Stick to the facts, prolific pro-Israel letter writer says

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

While some people fill time by collecting stamps, assembling Lilliputian rail systems in the basement or playing golf, Stephen Silver has taken up a different sort of hobby — firing off letters to newspaper editors.

In fact, since the intifada broke out, Silver's pro-Israel letters have appeared in the following publications: The New York Times, Time magazine, The Washington Post, the Washington Times, USA Today, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, the Wall Street Journal and Israel's Ha'aretz. And that's only a partial list.

The Concord newspaper editor has also managed to get at least eight letters into the paper you are now reading as well. Overall, he's had literally hundreds of letters printed, leading CAMERA, the Boston-based pro-Israel media watchdog, to recently name him Letter Writer of the Year.

"Generally, my goal isn't to get my name into the paper. What's usually the case is I've read an article in their paper and I want to point out that there's another side to it, an issue they're overlooking, or expose a bias," said the soft-spoken 33-year-old, who also has a law degree. He spends anywhere from a couple of minutes to several hours writing as many as four letters a day.

"The readership of these papers is often hundreds of thousands or even millions, and I've written something that other people feel worthy of including in the debate over these issues. That's a fascinating idea to me."

Silver estimates he's batting around .150 when it comes to getting his letters into print — which, as a point of reference, is twice what the San Francisco Giants' Marvin Benard does on the ballfield.

As a major league letter writer, Silver offers three tips to up-and-comers: Comment on a pressing issue or recent article that ran in the paper you're writing to. Keep it concise and eloquent. Use statistics and history whenever possible.

"When you incorporate facts into your letter, it gives you a lot more credibility than just saying, 'I think you're wrong and I disagree with you,'" said Silver, a news and local editor at the Fremont Argus, which prevents him from sending any of his work to Alameda Newspaper Group papers.

For example, while many news articles refer to Israeli and Palestinian violence as tit for tat, "if you look at statistics," he says, "you have a majority of the Palestinians killed being armed and less than 5 percent are women, while on the Israeli side the majority killed are unarmed and 31 percent are women."

Similarly, in an Oct. 11, 2002 letter to the Bulletin, Silver graphically recounted the names, ages and violent details surrounding Israelis killed in suicide bombings in protest of mainstream media's avoidance of the term "terrorist."

"In 1976, for instance, eight nations on the Security Council supported a resolution condemning Israel for its miraculous rescue of 103 hostages captured by Palestinian terrorists and held with Idi Amin's complicity in Entebbe, Uganda. The resolution was withdrawn in the face of promised United States and British vetoes," Silver pointed out in a March 31 letter to the Washington Times.

"A U.S.-British-backed resolution condemning the terrorists for taking hostages in the first place, by contrast, could muster the support of only six Security Council members."

His letter protested United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's equating Israeli and Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions as equal.

Lee Green, director of the national letter-writing group for CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, described Silver as "very effective," and noted that "people respond very well to his letters.

"He appeals not only to people who know a lot about the issues but to people who are sitting on the fence," she said.

"And the people on the fence are the ones we're really trying to reach."

While Silver pens far more than half of his letters about Middle Eastern subjects, he is not a one-trick pony. His father died of cigarette-induced lung cancer, and he often opines on big tobacco issues. And, on the lighter side, he's also a huge sports fan, who recently got a letter into Sports Illustrated.

"As somebody who has always loved sports but was never much of an athlete, to see my name in SI was a thrill," said Silver, who wrote a letter lauding the football championship of his law school alma mater, Ohio State.

Silver's consistent pro-Israel commentary has resulted in "bizarre, lunatic comments" being forwarded his way, but he's never felt threatened.

"I think people who write letters, whatever their views, tend to have a fairly innocuous outlet for their frustrations," he said.

And if peace is finally achieved in the Middle East, Silver would happily find something else to occupy his free time.

"As far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, what I'd like to see ultimately is peace," he said.

"Hey, if there's peace and an end to conflict, I'd be very happy wasting my time on something else."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.