One of the little-noticed virtues of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, completed yesterday, is that it puts in sharp relief one of the questions of the Middle East debate that has puzzled us in recent years, centering on the Council on Foreign Relations and Henry Siegman. The council's Web site describes Mr. Siegman as "senior fellow and director, U.S./Middle East Project" and also as "foremost expert on the Middle East peace process ... and U.S. Middle East Policy." Yet his writings over the past few years are hard to distinguish from the hard-line propaganda of the Arab tyrannies.
A visitor to the Council's Web site yesterday could view in its archives an interview with Mr. Siegman by a former foreign editor of the New York Times, Bernard Gwertzman, under the headline, "Siegman: Sharon Unlikely to Carry Out Plans to Withdraw from Gaza." In the interview, Mr. Gwertzman asks Mr. Siegman, "Why won't the withdrawal take place?" Mr. Siegman answers in all apparent seriousness that Mr. Sharon lacks majority support for his plan in the Israeli parliament.
It's now clear that Mr. Siegman's assessment in October 2004 was precisely wrong. It's hardly the first time. America's Middle East policy, in Mr. Siegman's analysis, is the result of how "Sharon manipulates Washington," as he put it in an April 26, 2004, article in the International Herald Tribune. A similar theme is conveyed in cartoons in the Arab press, labeled as anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League, depicting Mr. Sharon as a puppeteer manipulating President Bush.
Mr. Siegman has said Israel is worse than the terrorist leader Yasser Arafat. "Surely depriving the freedom of 3.5 million Palestinians and subjugating them to a military occupation for nearly two generations is a more fundamental and egregious offense to basic democratic values than the authoritarianism of Arafat, who at least came to office in a free and democratic internationally supervised election," Mr. Siegman wrote on February 27, 2003, in the International Herald Tribune. He suggested that U.S. policy-makers who think that "our actions in Iraq will inspire admiration and trigger regionwide democratic change better check what they are smoking." The smoke had barely cleared when American actions in Iraq did trigger regionwide democratic change and admiration from Beirut to Cairo and beyond.
So why would the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based American institution, fund this "expert" at the level of $204,151 in salary and benefits, making him, in the most recent year for which tax returns are available, its fourth-highest paid employee? It turns out that much of the funding for the Council's "U.S./Middle East Project" comes from overseas, including the European Commission, the government of Norway, Kuwaiti and Saudi businessmen, a Lebanese politician, and, for one year, an official of the commercial arm of the Palestinian Authority, Munib Masri.
Mr. Siegman tells us that his views have been consistent over his career and that his project's funding sources - which he points out are a matter of public record - haven't influenced his opinions. A spokeswoman for the Council says that there is no connection between funding sources and any scholar's opinions. The editor in charge of the opinion page at the International Herald Tribune, Serge Schmemann, says that the paper never asked about, and Mr. Siegman never mentioned, where his money was coming from. Editors at the New York Review of Books, where Mr. Siegman also publishes, did not return our phone calls seeking comment.
Why aren't the New York Review of Books and the New York Times-owned IHT disclosing that the man attacking Israel in their pages is being supported by European governments and non-American Arab businessmen? The Times itself has an integrity policy requiring freelance contributors to "avoid conflicts of interest, real or apparent," yet the Times ran an op-ed piece by Mr. Siegman in 2002 identifying him only as "a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations." If the publications had made the disclosure, their readers could draw their own conclusions.