Maxim Shevchenko: "I will advocate for the Palestinian cause until I die."
Maxim Shevchenko is an immensely well-respected editor, journalist and presenter on television and radio in Russia. He is a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause, a member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and he is also one of the latest targets of the pro-Israel Lobby.
Hanan Chehata - You are an outspoken supporter of Palestine and have publicly criticised Israel for its human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. When did your support for Palestine begin and why?
Maxim Shevchenko - I began to support the Palestinian people as a Soviet teenager in 1982. There were a lot of wounded Palestinian fighters from Beirut in Moscow at the time. I casually happened to meet some of them. Talks with these people amazed me. They were the same age as me but they had been real fighters for freedom and justice.
At the same time I was studying at school. A lot of my schoolmates planned to go to live in Israel. They said a lot of bad things about Palestinians but they had never been to Palestine or had even met a Palestinian.
I could not understand why people that had such a bad attitude towards Palestine planned to live there while simultaneously Palestinians were forced to be exiles without a Motherland. I failed to understand why my schoolmates, who were born in Moscow, planned to live in Palestine. It seemed to me that that was a huge injustice.
HC - Over 1 million Russians live in Israel. Does this mean that there is a lot of support for Israel among the general population of Russia; more so than for Palestine?
MS - They are not Russians - they are Zionists. They are connected with Russia only by language. All other feelings that they have towards Russia are hostile. At the same time the Russian language that they speak gives them the right to call themselves Russians - this is a lie.
Today Russian speaking Zionists view Russia as a place where they can make money, like a colony for goods of their market. Thanks to corruption they have more possibilities to trade their fruits and vegetables that are grown on occupied territories here.
Russian speaking Zionists support ultra-right groups of racists and fascists. They create an anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim mood in Russia.
Today the struggle for public opinion in Russia is the most important goal of the struggle for Palestine. It is a big mistake not to understand this but sometimes it seems that even some Palestinians do not understand it.
HC - How powerful is the Israel lobby in Russia and how does it manifest itself?
MS - The Israel lobby is very powerful in Russia. It consists of hundreds of politicians, journalists and secret service officers, businessmen and financial circles that transfer money outside Russia through offshore banks. They have corrupted a lot of people in positions of authority. The Russian Jewish Congress is only the top of the iceberg.
The influence of the Zionist lobby in Russia is huge. However, not everyone subscribes to their views. It is important to also remember that there is a huge difference between Jews and Zionists. Look at Jewish people like Hedy Epstein, for example. She is a holocaust survivor and a participant of the Nuremberg process. She is 87 years old and yet she is one of the key activists leading others in the fight for peace and justice for Palestinians.
HC - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has invited members of Hamas to Russia before. What is the status of Hamas in Russia? Is it seen as a terrorist organisation or as a legitimate political party?
MS - Hamas is not considered to be a terrorist organization in Russia despite the pressure of the Zionist lobby. Now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia has organized ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Palestinians have a great deal of support from Muslims in Russia - which is heading towards 20% of the Russian population. Parties on the Left also support Palestinians including the Communist party - it is about 25% of Russians. These are activists. I think that on the whole more than 90% of Russian people support Palestinians.
HC - Russia is set to support the recognition of Palestine as an independent state at the UN General Assembly in September. What is Russia's official position on the Palestine-Israel conflict? Does the government align itself more with one side than the other and if so, why?
MS - Russia wants to be above the conflict. Russia supports Palestine but it does not speak against Israel. Russia is for peace in the region and wants peaceful decision for both sides. Russia is against any kind of segregation and supports democracy in the Holy land.
HC - Russia is a member of the Quartet (other members being the EU, UN and USA). How effective do you feel the Quartet is being in bringing balance and peace to the Palestine- Israel conflict and how do you view Russia's role in the Quartet?
MS - We are the only country in the Quartet that has connections to all sides - with Hamas, with Fatah and with the Zionists. It makes the role of Russia very strong. But Russia, at the same time, possesses less political power in comparison to the USA.
HC - You have stated that you have had death threats publicly issued against you by the former President of the Jewish Congress of Russia. Can you tell us why this came about and what exactly happened?
MS - This is a common practice of Zionists - I mean death threats, kidnapping and killings. Zionist secret services are terrorist organizations, they kill people all over the world and they kidnap people as has happened in Ukraine with the Palestinian engineer. That is why I take very seriously death threats I have received from people like Yevgeny Satanovsky, former President of the Russian Jewish Congress. The first time he threatened me he told my wife on the Voice of America that he wanted to kill me - it was said publicly. In May Satanovsky repeat his threat in the conference "20 years after the USSR". He openly said: "If the Civil war in Russia will start the first man I will kill will be Maxim Shevchenko". There was no reaction from the Russian Jewish Congress to this scandal.
HC - Will you continue to advocate for the Palestinian cause or have the threats against you made you wary of publicly supporting their cause.
MS - I will advocate for the Palestinian cause until justice comes to Palestine or until I die.