuse Israel. But Israel’s leaders know. Zionism’s leaders through history have always known. And the public has always had the responsibility to know.
Having made a U-turn on Zionism, I still had to resolve my relationship with my Jewish tribal identity. Two incidents served to cement a decision about this issue. The first was in 2006. It was the story of Tove Johannson, a young Swedish peace worker. While escorting Palestinian children home from school in Hebron, the group was attacked by settlers chanting, “We killed Jesus. We’ll kill you, too.” A settler broke a bottle over the young woman’s face and caused her severe injuries. I remembered having been accused of killing Jesus at the tender age of seven, and was shocked that members of my tribe were admitting it, and proud of it, while acting in a depraved and violent manner. It seemed to me that they were almost begging for the next holocaust, and were making it unsafe to be a Jew.
Soon after, in 2007, I found out that a local Orthodox synagogue was planning to host a West Bank settlement real estate event. An Israeli company was touring American synagogues selling settlement homes directly to American Jews. I organised a demonstration against it (with no help from the local “peace and justice coalition”, a largely Jewish organisation that refused to get involved), and thought it a good idea to contact the rabbi and ask him to cancel the event. This led to a lively email correspondence, as the rabbi saw an opportunity to try to bring a wayward son back into the fold.
When it came up that I have a Chinese wife and a mixed-race daughter, he became disgusted and ordered me to not raise my daughter Jewish, because by Jewish law she is not. When I told him about having come to believe in God and that my belief directs me to reject tribal chauvinism, he insisted that I had invented my own god. It became clear to me that his god only exists in a book that can be misinterpreted and manipulated so perversely that it can lead to the justification of murder and theft. I saw clearly that he, and those like him, are atheists just as much as the atheist Jews of my childhood synagogue. (The real estate event went on as planned.)
I made the decision to stop calling myself a Jew, to simply leave the cult. I respect the Jewish activists who speak about the crimes of Zionism as antithetical to “Jewish values”, but I’ve had quite enough of “Jewish values”, and embrace only universal values. Judaism, like all ancient religions, is a mixed bag. You have to take what you like and leave the rest, or else be subject to its contradictions. Orthodox Zionists, who would be aghast at this notion, are the foremost practitioners of this, rejecting the “golden rule” found in Leviticus in favour of the tribalism and nationalism also found in various other writings.The honourable agenda of Reform Jewish anti-Zionists like Elmer Berger and Alfred Lilienthal failed miserably. They promoted a Judaism based on the universalism of the prophets, rejecting Jewish nationalism. Not only were they unsuccessful, but they’ve been all but forgotten. I take this as evidence that, despite other possibilities in the religion, the ethos of Jewish life is more about tribalism and nationalism than anything else. I do not wish to be part of it.
In considering whether I can be of better service to Palestine as an Anti-Zionist Jew or as an Anti-Zionist ex-Jew, I finally decided that representing myself honestly was the best path— the path more likely to bring better results.
I find I have little patience for those who advocate for a “two state solution” or for any solution that calls for continued Jewish exclusivity in any part of historic Palestine. Clearly, peace will come with justice, and justice calls for the return of the refugees and their descendants, and the re-making of this land into a pluralistic society. For me it’s simple: One God, one human race, equality, justice. We live in a world that tries to make those things very complicated. They are not.
(Originally published on deliberation.info) the future of journalism DeLiberation
In-fighting is characteristic of progressive movements. On the right things are much easier. They want a “survival-of-the-fittest” society, small government, low taxes, no safety- net, no brown-skinned people crossing our borders, the right to unlimited profits un-hampered by any oversight or regulations, the right to claim foreign natural resources and to take advantage of cheap foreign labor, and when foreign leaders are not easily subjugated, the right to wage war in the name of “freedom” and “liberty” and “democracy” while waving the flag. The program is quite simple and so agreement is easily found.
Problems occur when someone like Sarah Palin is put in a position of high visibility, and has to be coached on information she should have learned in high school, or when they have to decide whether Mormon candidate Mitt Romney qualifies as Christian. But issues like these are relatively manageable, and all they need is a common adversary to embrace unity over their minute differences. For example it’s easy for them to agree that Obama is a Socialist, even though he more closely resembles a Reagan Republican, because he’s a member of the Democratic Party and they want to beat him.
On the left, however, where activists become active because they actually care about humanity and the planet; care about universal values of peace, justice, human rights, environmental sustainability, and the like, all hell breaks loose on a regular basis. This is because there are many varied perceptions as to what qualifies as fair, just, and balanced, and many varied opinions as to how to achieve these things. It often seems that shades of meaning have monumental ramifications, and degrees to the left, in increments, often translate to irreconcilable differences.
I played a concert with saxophonist/author Gilad Atzmon in Geneva, New York last night, a benefit for the Deir Yassin Remembered scholarship fund. (Put into perspective, two Jews playing a concert, unpaid, to raised money to send Palestinian kids to college.) This morning we happened to meet before breakfast in the hallway of our motel.
He said, “I have to show you something. You won’t believe this.” We entered his room, he opened his lap-top, and set his browser on a link to a sort of a treatise, a declaration, prepared by Ali Abunimah and signed by various activists, entitled “Palestinian Writers, Activists, Disavow Racism and Anti-Semitism of Gilad Atzmon”. What has Gilad Atzmon done to inspire this very extreme action? He has examined, and written about, the issue of “Jewishness”, about HIS “Jewishness”, and about mine.
