Robert Wilkes, in the last issue of JTNews, wrote this about me:
…Many American [Jews]…support pro-Palestinian groups and the BDS movement…and seek to delegitimize Israel. They employ tropes such as “apartheid” and “Israeli-Nazi war machine” to create a smokescreen of twisted facts and history…
Among them…Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein… hyperbolically depict[s] Israel as a Nazi state inflicting a Shoah on the Palestinians.”
Before he published this, I had no idea who Robert Wilkes was. Even now, I wish I didn’t know, and didn’t have to rebut the false claims he made about my beliefs.
Let me tell you who I really am and what I really believe. I live in Seattle with my family, including three young children. We belong to Congregation Beth Shalom.
I’ve published “Tikun Olam” since 2003. It was one of the earliest blogs advocating Israeli-Arab peace. I am a progressive, or critical Zionist. I support Israel, but oppose the occupation. I support Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders (with minor territorial swaps), a plan advocated by Bill Clinton, the Geneva Initiative and the Arab League in various iterations.
I believe the only way for Israel to be safe and secure is for Palestinians to have their own state in the West Bank and Gaza. As the Dr. Izzeldine Abuelaish, who in 2009 lost three daughters and a niece to an IDF tank shell during Operation Cast Lead, said in a speech at Temple B’nai Torah last month: “Israel and Palestine are conjoined twins. They must live together or they will die together.”
I don’t believe that Israeli military might, in the long run, will guarantee Israel’s survival. Settlements won’t. Occupation won’t. The only way to ensure Israel’s future is through negotiation with its adversaries.
As far as Israel itself, I believe its future lies in being a democratic state for all its citizens. While most Israelis are Jews, 1 million are Palestinian. They must be as much a part of the life of Israel as African-Americans are part of this country.
Currently, Palestinians face huge obstacles: There is massive discrimination both tacit and explicit against them. Their communities receive far less government funding for basic services, and their educational opportunities and health care are inferior. There are fewer jobs for Israeli minorities and they are lower-paying, lower-skilled ones. In politics, no Jewish governing coalition will include any Arab party, meaning that Israeli Arabs and
Palestinians have very little political clout.
What many Israelis and I envision is an Israel which treats everyone equally, whether Jew or non-Jew. Judaism will not be a religion superior to any other citizen’s religion, nor will it be inferior. Every religion worshipped by every citizen will be respected, whether Judaism, Islam or Christianity.
We have a U.S. Constitution that guarantees our freedoms. Israel should have one, too. Its constitution should enshrine the basic rights enumerated in our own Bill of Rights. It should ensure that all religions and ethnic groups, whether minority or majority, have basic rights. And those rights should not be infringed by the majority, whether Jewish or Arab.
This is what a democracy is. This is what Israel should be.
Israel is a Jewish homeland. But it should also be a Palestinian homeland (for its Palestinian citizens). If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, why can’t a country embrace two ethnic groups living together?
Why would Robert Wilkes find this so radical? Look at the United States, look at Canada, Switzerland, Ireland. These are all countries which have grappled with the conflicts and competing interests of multiple ethnic populations. If they have found a way to live together, I have no doubt Israel can.
Does Israel live in a dangerous neighborhood? Sure. Do the ideas I’ve proposed involve risks? Yes. But what’s the alternative? Endless war? Can Israel live forever surrounded by hostile nations? I don’t believe so.
Now let’s address Robert Wilkes’ bit of character assassination. Do I believe the things he ascribed to me? No. I have never written, nor do I believe Israel is a “Nazi war machine.” As a Zionist, I don’t believe in delegitimizing Israel. That’s just a slogan tossed around by extremists with no substance. Nor have I ever written or do I believe Israel “inflicted a Shoah on the Palestinians.”
As a teenager, I sat in my grandmother’s living room in Washington Heights asking about her family I never knew. She told me of her brothers and sisters who perished in the Holocaust. One heartbreakingly returned to Poland after emigrating here, telling her in disgust: “T’iz a genayvushe land!”
I once published an oral history of a Hungarian survivor of Auschwitz in the Los Angeles Times. I participated in, and was a technical advisor to Pierre Sauvage’s award-winning PBS documentary, “Yiddish: Di Mameloshn.”
I don’t abuse the Holocaust to score political points. The memory of the 6 million are too sacred for that.
Robert Wilkes doesn’t know me. If he’s bothered to read a single word I’ve written, he apparently hasn’t understood it. I’d prefer to think he hasn’t, and bases his calumnies about me on what others have told him.
But before I criticize the views of others I do due diligence and read what they’ve written. I quote their words and then critique them. Wilkes didn’t bother to do me that favor.
There is an odious, intolerant, violent process of demonization in this country that led to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. It’s also played out in the furor over the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Listen to Glenn Beck on any given night and you’ll hear about Jewish bankers, or Nazi leftists, or jihadi Muslims, or similar venom against the feared minority du jour.
That, to me, is what Mr. Wilkes represents. He wants to turn me into a cartoon, a demon, someone you can hate as he does.
We Jews have given the world so much learning, culture, music, language, ideas. Do we have to give the world hate as well? Is that our legacy?
Judaism values one’s good name above all else. Someone who lies about another’s beliefs commits a grave form of gossip called motzi shem ra. Robert Wilkes has stolen my good name and I won’t let him do it. I want my good name restored to me.