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“I would like to see an Israeli and Palestinian people living peacefully”: Richard Silverstein

by Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik e.V.

A very interesting interview with Richard Silverstein, about Israel and Palestine. He explains as his way of being a Zionist. He wants an Israel as fully democratic State, and does not accept apartheid. 

Richard Silverstein is a MintPress analyst who has written the Tikun Olam blog since 2003, specializing in Israeli politics and US foreign affairs. Silverstein works to expose the excesses of the Israeli national security state. He breaks major news stories that are often under judicial gag or military censorship, and which may not be reported in Israel. He has been published in Haaretz, Al Jazeera English, the Forward, Christian Science Monitor, Middle East Eye, and the Seattle Times. He speaks Hebrew fluently and incorporates the Hebrew-language press into his blog and other publications. He earned a BA from Columbia University, a BHL from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and MA in Comparative Literature from UCLA. He did two years of undergraduate and graduate study at the Hebrew University. He lives in Seattle. 

Milena Rampoldi: You define yourself as progressive (critical) Zionist. Can you explain this to our readers?

Richard Silverstein: I often find that ideological definitions can be a trap.  While they permit one to understand the views you may hold, they often drive others away who judge someone’s value based on these phrases.

That being said, I call myself a progressive Zionist.  That is a far-cry from what I call a “classical Zionist,” someone who believes that the Jewish right to the land of Israel is exclusive of the rights of anyone else residing there.  My Zionism does not grant superior rights to Jews.  It does not define Israel as a state in which there are first and second class citizens.  Like Azmi Bishara, Israel must be a State of all its citizens.  Everyone must have equal rights in every social, political and economic sphere.  While religion is a defining quality of many, if not most Israeli citizens, it should not accord anyone rights that are different than anyone else.

Israel should become a nation in which citizens are defined primary by nationality, rather than religion.  That is the only way Israel can find an identity that will be common to all, regardless of religion.

Contrary to many on both the right and left side of this debate, I don’t define a final outcome on behalf of the parties.  I call for Israel to be a fully democratic state.  I call for a transformation of the nation from the authoritarian, religion-dominated state it is now into a democracy.

Personally, I no longer believe a two state solution is possible.  A one-state solution seems much more likely given Israel’s intransigence and refusal to compromise.  But I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to define outcomes for those who will have to live in this future state.

What are the most important objectives of your blog Tikun Olam?

Tikun Olam is a blog which exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state.  I’ve defined national security as the single most destructive aspect of Israeli society (there are many other destructive elements worth considering as well, of course).  That is why I focus on exposing gag orders and censorship that restricts freedom of speech and the press.  That is why I expose the lies offered to the Israeli public by the security forces.  Secrecy is an enemy of freedom and democracy.  This is a concept not widely understood by most Israelis.  So it’s the mission of my blog to attempt to inculcate that value within Israel.

What do discover the difference between the narrative and the reality? Can you tell us a couple of useful strategies to look behind the curtains of propaganda and “rational” narrative?

The prevailing ideological narrative is that Israel is a liberal democracy.  I call this the liberal Zionist narrative.  Those inside and outside Israel know that it cannot be presented as a Jewish state alone.  They know that without a democratic veneer Israel would lose what little support it has in the world.  SO they persist in the delusion that there is democracy in Israel.  They refuse to acknowledge that democracy is a dead letter in Israel.  That only Jews enjoy democracy, and those who are Jewish dissidents don’t even enjoy that.  It is important to expose liberal Zionism as a sham.  Doing so will force Israel’s supporters to come to the realization that only a radical transformation of Israeli society will allow it to endure in the long term.

What are the most important elements of the Jewish supremacy ideology? How to dismantle them?

As an outsider (non-Israeli), it is hard to know what or how to dismantle the liberal Zionist construct.  The best way for me to do this is to use my blog as a tool to expose the contradictions in the prevailing national narrative.  That I am doing this, and succeeding at it is proven by the amount of attacks, insults, and constant hasbara attention that my blog receives.  It is also proven by the hostility much of the Israeli media reserves for my work.  I add to this the Israeli military censor, who singles out my blog for castigation.

What do you wish for Palestine in the future?

In the long-term, I would like to see an Israeli and Palestinian people living peacefully either in a unitary state or two separate States.  I would like to see a Right of Return for Palestinian refugees to Israel.  I would also like to see a Right of Return for Jews, but only those suffering from imminent physical danger or overt, threatening anti-Semitism.  I would like to see Jerusalem as a capital of for two peoples either in one state or two.  

What is your political vision for peace in the Middle East?

I would like to see Israel integrated into the entire Middle East region: a part of it instead of a foreign implant that is alien from every state surrounding it.  

I would like to see Israeli Jews honoring and respecting non-Jewish citizens and seeing them as no different.  I would like to see Israeli Jews speaking Arabic the way Anglophones speak French in Quebec.  I would like Israeli Jews to understand that they are part of the Middle East and not separate from it.  To do so, they must embrace the prevailing Arab culture and society, and find a place for themselves within it.

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