Why is this objectionable? Some explanation is required. Zionists have long sought to equate Zionism with Judaism. As usual, the right wing has a simplistic ideology: By equating these two “ism’s”, Zionists are able to justify the position that opposition to Zionism means “Anti-Semitism”. Supporters of the liberation of Palestine strenuously object to this, and rightly so. But it seems that many have adopted an equally simplistic view to combat it: Since Zionism and Judaism are NOT the same thing, and since Zionism is the direct cause of the problem, Judaism and Jewish culture are placed out of bounds, taboo, don’t touch them. We don’t want to be called “Anti-Semites”, and we need our Jewish allies in the movement.
The problem with this simplistic view is that in this case simplicity is not elegant. The reality is that Judaism and Zionism are indeed two different things. But paradoxically, while Judaism specifically forbids Zionism (according to the interpretation I personally accept), Zionism is also clearly rooted in Judaism and in aspects of Jewish culture which are also clearly rooted in Judaism.
It is important to make the distinction between Judaism and Jewish culture because many Jews, and among them many Zionists, are secular and even anti-religious, and yet embrace their Jewish identity as central to who they are.
It is also important to make the observation that Jewish religion informs secular Jewish culture, even if unconsciously so. Up until about 1780 there were no secular Jews. There was only Orthodox Judaism, and that influence remains, this even among the significant population who are atheists identifying as Jews and embracing Zionism. I am personally a product of that culture. As both Zionism and Jewish identity are embraced both by large numbers of religious Jews and large numbers of anti-religious Jews, we are left with the problem of what to call their Jewish commonality. Thus “Jewishness”.
On the religious end of the spectrum, we find Orthodox Jewish Zionist rabbis and Orthodox Jewish Anti-Zionist rabbis, both groups spending much of their lives in study of Jewish holy books, and both groups, when they are not studying, pointing their fingers at each other and shouting “Torah Ignoramus!” This is a debate that the uninitiated are not permitted to enter, and initiation consists of life-long dedication to study of Jewish holy texts. There is no choice but to allow them this ongoing fight.
On the secular end of the spectrum are less religious Jews, members of Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues who may or may not be atheists, members of atheist synagogues- yes you read that right- there are “Humanist” synagogues that hold “services” to serve their “Jewishness” rather than God, and finally many Jews who are not members of synagogues at all. Many secular Jews are strongly Zionist and place a very high value on their Jewish identity. So, there is a wide variety of religious belief and observance among Jews, and yet what they all have in common is the valuing of Jewish identity- of “Jewishness”. The difference between the religious and the secular is that the religious understand the origin of the components of cultural Jewishness, and the secular most often do not.
When I was seven years old a little girl in my 2nd grade class told me, “My daddy said you killed Jesus.” I told her I had never killed anyone. I was upset enough about this accusation that I told my parents about it, and they were duly horrified. For many years I attributed this to “classic Anti-Semitism”. I had experienced the misfortune, at a very tender age, of having been victimized with this horrible accusation, which has been leveled against Jews since the dawn of Christianity.
So imagine my astonishment when, many years later, in 2006, I read about Swedish peace-worker Tove Johansson’s experience. She was escorting Palestinian school-children past crowds of hostile Jewish settlers in Hebron, when the settlers began chanting “We killed Jesus, we’ll kill you, too.” They smashed a bottle over her face, causing severe injuries. There are also various other accounts of Jewish settlers proudly taking responsibility for the murder of Jesus, something that I had always assumed was a false accusation, leading me to investigate. I found in the writing of Jewish-Israeli scholar Israel Shahak that there is actually a Talmudic mandate for this claim. I also found that while it seems that relatively few Jews are aware of Shahak’s writing, many of those who are hate him passionately, although none have ever presented me with an actual argument confronting his claims.
I came to support the Palestinian cause after first having come to an awareness of some dramatic problems in the Jewish culture in which I was raised. I grew up in a Reform synagogue where many atheist Jews, and some who had religious beliefs, attended to affirm their Jewish identity, to raise their children with Jewish identity, and to support Israel. I was presented with the idea that it was a privilege to be a member of a universally despised people, who were hated for no reason at all, and who were more intelligent and moral than others. And I was told that Israel had never harmed anyone, that the Arabs just hated Jews for no reason, just like everyone hates Jews for no reason.
Having come to believe in God as a young adult, I had to go back to re-examine the Judaism, or more accurately, the “Jewishness” I was raised with, and clearly identified idolatry: the worship of the twin idols of Jewish identity and Israel. And I began to move away from what I identified as the Jewish identity cult. Even with that awareness, I was so completely indoctrinated in Zionist propaganda, that I did not question the things that I had been told. For example, I did not question the story of Jews who wanted to be friendly neighbors to the Arabs, and of Arab leaders who, in 1948, made radio broadcasts of orders for their people to get out temporarily, while they intended to drive the Jews into the sea. Why should we let them return when they wanted to annihilate us like Hitler?
I understand that Jewish activists for Palestine come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and that there are those who do not have the same needs as I do. I know there are those who would like to support Palestine while embracing their Jewish identity and some who additionally wish to embrace Jewish religion at various levels of observance. But that’s not me, and I will not allow Ali Abunimah and a list of bullies to tell me that I have no right to intellectual inquiry into my religion and culture. Of course, their objections are targeted at Gilad Atzmon, not me. But when they say it about him, they are, by extension, saying it about me, and those like me- those of us who have to struggle to come to terms with having been lied to all our lives.
