Rich Siegel is a Pianist, Vocalist, Musical Director, Orchestra Leader Composer, Lyricist. As a teenager he was the president of Zionist Youth group and a member of two others, now he is an activist for Palestine. In this interview we discuss about Israeli-Palestinian issue. He dedicate his song ” In Palestine” to the memory of daughter of his friend and to all children who were killed by the Israeli forces.
1. Rich Siegel, can you acquaint us about your background?
I am descended from the wave of Ashkenazi Jewish immigration to New York from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. My great-grandparents arrived from four different Eastern European countries and settled on the Lower East Side of New York. My parents were both raised in Brooklyn. I was raised in a suburb of New York, in a Reform synagogue. My parents were founding members of the synagogue. My parents were, and are, atheists. The atmosphere in this synagogue made religion a lot less important than Jewish tribal identity and Zionism. Those were the real reasons for this institution.
2. You were raised in a culture having a firm belief in Zionism, with the idea of superiority of Israel and inferiority of Arabs. As a teenager you were a president of Zionist Youth group and a member of two other groups, believing in the Zionist ideology. In those years have you ever personally interacted with any Arabs or try to find about their beliefs?
I don’t think it’s accurate to say we viewed Arabs as inferior. We did view Jews as superior, although this was never stated directly, and so we viewed pretty much everybody else as inferior. We viewed Arabs as hating us for no reason. I actually did not know any Arabs while growing up, so did not have the chance to interact with Arabs at all.
3. How much is according to you Israeli media responsible for the widespread negative opinion about the Arabs? And how far the negative opinion about Arabs is widespread in the Israeli mind-set?
I honestly don’t know much about the Israeli media as I am not Israeli. I can say for sure that the American media promotes negative stereotypes about Arabs. And there is much Jewish influence in the media so this is not surprising.
4. When did your opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian issue started to change? What were the reasons?
For many years I had problems with contemporary Jewish American culture because there was so much atheism in it. I was atheist when I was a child because this is what I was taught. But I found a belief in God within myself in my 20’s. So it bothered me that so many Jews rejected belief in God and were so focused on Jewish tribal identity and Israel. I felt that these two things were idols- that Jews were guilty of the very idolatry that Judaism teaches against, but that they did not see it as such. But even so, I was so indoctrinated with Zionist propaganda that I did not really question it much until 2004. I happened to read something that exposed me to the reality of the nakba, and then I kept reading, and re-educating myself, and that process continues to this day.
[vimeo 6630724 w=500 h=338]
5. How did your family and your friends react to your changed perception about the Israeli-Palestinian issue? Have you lost some old friends? And have you acquired/gained any new friends, with Arab nationality?
I lost many friends and also family members. But I don’t regret this. I feel like the ones who rejected me for my views were not true friends anyway. I really don’t need closed-minded friends. I prefer friends who can entertain a new idea. My parents have also changed their minds about Israel so my relationship with them was not affected. But there are cousins, and life- long friends, who have simply left my life. I have made new friends among Palestine activists, Arab friends and friends of many ethnic and religious backgrounds. Honestly it felt very strange to associate with Arabs, at first, because I was always told that if I turned my back on any Arab he would kill me, because all Arabs hate Jews. That discomfort has left me as I have come to appreciate the warmth and hospitality of Arab culture.
6. Do you personally also know some other people who got an insight into the real situation about Israeli-Palestinian issue?
Sure. I know many. And I think it’s becoming more and more common. I think there is a shift in public opinion on this issue, and that’s a very good thing.
7. Are there Israeli organizations advocating for peace between the two sides and how far are they actually successful in their intent?
I don’t know much about Israeli organizations. I know more about American Jewish organizations. I honestly don’t trust Jewish peace organizations. I think that, while some of them do good work in the short term, they still want to have their Jewish-exclusivist “Israel” on stolen Palestinian land, and they want to give the Palestinians a non-contiguous micro-state on just 22% of what was once all theirs, and they pretend that this is generous and peace-loving. They pat themselves on the back for being fair-minded just because the racism of the settler movement is perhaps a bit worse than their racism. But let’s be clear that both the left-wing and the right-wing among Zionists are racist. Zionism itself is racist. Only true anti-Zionists are not racist, and I have yet to find any Jewish organization, whether in Israel or America or anywhere, which is truly Anti-Zionist, with the sole exception of the ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta. There were Anti-Zionist Jewish organizations in the past, both among the Orthodox and the Reform, but not today. Zionism has totally taken over the Jewish world, and this is true as well in the “peace camp”.
8. Have you ever received threats because of your support for the people of Palestine, for example from Zionist?
Yes I have, and more than threats, some actual harassment and vandalism. Most recently, a jazz critic named Brent Black has threatened to “Get me”. Not sure how to interpret that. He wrote a very positive review of my CD, called it “stellar”, and then after pressure from some Jewish readers, pulled the review, and has been writing a series of essays about me stating very uncomplimentary things, called me CD the “worst recorded music ever”, and has been harassing me. I have pro-Palestine bumper stickers on my car, and that has brought quite a reaction. I had a rabbi shouting obscenities at my house. And I’ve had actual vandalism on the car. Somebody smashed a fender with a crow-bar causing severe damage. Then when I had it repaired they did it a second time. I currently have a court case against a young man because of a “road rage” incident, and I have a libel suit pending against another man who wrote a letter to the editor stating that he saw me shouting obscenities at children at a demonstration. (I wasn’t even at the demonstration!) The libel suit is also filed against the newspaper which published the letter without fact-checking. Openly supporting Palestine in a Jewish neighborhood does leave one open to a lot of abuse!
