Sarah Silverman's Sister Is Running in Israel's Election to Help Topple Its Right-Wing Government

On Tuesday, Israelis will go to the polls in an election that is projected to have a strong chance of toppling Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition and ushering in a centrist government with a stronger left wing.

In advance of the elections, clusters of right-wing and left-wing parties held rallies in Tel Aviv, with Netanyahu holding one this past Sunday. The Sunday before, nearly twice as many people turned out for rallies of the center and left, with strong representation from the traditional party of the Zionist left, Meretz.

Meretz is a minor party today, projected to win a single-digit number of seats, compared to the Arab-Jewish Joint-List Hadash, which may end up being the third-most powerful force in Israeli politics.

Still, for many Israelis, Meretz remains a voice for the Israeli left that feels disenfranchised by an Israeli political system that has endorsed economic inequality at home and permanent occupation of the Palestinian territories. Meretz, for example, was the only Zionist party to oppose the war in Gaza over the summer.

Israel's electoral system is organized under the principle of proportional representation, with parties submitting lists from which they will then fill their seats in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, following the election. Meretz has recruited Rabbi Susan Silverman, the sister of American comedian Sarah Silverman, to the 20th spot on its list, which is considered an honorary spot given the party's electoral prospects.

Rabbi Silverman agreed to a short interview with Alternet laying out her views on Israel's current government and her hopes for the future.

Zaid Jilani: What inspired you to run for office? Why did you choose to go with Meretz?

Susan Silverman: I am in an honorary position and was given the spot by Zehava Gal’on, the head of the party. I am a wholehearted Meretz supporter because it is consistent with my vision of Israel’s highest potential. A pluralistic democracy with progressive values. Meretz is committed to a peace-process toward a two-state solution, to civil marriage and gay rights, feminism, social justice and democratic ideals. In other words, Meretz wants to strengthen what I consider to be the best of Israel.

ZJ: A human rights activist, Elizabeth Tsurkov, posted some text messages about the warning the Likud Party sent that "Arabs are counting" on Likud voters to stay home. This sort of racial dog-whistling reminds me of similar politics invoking African Americans in the United States. When combined with voter ID laws, there has been a pretty concentrated effort by the US right-wing to campaign against African Americans. Is there a similar element at play in Israel with its Arab population? What do you think Israeli politicians should be doing to combat racism that they are not doing now?

Susan Silverman: I think that what Likud is saying is disgusting. Some friends got that message and were in shock. Lower than low. It’s not the same kind of disgusting as the voter ID laws in that it’s not suppressing anyone’s vote. Voter ID laws prevent citizens from voting. Israel’s policies do not do that to any of its citizens. Netanyahu’s campaign does, however, draw one on the worst of our human impulses for its own gain. We have an obviously well-grounded fear, since Hamas and Hezbillah have fired over 10,000 missiles at us over the past ten years, and we have found our children blown to bits on school buses. But Bibi plays on that fear to stay in office while not offering us – and all good people -- a commitment to finding a long-term solution.

ZJ: Meretz was the only zionist party to take a strong stand against the summer escalation in Gaza and to demand a withdrawal of settlers to give way to a Palestinian state. Why do you think the cause of peace has receded from many of the other political parties, and what hopes do you have for peace?

Susan Silverman: I think people feel hopeless. I am not a fan of Likud, to say the least, but the PA is no winner either. Never mind the thugs that call themselves Hamas and Hizbollah and Isis. We have a lot to fear and, for some people, that causes a closing in, a protective stance. I have faith in the goodness of people – not all people, actually, but many. I can feel hopeless sometimes – ISIS especially makes me feel sometimes that there is no hope for humanity. But what choice do we have but to try to move forward, to build a society – a world – in which all people are safe to be, well, just to be.

ZJ: What are your thoughts on the gambit by Netanyahu where he spoke at Congress?

Susan Silverman: I opposed it completely. I am a Democrat in US politics. I love President Obama. And I saw John Boehner use the Prime Minister of my other country, Israel, to take a political swing at the US President and make Israel into a partisan issue in the process. The whole thing was destructive and should be an embarrassment to the Republicans (who don’t seem to me to be capable of enough self-reflection to ever be embarrassed) and to Netanyahu (of whom the same could be said).

ZJ: I saw that your sister tweeted out support for Meretz and to get out the Israeli vote. Are you hoping for a Sarah Silverman bump?

Susan Silverman: Of course. As Sarah says, Be brave and love each other. That’s what Meretz believes, too.


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