When I finally came to understand the depth of the criminality of Zionism, and I came to that realization in my middle age, my response was not, “Oh my God, let’s fix this while we protect Judaism and Jewish identity from those who would like to make a connection.” Not at all. My response was a more natural and obvious one: “Oh my God! What kind of sickness do I come from?” I have the right to ask that question, and to search for answers. I have the right to talk to the seven year old victim of “Anti-Semitism” who still lives inside me, and help him to understand his experience.
Back in the 80’s in an interview on the American television show 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace confronted Meir Kahane, the infamous Brooklyn rabbi, now deceased, who became an Israeli Knesset member and an advocate for the expulsion of all Arabs from all of historic Palestine (both “Israeli Arabs” and Arabs living in the occupied territories), about a law he proposed.
Wallace: “You proposed a law for the Knesset to pass against Arabs that’s really astonishingly identical to the Nuremberg laws of the Nazis under Adolf Hitler.”
Kahane: “Mr. Wallace, one of the problems of Jews is that they wouldn’t know a Jewish concept if they tripped over one. I merely quoted from the Talmud. Most Jews think Judaism is Thomas Jefferson. It’s not.”
I was raised in a “Jewishness” which presumed to be something very different from what it was. And in that pretense it had me donating to plant trees in Israel, and receiving Israel bonds as bar mitzvah presents. It had me joining Zionist youth groups and becoming president of one, and it had me living and working in Israel during my 20’s, all while believing a system of lies. I have the right to examine the cult that lied to me, the cult that I have survived and left.
I think I speak for everyone who supports the Palestinian cause, including both Atzmon and his detractors alike, when I say that I believe that the first priority for all of us is to stop Zionists from killing the next Palestinian child. How to accomplish this? I think if any of us knew, we would lie, steal, cheat, do whatever it might take. But we don’t know. Does placing limits on parameters of acceptable ideology help to accomplish this goal? Does censorship, censure, expulsion, ex-communication? These are the things that this edict against Atzmon is attempting to accomplish. Does it actually accomplish anything or is it just divisive? Are the Zionists enjoying watching a split among the pro-Palestine camp?
Clearly requiring certain parameters is reasonable. For example, there are those who sympathize with both the cause of white supremacy and with the Palestinian cause. Those people would do the most good for Palestine by staying as far away from the cause as possible, and they should be shunned and avoided. But that’s not who Atzmon is, or who I am. There is no racism here. There is simply examination of the religion and culture that produced Zionism.
Abunimah puts words in Atzmon’s mouth:
“…one cannot self-describe as a Jew and also do work in solidarity with Palestine, because to identify as a Jew is to be a Zionist.”
I fail to see how this attitude can be attributed to Atzmon when he openly speaks of the Neturei Karta Orthodox Anti-Zionist Jews. But again, a simplistic interpretation would be lacking. The fact of the existence of Anti-Zionist Jews should not be taken as evidence that Zionism is not connected with Judaism, Jewish culture, or “Jewishness”. The Neturei Karta also believe in exile from this land and return to it, just not at the present time under present circumstances.
I understand that from the Palestinian point of view, many consider inquiry into “Jewishness” superfluous. They just want Zionism to end, and this is reasonable. But why won’t it end? The UN passed Resolution 194 64 years ago, and re-ratified it numerous times. Why have the refugees not been allowed back? There have been various “peace processes”. Why is there no peace? American administrations have been pressuring to end settlement expansion for decades. Why are settlements still expanding? What is behind the almost super-human capacity for Zionist belligerence? for Zionist disingenuousness? Why is it that the world governments look the other way and pretend it isn’t going on? And how is it possible that America is fighting wars for Israel? How is it possible that for all of my life I’ve been listening to my people whine over the holocaust while failing to admit that any crimes were committed in Palestine? How deep is a cult that was able to hide from me, one of its children, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine for most of my life?
For those who want to insist that Zionism is some bizarre aberration that grew out of an otherwise healthy Jewish culture and religion, that’s fine for them. Having been lied to all my life, I wanted to know what Kahane meant when he sneered at me and told me I wouldn’t know a Jewish idea if I tripped over it. And now I know. Certainly I have the right to free inquiry, and to the expression of ideas, and so does Gilad Atzmon.
If there are those who dislike Atzmon’s ideas, they are free to write their own and express disagreement. They are free to state that Atzmon does not represent them. But to organize a list of those who agree to disavow him is disgraceful, and in my opinion does not serve the cause. There should be a retraction and an apology.
(This essay was originally published on deliberation.info)
Introduction by Gilad Atzmon: Rich Siegel is now subject to Zionist abuse and smear campaign. Jazz writer Brent Black of criticaljazz.com who reviewed Rich’s peace seeking album favorably has now changed his mind due to Jewish pressure. Black wrote on facebook:
“my humble apologies to my jewish friends for reviewing rich sigel (sic) an anti-zionist peace activist that supports the destruction of israel. had i know (sic) who he was and what he was all about i never would have given him 30 seconds of my time. his review is pulled and e mail blocked. again my apologies i stand with israel NEVER against her but firmly against her enemies.”
In my entire musical career I have never heard of a review being deleted. Needless to say that there is not a drop of truth in anything Black attributes to Siegel above. Siegel is a humanist. He searches for peace and reconciliation through artistic expression.
Please support Rich, buy his album and follow his public performances.
Beauty is liberation – Gilad.