9. Can you explain the definition of Zionism; many people often do not distinguish religious Jews from Zionists?
Zionism is Jewish nationalism. Specifically Zionism supports the idea of a Jewish state in “Zion”, the biblical land that corresponds to contemporary Palestine. Most Jew support Zionism, both religious and secular. A minority of Jews, both religious and secular, oppose Zionism.
10. Why the rest of the world isn’t doing enough to help Palestinians? We often see on media various protests in support for Palestine, but is that enough?
I think we are at a point where the majority of the PEOPLE of the world support Palestine, but the governments of the world are all tied into the New World Agenda, composed of international banking, American imperialism, and Zionism. Most heads of state are tied into that agenda. Some exceptional heads of state have opposed it, like Iran’s Ahmedinejad and recently deceased Chavez in Venezuela. Look at the complicated situation with Turkey. They cut off relations with Israel after the attack on the boat in 2010. But Obama visits Israel, gets Netanyahu to state “regret” (which is NOT an apology- let’s be clear), and now Turkey, it seems, is renewing relations. This is how American/Zionist/New World Order influence in the political landscape works. But I think the people of the world are becoming less and less tolerant. The future will be interesting.
11. You recorded a song “In Palestine”. Can you tell us the story behind that song? You dedicate that song to the memory of daughter of your friend and other Palestinian children who were killed by Israeli forces.
I met Bassam Aramin in New York at an event for Combatants for Peace. I knew he had lost his daughter, and for me meeting him was significant as I was going through a re-evaluation of the Zionism I was raised with. At this point I knew I was raised in a lie, and that this lie had caused much suffering. But meeting Bassam was the first time I had met someone who had suffered the kind of loss no parent should ever have to suffer: the death of a child. So I was very affected by meeting someone who had been victimized by Israel in this way- this Israel I had been lied to about all my life, and had supported because I had been lied to. I felt a personal responsibility to him. Of course, that responsibility could be extended to all parents who have suffered in this way, and there are many. Awhile later I had this idea for the song, wrote the music and part of the lyric, and contacted Dave Lippman to finish the lyric. Dave is another anti-Zionist Jew. Then I decided to produce a video around the song, dedicate it to Bassam’s late daughter Abir, and put it up on line. A lot of people have seen it. I hope it has started conversations. I re-recorded it recently, with a nice cello part, played by Eugene Moye, on my new CD “The Way to Peace” The CD also features my friend, Israeli ex-pat saxophonist and author, Gilad Atzmon. The CD is available at various online music sources. Amazon, CD Baby, I Tunes, etc.
12. How ideology of Zionism negatively effects on relations between two people?
We often see images of Jews in demonstrations wearing slogans like “Zionism is responsible for anti-Semitism “; but on other had we see rabbis who are spreading hatred towards Arabs and Muslims in general.
We’re seeing an ideological struggle within the Jewish world. And this rift is getting wider. Many Jews are realizing that the hatred against Jews today is mostly a response to Zionist atrocities. But the belief system among Jews traditionally states that Jews are hated for “no reason”. So to place a reason on hatred against Jews is seen as blasphemy. We are not allowed to say this. Jews get hysterical. If you blame contemporary hatred against Jews on Zionism, then you might as well also say that Hitler had a good reason for killing so many Jews. This is the mentality among many Jews, sorry to say. So the vilification of Zionism’s victims continues on one side, while the more progressive side is insisting that we look at the hatred that Zionist crimes have inspired.
13. Why West and specially US administration support Israel ?
There is this “special relationship” between the US and Israel. And the question is often asked, which side is responsible for it? Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog? I have limited insight into this, but I can’t help think that when more Americans come to understand that support for Israel has damaged American reputation around the world, that perhaps things will change. Do you know that America delayed the 1947 partition plan vote at the UN, in order to have time to bully certain “client states” into approving it? That vote violated the UN’s charter, as the wishes of a majority population were not considered. And that’s America’s fault. America is largely responsible for the birth of Israel. And Israel has been America’s baby ever since, tragically.
14. You observed any affect of Arab spring in ongoing struggle of Palestine people ?
This really goes beyond my area of expertise. I find it hard to tell how much of this “Arab Spring” is legitimate, and how much of it is funded and propped up by overseas interests. I think it’s different in each locality. I can only hope that popular interests will ultimately be served in each location, and this outcome will certainly be helpful to Palestine.
15. You see any solution of Palestine Issue in coming future ?
Hard to say. I think the tolerance of the global community is growing thinner and thinner. I don’t think things can continue as they are indefinitely. But will it take 20 years, or will it suddenly change next month? I wish I knew. Better sooner than later!
16. What should be the role of Arab countries ?
Clearly leadership in all Arab countries should be to oppose the New World Order, oppose American imperialism, and insist on freedom for Palestine. As someone from outside the Arab community I can only observe the lack of unity in the Arab world and wonder why it is so. I have no insight and can offer no solution.
17. What is your message to our readers?
There is One God and one human race. No religion is the right religion. All are paths to God. No race or ethnic group is superior to any other. And everyone is redeemable. If a former teenage Zionist youth group president can become an activist for Palestine, then it’s possible for even the most determined Zionist to have a moment of realization. There is God in each of us. Some of us need some gentle help in finding Him.
18. What are you future plans?
I’m finishing up a book. My essay “The Cult of Atheist Zionism Posing as Judaism” was published in Avigail Abarbanel’s new book “Beyond Tribal Loyalties” (available at the usual online booksellers) and writing this essay inspired me to expand it into a book. I’m also planning a new CD. And once I have finished these projects I would like to take a trip to Palestine. The last time I was there I lived and worked in Tiberias for awhile as a young Jewish-American Zionist. I would like to go this time with new eyes and a new awareness.
Rich Siegel | The way to peace