There is no place farther from the Israeli experience than the old wooden house in Seattle, and yet, the room that is used as a home office has been the source of several exclusive news stories that stirred the Israeli media into a frenzy in recent months.
Every day at 5 pm local time, Richard Silverstein puts up a new post on his blog, Tikun Olam. The website has become one of the Israeli censorship's biggest problems recently when it featured news items that were under a gag order in the Jewish state. Silverstein revealed the names of the Mossad and Shin Bet chief candidates long before the Israeli media did, and was the one who broke the news of the the Anat Kam
affair - the IDF soldier who leaked confidential documents to a Ha'aretz reporter.
In one of his latest posts, Silverstein claimed
that ships belonging to the Ofer Brothers' Group, an Israeli company sanctioned
by the United States for trade with Iran, were used to take Mossad agents to the Islamic Republic.
The reverberation of his revelations across the Israeli media is something that he finds pleasing, Silverstein told Yediot Ahronot in a recent interview, but not all of the responses are positive. He said that some critics slammed his report for putting Mossad agents in danger.
So how does he come upon the exclusive information on Israeli issues from his perch thousands of miles away? Silverstein says he has many sources. Some are political and human rights elements, while others are Israeli bloggers and activists. He got the scoop on the Ofer Brothers affair, for example, from a retired politician.
Silverstein was one of the first to expose the case of Palestinian engineer Dirar Abu Sisi, who was reportedly kidnapped in the Ukraine and brought to Israel to be indicted
for alleged ties to Hamas.
The blogger says that an Israeli journalist sent him a link to a Ukrainian media report on the abduction, and once he began working on the story, he got another tip that Abu Sisi was in Israel.
The report snowballed, Silverstein says. He later received information from Russian bloggers, human rights activists, and finally, he got to Abu Sisi's brother in the Netherlands. Silverstein has worldwide connections.
But one element that has yet to contact Silverstein is the Israeli Censor. Silverstein said that one Israeli reporter had asked the body why Tikun Olam is allowed to publish restricted information, and was answered that blogs do not interest the censor. Regardless, Silverstein notes that his freedom of expression is protected under the First Amendment to the US constitution; he does not fear the Israeli government's response – he is not an Israeli citizen.
The blogger, who defines himself as a liberal Zionist, was born in 1952 in the Hudson River Valley region. He studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Colombia University, where he earned a Bachelor of Hebrew Literature degree. He completed his Masters in Comparative Literature at UCLA. While he speaks and reads Hebrew and Yiddish, he prefers conversing in English.
Silverstein does not hide his left-wing tendencies. In addition to news items, he also publishes posts where he oppugns Israel's policies on various issues, particularly on political and security matters. Many readers accuse him of intentionally harming Israel's security, but he says they do not stop him from doing what he believes is right: Fighting against gag orders and protecting security prisoners. He claims that Israel has made too many compromises about its defense. Above all, he declares that he loves Israel, and wants it to prosper; he does not wish to harm it.
When it comes to information that touches upon US security issues, Silverstein says that he would not chase any exclusive that comes his way; even if he had any information leading up to the assassination
of Osama Bin Laden, for example, he would not have pursued it for the sake of getting a scoop.
But when asked what would happen if he received information that Israeli forces are planning to assassinate say, Hezbollah
Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah,
Silverstein says that hypothetically, he would publish it. But he qualifies the statements by noting that he if he had a story that endangers a life – the life of an Israeli soldier, for example – he would be cautious about publishing it.
Silverstein notes that he opposes assassination operations by principle, and would have preferred Bin Laden to be brought before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He adds that he believes that while Israel has the justification for carrying out anti-terrorist operations, it should be done in accordance with international law.
According to Silverstein, the bulk of the criticism directed at him comes from American Jews. A recent attempt to take him down aimed at character assassination; some elements released fake documents claiming that Silverstein had been arrested by the FBI for pedophilia.
Other strategies to discourage his activity include the oldest tactic in the book – threats. At the end of his June 1 post, Silverstein published a personal note slamming those who resort to this form of deterrence.
"If there are any degenerate individuals who think that by threatening the lives of my children that this will scare me, intimidate me, or cause me to change what I do, how I write or what I write about…think again," he wrote. "On the contrary, it will convince me that anyone so threatened that he must resort to this sort of aberrant behavior – means I am on precisely the right track. It will only make me redouble my efforts to cover the stories I do, to expose wrongdoing and injustice."
Despite the ample media attention that his blog has been getting recently, Silverstein notes that it has brought him no profit: His blog is political, not commercial. He has donors and features some ads, but his blog does not support him financially. His main goal is not to make money – but to influence. For the future, he says he want to see a secular, liberal democracy in Israel, one that respects both the human rights and the religious beliefs of its citizens.