The path that my new CD, “The Way to Peace”, has taken to arrive at completion has really been my personal path, a long and circuitous one. I’ve had a career as a work-a-day musician, something which is becoming a rarity today as live music is all but disappearing from so many venues. I’ve been a “99% musician”, not rich or famous from it, but making a living, piano bars, elegant hotel lounges, up-scale restaurants, corporate and private events, musical director for shows, accompanying singers, some famous ones. I’ve been in some shows as well, Off Broadway, a singing pianist on-stage accompanying the cast, and getting a few solo numbers. I’ve also done a fair amount of traveling, jazz clubs in Canada, hostess bars in Japan, music festivals in France, even a piano bar gig in West Africa.
One gig that I tend to leave off my resume is a steady job I had for awhile playing at a luxury hotel in Israel. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I support Israel. I don’t. At the time I worked there, in my early 20′s, I was totally the product of where I came from, deep inside the Zionist cult, in the American Jewish community. Raised in a suburb of New York, I was the teenage president of a Zionist youth group. Many years later I came to the shocking realization that I had been lied to all my life. I came to understand that we Jews had not arrived in Palestine desiring to be friendly neighbors to vicious Arab hordes who hated us for no reason and wanted to “drive us into the sea”.
The fact is, we Jews committed atrocities against innocent people who were just living their lives on land that had been theirs for many generations. We committed massacres and military forced mass expulsions. We committed an ethnic cleansing, one that continues today.
I became aware of my people’s crimes, and also aware that I had been used by my people, to support something I would never have supported had I been told anything resembling the truth. I also got married and became a father, grateful to live in a place where I can keep my daughter safe, and horrified that often Palestinian fathers can’t keep their children safe because of the crimes of my people. I started to care a whole lot less about music, and a whole lot more about human rights, especially children’s rights. But music is what I do well. How to use it?
The first thing I did was to team up with lyricist Dave Lippman, another American Jew with sympathies for the Palestinians. Together we wrote a song called “In Palestine”. I produced a little video featuring a performance of that song along with talks given by Dave and myself, and a dedication to Abir Aramin, a beautiful little Palestinian girl who was shot and killed by Israeli Border Police in 2007. The video has been widely viewed and I hope it’s started some conversations.
Then I decided to produce a CD. I visualized a marriage of spirituality and peace activism and began compiling material, some originals, some covers. Fortuitously at this time I got a call to play a couple of concerts with Gilad Atzmon, the Israeli ex-pat jazz saxophonist and author who is so outspoken on the Palestine issue. We had a great time together and really hit it off. In choosing personnel for the CD Gilad was an obvious choice. I added into the mix some great New York musicians, cellist Eugene Moye, guitarist Gary Ciuci, bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Anthony Pinciotti. In the studio the magic was worked by engineer Manfred Knoop, who has since tragically left us, and by engineer Chris Sulit, and mastering engineer Ed Littman. The cover art was created by my daughter Emily Gu Siegel, who is seven, the design by Frank Dain, with a great photo taken by Xiaosen Ge. The final result of all this creative collaboration by some really amazing talent: People seem to like it.
One of the people who liked it was Brent Black, a jazz writer who runs a website that features his reviews called criticaljazz.com. His review, which he published on March 23, 2012, was actually quite humorous in its irony, making no bones about the fact that he disagreed with my politics, but liked my music- a lot. He wrote:
“Had someone told me two years ago I would have been reviewing the work of an anti-Zionist peace activist, a request that this individual be drug tested would be the expected response from those few that travel in my inner circle.”
But then he wrote: “From a purely musical perspective, Siegel is a gifted instrumentalist with rich vocals that glide effortlessly along with his playing.” And: “The Way To Peace is a stellar recording.” He concluded: “You can respect an opinion and disagree with it. To oversimplify Siegel’s music as that of the ‘peace movement’ would be disingenuous at best. Instead Siegel presents us with an eloquently stated, musically pristine offering of himself and shares a piece of what is in his heart….Isn’t that what art is all about?” Obviously I was pleased with the review.
I received an e mail this morning from Seattle-based pianist/composer Bill Doerrfeld, who, incidentally, shares my views on Palestine. Bill had some news to share with me. He had viewed the following, which reviewer Brent Black had posted on the Facebook page that acts as a companion page to his website (in lower case here, just as Brent wrote it):
my humble apologies to my jewish friends for reviewing rich sigel (sic) an anti-zionist peace activist that supports the destruction of israel. had i know (sic) who he was and what he was all about i never would have given him 30 seconds of my time. his review is pulled and e mail blocked. again my apologies i stand with israel NEVER against her but firmly against her enemies.” (caps on “NEVER” Brent’s) Obviously a bit different from his review, which had, in fact, been pulled.
The claim that I support the destruction of Israel is pure libel. I have never made any statements advocating the destruction of Israel, or the destruction of anyone or anything. The irony here is that in his review Black made it a point to separate his disagreement with my politics from his assessment of the music I brought to the world in this new recording. He obviously flushed that integrity down the toilet with his libelous pronouncement and decision to pull the review. Who got to him in the less than two weeks the review was up? I don’t know.
Bill Doerrfeld shared an interesting story with me, which has some parallels. Back in the late 80′s when Bill was a graduate composition student at Yale, he entered a competition offered by Fontana Concert Society in Michigan. This competition offered a cash award and a commission to the “up and coming” young composer chosen as winner. Bill won, and decided to dedicate his piece to the young Palestinian men he saw in the daily news coverage of the first intifada. They represented to Bill a real “David and Goliath” story. The piece Bill wrote, for four strings and harp, was somber and dramatic, a tribute to their struggle, entitled, “Rock Throwers”.
After Bill’s piece was performed in Michigan, the Fontana Concert Society mailed him a program and a cassette recording of the concert. He was taken aback to discover that the title had been changed to “Quintet for Strings and Harp”. He called the organization and spoke with a representative who reported that some influential people in the organization, and additionally, one of the musicians performing the piece, had required the change. Somehow the courtesy of consulting Bill about the change had not occurred to them.
