Rabbi Susan Silverman (Photo: Courtesy)
Rabbi Susan Silverman, a resident of Jerusalem and sister of American comedian Sarah Silverman, talks about her new initiative - a video showing Israeli support for President Barack Obama and his pro-Israel credentials.
You're filming a video to achieve what?
The video targets a segment of American Jewry that votes for candidates they feel are pro-Israel. But that definition of pro-Israel is too often based on misperceptions and even lies. I found myself at my wit’s end with Republican lies. One can disagree with President Obama’s approach to Israel and the Middle East, but to challenge his integrity and intentions is the same malicious craziness that fuels the birthers. I wanted to lay out, factually, what the president has done for Israel. And present the views of really smart, thoughtful people – military and security experts as well as civilians – that show President Obama’s approach.
If some Israelis believe that Obama is great - why should it change the perceptions and the votes of Americans? Do Jewish Americans still really care what Israelis are saying about the president?
Many American Jews do care. Should Israeli opinion affect the votes of American Jews? That’s not for me to say. In a democracy people can vote for a candidate for any reason they want.
Here's a tough one: Of course you can show Israelis describing Obama as great. You can also find Israelis who still think that the world is flat and that the moon is made of cheese. But isn't it true that more - if not most - Israelis don't think Obama is such a great friend? And if they don't (which they don't, according to polls), aren't you misleading American voters with this film?
It’s true that you can make a video aimed to convince an audience that the moon is made of cheese. That’s what public discourse is – a presentation of our opinions. In this case, I felt the need to counter right-wing lies and just general vagueness. Not with lies, or vague platitudes, but with personal experience as well as facts and thoughtful, informed analysis and interpretation of those facts. When Romney replied to a question about what his relationship with Israel would be as president, he said he’d do the opposite of what President Obama has done. We know what that implies – but what does it mean? That Romney would dismantle anti-missile systems that Obama expanded and introduced? That he would disband the coalition Obama developed against Iran? That he would join our foes at the UN? Or, my guess, that he has no substantive response to that question?
Is it really a good thing for Israel to become a partisan electoral issue in the US - would it not be better to keep away from such development?
It’s the reality. It’s democracy. People can vote for a president for reasons I agree with and for reasons I disagree with. In my opinion, foreign policy is one of many legitimate concerns for the US voter.
Would Romney be a great president for Israel?
He would mean to be, but I do not believe he would be. He has shown cluelessness internationally, indicating he’d be a bull – or should I say elephant – in a china shop. And he’s unreliable. He has changed course on many elemental positions in US politics. How could he possibly be a trustworthy partner in addressing the subtle, complex, deeply felt issues of our country and region? He seems to believe, or be willing to pretend, that Palestinians don’t exist. That kind of denial is deadly for a Jewish democratic state. You can have two of the following three things: one state, a democracy, a Jewish state. You cannot have all three. That is the reality. Romney is not friends with this reality, and presents that denial as being pro-Israel.
And Romney is incredibly vague in terms of real policies. There is a midrash in which the rabbis seek to dissuade Jews from becoming like the Greeks of their time. They say the Greek is like the pig. The pig shows its foot and says, “Look I’m kosher!” And its hoof is, in fact, split, as per kosher law. But this midrashic pig hides its inner self. It doesn’t chew its cud, which is the other mandate for kashrut. Romney offers platitudes that make right-wing Jews and Israelis happy, coyly showing a bit here and a bit there. But, as they say, where’s the beef?