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Q&A with Israeli Journalist Bradley Burston

Israeli journalist Bradley Burston/Photo via J Street, used with permission

Bradley Burston is an Israeli journalist who was born in Los Angeles, CA. He writes columns for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and is the senior editor of Haaretz.com, which publishes his blog, “A Special Place in Hell.” Burston served as correspondent for the Jerusalem Post (another prominent Israeli newspaper) in Gaza during the first Intifada (1987-1993) and received the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Middle East Journalism in 2006 at the United Nations. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Burston moved to Israel in 1976, where he served as a combat medic in the Israeli Defense Force and helped establish Kibbutz Gezer, outside of Jerusalem.

What balance should be made between being pro-Israel in the sense you believe Israel has done no wrong, and being pro-Israel while recognizing Israel has wronged?

I think in many ways there is no country that does no wrong. When you actually make an effort to get to know Israel in its entirety, it takes more effort to look at the whole picture and to know when to see that Israel has done great things and when Israel has wronged. The fact is, if you’re pro-Israel in the sense you believe that Israel has done only right, you’re not even giving it the benefit of appreciating the things that it does that are actually great-that are better than just all right. There are lots of reasons why people care and feel positively about Israel, but the more you get to know Israel, the more you are in the position to say, “I need to criticize Israel when it deserves criticism and I need to strongly defend Israel when it deserves to be defended.”

Seeing how there is so much anti-Israel propaganda and sentiment in world, is supporting Israel in its every action a good method of combating this?

Being exclusively pro-Israel is not a good response to this because you lose your credibility. You lose your credibility in the same way that the people who are totally anti-Israel do. If the country was as bad as that it wouldn’t even exist, it couldn’t exist. In order to be credible you want to compliment Israel for the things it has done right and take it to task for the things it has done wrong. Then you’re being seen as someone who looks realistically at the picture and not just on the basis of your bias.

What should one’s response be to someone who is vehemently anti-Israel?

For someone like that, the response of a pro-Israel person is to defend Israel. If you have self-respect, real self-respect, and you have an opinion that is strongly supportive of Israel then you can certainly survive either of them. You have the strength to defend Israel when it needs that defense as well as admitting the things it has done wrong. Sometimes the best way to defend Israel is to admit X, Y and Z and to point out that A, B and C are lies.

What is the likelihood of peace being achieved between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s government?

If the two governments were to achieve official peace, how would the citizens of each government react? If I had to give it a numerical chance, and many people who are close to Netanyahu have said this, it is unfortunately 50-50. However, this means it could happen. If official peace were to be achieved, I think even though there may be a state of non-war for awhile, there would be tremendous amounts of left over hatred and grudges on both sides. People have been hurt on both sides. Everybody knows somebody who was a casualty of this war and I think it is going to take generations for true peace to bring people together.

What kind of connection do you think Jewish teenagers should have with Israel?

If there are certain issues you feel strongly about in Israel, many organizations love teenage volunteers. My experience is that if you can get to Israel on some sort of program, you should try. It can change the life that you lead in America because you will grow a connection to the place, which goes back thousands of years. It makes you feel different and fuller about yourself.

Interview by Elijah Jatovsky

12/9/10

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