The neurotic and desperate passion by which the forces that wish to “Zionize” the world are requiring that Palestinians accept their politically mandated non-existence is astonishing. Humus and felafel are considered “Israeli” food. I have even seen offered for sale a new blue and white kuffiyeh featuring interwoven Stars of David. (I won’t be buying one.)
But music? It has always been a major feature of political dissent. Woody Guthrie sang about unions and decades later Country Joe and the Fish gave us their “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” in objection to the war in Vietnam. Pete Seeger has been singing about various issues for over half a century and he’s still going strong. The Beatles wanted us to “Give Peace a Chance” and John Lennon “Imagine(d)” a different world and sang about it. Can anyone “imagine” their titles being changed, or a review being deliberately evaporated after second thoughts by the writer (no doubt influenced by parties unknown)? Even avowed Anti-Semite Richard Wagner, hero to Adolf Hitler, has been performed by Jews, so it’s not about “Anti-Semitism”, or only about “Anti-Semitism”. There is something fundamentally different about Zionism; different from any political agenda that has gone before. There is something positively demonic about the determination of those who wish to squash Palestine. They simply have no rules.
(This essay was originally published on inconvenienthistory.com)
The name “Palestine” has been around for a long time. “Peleset”, transliterated from Egyptian hieroglyphics as “P-l-s-t”, is found in numerous Egyptian documents referring to a neighboring people or land starting from around 1150 BC. The “Philistine” States existed concurrently with the ancient Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, making up the coastal plain below Jaffa and south to Gaza. In the 5th Century BC Herodutus wrote of a “district of Syria, called Palestine”. About a century later, Aristotle described the Dead Sea in Meteorology and located it in Palestine:
“Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine, such that if you bind a man or beast and throw it in it floats and does not sink, this would bear out what we have said. They say that this lake is so bitter and salty that no fish live in it and that if you soak clothes in it and shake them it cleans them.”
This writer has had the misfortunate of frequently engaging in debates with Zionists (a bad habit I need to kick!) who often tend to seize on small ideas. “When did the Palestinians ever have their own country?” In order to win such an argument one would have to reduce oneself to their terms, and produce a map that shows a country and borders: “Palestinian Kingdom, 1587- 1702”, and then let them present their map of ancient Israel and Judea, and then get into a wrestling match the winner of which would claim the territory for their own. Or perhaps the issue would be better settled the way the New York colony won Staten Island from New Jersey: with a boat race. If the goal is exclusivity, as it always has been with Zionism, then the only criterion in achieving it is winning, whether a war or a race.
There was no 17th century Palestinian Kingdom, or 18th or 19th. There were, prior to Allied victory in World War One and the League of Nations “mandates” which granted European powers control of the region, various provinces in a larger Ottoman empire, ruled from Istanbul (previously known as Constantinople, and before that, Byzantium), much as there are today various American states governed from Washington. Objectors will cry “Foul!”, as Americans are governed by Americans in Washington, whereas Arabs were governed by Turks, a different ethnic group with a different language. Fine. So I modify my comparison to the Spanish speaking Puerto Ricans governed from Washington, or the French speaking Quebecois governed from Ottawa. Neither the Puerto Ricans nor the French Canadians are being ethnically cleansed.
Prior to Zionism, there was no need for the Arabs of Palestine to focus on Palestinian identity. They were citizens of the Ottoman Empire. When, during the mandate years the British made contradictory promises to the Zionists and the Arabs, and the Arabs expected, and had the right to expect, eventual self-rule, it was certainly not a foregone conclusion that there was going to be an independent Palestine. Palestinians might well have been a part of a larger South Syria, or of a Greater Syria, and happily so. They certainly would not have been ethnically cleansed under those circumstances. The Arabs of Palestine have always had their own distinct Arabic dialect, and various other cultural attributes that set them apart from other regional Arab cultures, but that was never particularly relevant. Many various subcultures existed within the Ottoman Empire, and continued to exist within British and French mandates.
Interestingly, during the years of the Yishuv, the pre-Israeli-statehood Zionist community in Palestine, Jewish-Zionist settlers called themselves “Palestinians”. In this way, the Zionists ironically affirmed the thing that many of them wish now to deny: Palestinian identity. In 1948, amid the massacres and military forced mass expulsions of the “nakba” (Arabic for catastrophe, the name commonly given to the events of 1948), when the state of “Israel” was declared, all of the Jews who had been calling themselves Palestinians became “Israelis”, and when the dust cleared, the Arabs who remained within the green line became “Arab Israelis”, like it or not. (It was not known until the state of “Israel” was declared, what it was to be named. “Zion” was considered as a possibility, but rejected, as the result would have necessitated referring to “Arab Israelis”, the Arab citizens of Israel, as “Arab Zionists”.)
The designation “Palestinian” was more actively embraced beginning in 1964, with the forming of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), this out of necessity, because a people who had been ethnically cleansed, who were in a state of shock and humiliation, and who were desperate to recover and regain what was rightfully theirs, found it useful to rally around symbols representing themselves: A name and a flag are two of the basics.
Golda Meir famously said in 1969, during her tenure as Israeli prime minister;
“There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
Golda is actually right on this point and that point. I would not have been able to show her a map that says “Kingdom of Palestine” or “Grand Duchy of Palestine” or any of dozens of designations that might have satisfied her. But this I can say for sure: There were human beings on that land, and they had been there all their lives, and their families for many generations before them down through the centuries. And many of them were actually descended from ancient Jews who later converted to Christianity and Islam, while our ancestors, Golda’s and mine- the Ashkenazi Jews, were converting to Judaism in the Khazar Kingdom on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Golda actually knew when making this statement, the information which has become available to the general public in the decades since: We Jews did come and throw them out and take their country away from them. It’s been thoroughly documented. It wasn’t when she made this statement in 1969. She was able to get away with it then. But since then an entire generation of Jewish-Israeli scholars, (and many others, but we Jews need to hear it from Jews first!) has carefully documented the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and presented the history that she personally knew, but actively hid and denied. She and her colleagues concealed the truth from Jewish supporters of Israel all over the world including my family, who taught me lies quite innocently, because they didn’t know any better.
In 1984 a book written by Joan Peters, entitled From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, was released to the world. The book claimed that the Palestinians were not resident in Palestine long-term, but were recent arrivals, having come to take advantage of economic opportunities in Palestine which were largely the result of Zionist Jewish settlement. What a perfect way for us Zionist Jews to massage ourselves (I was one at the time!) and drive a wedge between ourselves and the growing awareness about Palestine in the world around us! So it really was a “land without people for a people without a land”! Those Arabs were all immigrants! And how ungrateful that they hate us after all the opportunity we gave them! A wave of related claims surfaced among the Zionist community. An essay by Mark Twain describing his touring of a sparsely populated 19th century Palestine, was offered up into the mix of “Palestinian-denier” evidence. Twain, whose writing was full of humorous and ironic opposition to human bullshit, was no doubt rolling in his grave over this. And claims were often heard that prominent Palestinians, from Edward Said to Yassir Arafat, were “not really Palestinian”.
Enter another book, in 2003, The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz. In case 19 intervening years had given anyone a memory lapse since the publication of Peters’s book, Dershowitz borrowed heavily from same, giving the same statistics and making the same conclusions.
Enter yet another book, but this one very different: In Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, published in 2005, Norman G. Finkelstein exposed Peters’s statistics as fraudulent, and with that revelation both her argument and that of Dershowitz, collapsed. However, the damage is done among those who wish to ignore Finkelstein, and there are many! “Isn’t he a holocaust denier?”, I’ve been asked. I respond: “No. His parents were holocaust survivors.” Zionists have long used a familiar tactic against those who challenge their propaganda: Defamation. And so the lies persist. This writer still has people putting From Time Immemorial in his face to prove their argument. They refuse to be embarrassed.
At the time of this writing (January 2012), the American public is being treated to an entertainment we get every four years: the run up to our presidential election. As the Democratic candidate will obviously be the incumbent, we are witnessing the Republican candidates claw at each other in their striving to win support for the Republican nomination. Enter a billionaire Jewish American Zionist named Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate and the 8th wealthiest American alive, who along with his wife has donated $10 million to candidate Newt Gingrich. Adelson, whose holdings include the Israeli newspaper Israel HaYom (Israel Today) made some interesting statements while in Israel at an Israel Media Watch event in 2010:
“I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF … our two little boys, one of whom will be bar mitzvahed tomorrow, hopefully he’ll come back– his hobby is shooting – and he’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF.”
And: “All we (the Adelson family) care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.
Does it sound like this guy has “divided loyalties?” Maybe like the Jewish neocons in the Bush administration who got us to fight a proxy war for Israel in Iraq? No- you can’t say that! It would be “anti-Semitic”!
So is it any wonder that Newt Gingrich has made the utterly incorrect and profoundly idiotic statement that he has made about the Palestinians being an “invented” people? It has nothing to do with any education on the subject of the history, or any awareness of the current situation. It’s simply a question of wanting to win, and of reiterating nonsense he has heard in conversations with a very rich and generous supporter, nonsense which jives with the general impressions that Americans get from our Zionist-controlled media, and that no doubt circulate in Gingrich’s Republican circles. Does anyone think Gingrich has read Finkelstein? I doubt it! And if he did, would he turn down $10 million in favor of truth and justice?
The people native to the land of Palestine were not “invented”. It is indeed unfortunate that someone who is supposedly educated, and who has achieved position in life where he is poised to potentially become the next president of the United States, is putting forth such foolishness.
(Originally published in The Suburbanite, Teaneck, NJ weekly newspaper and on Qumsiyeh.org)
Note: This essay is several years old. In the final paragraph I refer to myself as a “good Jew”. I have since re-thought that and now consider myself an “ex-Jew”. I deal with that subject in other, more recent pieces, notably in the essay “The Cult of Atheist Zionism posing as Judaism”. An additional comment: In the second paragraph I discuss what happened to my relatives in Czestochowa. I have since found out that while they were taken to a town square and shot at, there were survivors of that massacre who were rounded up and put on a train to concentration camp. What is certain is that my relatives did not survive, whether or not they died in the town square or in the camp, or whether their fates were different from each other.
David Irving is going to spend the next three years in jail in Austria, and everyone seems to be glad about it. Why? Because he is a so-called holocaust denier, and therefore a symbol of evil to many people. But in reality, he is not actually a holocaust denier; the term is a misnomer. He is a revisionist who questions some of the popularly accepted facts about the holocaust, and the price he and others like him have paid is that this earns them the label of holocaust denier, as well as jail time in many countries.
I have personal knowledge that the Nazi’s killed Jews, because among the victims are three people whose photos I keep in my home. They would have been my relatives had they not been murdered; had they lived long enough to see me born. My family knows exactly what happened to them as there was a fourth family member who witnessed the slaughter, then escaped into Russia, and then wrote to family members in London about it, before he disappeared. The three I mentioned were rounded up with the rest of the Jewish community in Czestochowa, Poland, taken to the town square, and shot. This is a provable fact.rs like him challenging accepted views on the holocaust. Quoting Noam Chomsky, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” It seems to me that if holocaust revisionists are wrong, the open dissemination of their views encourages those with opposing views to prove them wrong. And if they are right, all the more reason we should hear about it. Only an officially sanctioned pseudo-truth can be arrived at by restricting free speech. If our society really wants truth, it has to allow those of disparate opinions express themselves and duke it out.
Speaking personally, I want for that to happen, on any issue, including the holocaust. Because, what do I really know about the holocaust? I know how my relatives died. I know the history that most people accept. The news of David Irving’s sentence has made me want to read his writings, to see what he has to say.
A story that got less media attention this week: The Polish government has turned down an Iranian request to send a research team there to do a study on the holocaust. There seems to be a double-standard as Europe is defending Muslim-bashing cartoons as free speech while completely squelching any free speech on the holocaust. In the U. S., while we supposedly value free speech, our media have implicitly supported this European double-standard by failing to criticize it. And that’s a good segue to my experiences in Teaneck, New Jersey, with regard to free speech:
Some months ago the driver’s side fender of my car was bashed in while it was parked in front of my house. I assumed it was a hit-and-run accident. I drove around with a bashed in fender for awhile, and then finally bought a new fender and had it painted and installed, at some expense. It wasn’t on my car more than a week or two when it was bashed in again- the same fender on the same car parked in the same spot. So clearly somebody is trying to tell me something. I have three political bumpers stickers on my car. From left to right they read “Peace is patriotic”, “Free Palestine”, and “Bush, a global disaster, a national disgrace”. I’m thinking they guy who bashed in my fender twice doesn’t like the second one. The others express opinions which are too common, and while many would disagree with them, too, probably not with the same passion.
I have a T-shirt that has the same sentiment written on it. I was recently in the men’s locker room at the Spa at Glennpointe, where I am a member, when all of a sudden I felt a sharp slap across my back. I thought it was someone I know saying hello a little too vigorously. But I turned around, and found a total stranger screaming at me in my face about what an abomination my T-shirt is. When he finally backed off I asked him his name. He said it was “Putz”, which is Yiddish for male genitalia. While I feel this would actually be an appropriate name for the man, the club has no one registered by that name and so I was not able to have him charged with assault and battery or expelled from the club.
This past October, when American military deaths in Iraq reached the 2,000 mark, I participated in a Teaneck Peace & Justice Coalition peace vigil at the Teaneck Armory. I made up my own sign, which read, “The REAL axis of evil- USA, UK, Israel. Get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine”. The term “axis of evil” was coined by White House speech writer David Frumm, and was used to connect three unlikely allies, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea in a Bush speech aimed at stirring up pro-war sentiment. I maintain that the axis of evil that appeared on my sign is a reality, whereas the axis of evil posited in Bush’s speech was a fabrication. At the vigil, just as a reporter was about to interview me, a man I recognized as a leader of the Coalition muscled in between the reporter and myself and physically prevented the interview. He then became extremely verbally abusive, ordered me to leave the peace vigil, and accused me of being an FBI plant. Putting this into proper perspective, this is a man who is in a leadership position in a group organized around the concept of promoting peace and justice, acting in a violent manner at a peace demonstration. I hope the irony is apparent.
I did not leave the peace vigil, and from subsequent conversations it became clear that the coalition leadership felt my sign was off-topic. Was it? Do we know why America invaded Iraq? Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz stated, “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. Government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on- which was weapons of mass destruction- as the core reason.” And as we know they fabricated documents to make it appear that Iraq had acquired materials for use in the production of WMD’s in a deal with Mali (W. Africa). Clearly WMD’s are not the reason we invaded Iraq. So why are we in Iraq? The big three reasons generally cited are oil, corporate interests, and Bush’s personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein, all probably valid.
However, Ariel Sharon had been calling for a US invasion of Iraq. AIPAC was lobbying for it. Ultra-Zionist neocons Wolfowitz and Perle, who were part of our defense department’s decision-making apparatus, were pulling for it. This short list is by no means complete. And the potential benefits to Israel are obvious: removal of the most serious threat Israel faced in the region, Saddam Hussein, and the creation of a friendly buffer between Israel and its second most serious threat in the region, Iran. However, as the U.S. has failed to install a puppet government in Baghdad as it intended, and has only been successful in creating utter chaos, the reality in the region is that things are far more dangerous for everyone: for Israel, for the U.S., and for Iraqi citizens.
Can we say that Israel had nothing to do with why we invaded Iraq? The Teaneck Peace and Justice Coalition would like to say so. In fact the Coalition refuses to deal with Israel in any way, shape, or form, which begs the question as to why. The same man who bullied me at the peace vigil also told me at a recent Coalition meeting not to attend future meetings. Why? I had offered to bring the Coalition a presenter on the Palestinian issue. (I had made the same offer previously by e mail and my e mails were ignored.) I have since been told that I need to respect the coalition’s democratic process by which it has decided not to deal with the Israel/Palestine issue. And of course I do support the coalition’s democratic process. I would support it if they democratically voted not to wear underwear on alternate Tuesdays. Democratic process does not necessarily indicate sanity. And democratic process does not mean I have no right to point out to this group of which I am a member, that it’s more than a little strange that a “peace and justice coalition” is democratically choosing to ignore one of the most pressing peace and justice issues in the world today.
The sign I carried at the vigil made a connection between the different occupations in the region, and in doing so it brought Palestine into the equation. So why is a nice Jewish boy in a town where Israeli flags and little statues of IDF soldiers are displayed in Judaica shop windows, openly supporting the Palestinians? Because there is a human rights emergency going on right now. It would be impossible to list all the methods Israel is using to make life impossible for the Palestinians in order to squeeze them out, but I can try: extra-judicial executions, administrative detentions (arrests and jail-time, often long-term, without charge), pervasive use of torture, house demolitions, destruction of olive trees and crops, withholding of building permits, check-points, curfews, closures, manipulation of the water supply, and a wall that separates farmers from fields, students from schools, workers from jobs, patients from hospitals, all while illegal settlements continue to expand and encroach on Palestinian land.
Much is made of Palestinian terrorism, but not much is made of the fact that deaths of Palestinians outnumber deaths of Israelis in the conflict by about five to one. And not much is made of state terrorism, like IDF soldiers shooting up residential neighborhoods using U.S. made helicopter gunships, or demolishing homes on top of their occupants using U.S. made over-sized Caterpillar equipment. I am personally against Palestinian terrorism. I am against violence in general and I don’t think it does their cause any good. But Israeli former prime minister Ehud Barak disagreed with me when he said, in an interview with Gideon Levy in 1998, “If I were a Palestinian of the right age, I’d eventually join a terrorist organization.”
The American public in general, and the Jewish community in particular, are in a state of denial about Israel; about what America is supporting by giving Israel an astounding $15 million per day, beginning with myths about the history which are very persistent. Even though a generation of Jewish Israeli historians has debunked these myths, most people still believe, for example, that in 1948 there were radio broadcasts by Arab leaders ordering the Arab population to leave, so that they could “drive the Jews into the sea”, and once that was accomplished they could return. This myth is used to show that the Arabs deserved what they got. But those radio broadcasts were a fabrication. There are records of all broadcasts, they have been researched, and the truth is clear. In fact there were broadcasts ordering the population to stay put, and to return to their homes if they had already fled.
The state of Israel was achieved through military conquest, massacre, and forced expulsion. Israel needs to re-examine the crimes it has visited on the indigenous population of Palestine. The American Jewish community needs to re-visit the popularly-held notion that Israel can do no wrong. And America needs to re-examine its “special relationship” with Israel.
A patriotic American uses free speech to express objection when he sees his country going down the wrong path. A good Jew follows the strong Jewish tradition of pursuing social justice, and does not cease to do so when he finds the Jewish community to be in error. I claim to be both a patriotic American and a good Jew. And I claim my right to free speech, guaranteed me as an American. I demand my right to express my opinions unmolested, and to do so in this community. Anyone who thinks I’m a lunatic can avoid me. Anyone who wishes to express opposing views can do so in any number of fora. Anyone who wishes to engage me in a calm and respectful conversation will find me willing. Anyone who wishes to punish me for my views by taking a crow-bar to my car in the middle of the night again will likely find the police there the next time.
I would like to close by requesting that the clergy in this community speak to their congregations on the subject of free speech, particularly in the Jewish community.
The following is a letter written by RighteousJews.org member, Rich Siegel, sent to “The Nation” in response to an article by Eric Alterman’s op-ed in the January 7/14/2008 edition. View original article here.
(Note: I write a lot of letters to the editor, and I don’t often save them. I copied this one to Dan McGowan, who runs Deir Yassin Remembered and the Righteous Jews website righteousjews.org. He liked it enough to post it permanently on the website. I remember having had at least one letter published in “The Nation”. I don’t remember if this one was published or not.)
To the Editor:
In Eric Alterman’s “Bad for the Jews” he discusses the apparent paradox in the American Jewish community, an equation he poses as Jews supporting liberal ideas while being represented by a bunch of war-mongering neo-cons and hawkish Zionist organizations. Alterman presents this phenomenon as if it’s some kind of mystery. I feel it’s very easy to understand.
The clue is in one of the statistics he presents: “A 46- to 43- percent plurality…support[s] the creation of a Palestinians state.” Alterman fails to analyze this statistic, and further analysis is called for, as it would solve his mystery for him. Of the Jews who support a Palestinian state, the vast majority, it would seem, support it in the context of Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish-exclusivist entity within either the 1967 borders or those borders expanded to include major settlements, and in the context of Israel’s continued refusal to abide by UN Resolution 194, dating back to 1948 and re-ratified numerous times, in which Israel was required to take the refugeesback as condition for UN membership.
So here we have a much more fundamental paradox in the American Jewish community which, in my opinion, is the fertile soil in which neocon representation and hawkish organizations bloom. Jews who cringe at the idea of Evangelicals making our country a Christian-exclusivist state, never-the-less support the Jewish-exclusivity of Israel, including an artificially maintained Jewish-majority demographic. Jews who support civil rights at home, continue to support Jewish “right of return” to Israel, while keeping it closed to Palestinian refugees, in defiance of the UN. Jews who would never utter the “N” word, vilify Arabs/Muslims and say the most awful things about them all the time. I know. I’m a Jew, and I hear it.
I do not know the statistic, but I am quite sure that I am in a very small minority of Jews who call for the end of Zionism, accountability for Zionism’s crimes against humanity, the return of the refugees, and one multi-ethnic democratic state in Israel/Palestine. If there were more Jews with this truly liberal point of view, we would not be represented by neo-cons and hawkish Zionist organizations.