Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sharanksy to Retire From Israeli Politics

This story from the Jerusalem Post saddens me. Natan Sharansky represented the best in Israeli politics. Honest, principled, incorruptible and courageous, the man who survived nine years in the Soviet gulag and emerged defiant was not about to kowtow to politicos. Although he greatly admired Ariel Sharon, when Sharon pressed forward with his policy to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza, Sharansky resigned from his Cabinet position.

Here is a previous post on Sharanksy that appeared in the Hedgehog Blog after the Wall Street Journal published his column, entitled "Dissident President: George W. Bush has the courage to speak out for freedom." Here is a link to that column.

For reasons that I never completely understood, Natan Sharansky was unable to build a strong political constituency in Israel. Many Israelis, including even his friends and political allies, such as Ariel Sharon, considered him to be a naive idealist. But one doesn't defy the Soviet Union and then outlive it by being naive. He believes that, like the Soviets, the Palestinian Authority cannot trusted to keep an agreement until it has transformed from a despotic regime to a democracy. However (and this is where his critics fail to comprehend the depth of his thought), he realizes that a democratic election is one of the later steps in building a democracy, not the first. One first has to build the political foundations for democracy, including a society where there is a rule of law, just courts, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. He knew that the Paletinian elections were premature and would produce a farcical result, such as a Hamas victory.

Now he believes that he can contribute more to Israeli democracy from outside the political system. He is rejoining the Shalem Center, a center-right, Zionist think tank, and is expected to write another book. However, I pray and believe that we have not seen the last of Natan Sharansky in Israeli politics, and hope that someday Israeli society catches up to one of its moral giants.

To close this tribute to Sharansky, nothing is more appropriate than to reprint for the Hedgehog's readers his statement on July 14, 1978, upon his conviction by a Soviet kangaroo court on trumped-up charges of treason and espionage:

"During my interrogation the chief investigators threatened me that I might be executed by a firing squad, or imprisoned for at least fifteen years. But if I agreed to cooperate with the investigation for the purpose of destroying the Jewish emigration movement, they promised me freedom and a quick reunion with my wife.

"Five years ago, I submitted my application for exit to Israel. Now I am further than ever from my dream. It would seem to be cause for regret. But it is absolutely the other way around. I am happy. I am happy that I lived honorably, at peace with my conscience. I never compromised my soul, even under the threat of death.

"I am happy that I helped people. I am proud that I knew and worked with such honorable, brave and courageous people as Sakharov, Orlov, Ginzburg, who are carrying on the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia. I am fortunate to have been witness to the process of the liberation of Jews of the USSR.

"I hope that the absurd accusation against me and the entire Jewish emigration movement will not hinder the liberation of my people. My near ones and friends know how I wanted to exchange activity in the emigration movement for a life with my wife Avital, in Israel.

"For more than two thousand years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed. But wherever they are, wherever Jews are found, every year they have repeated,'Next year in Jerusalem.' Now, when I am further than ever from my people, from Avital, facing many arduous years of imprisonment, I say, turning to my people, my Avital, 'Next year in Jerusalem.'

"Now I turn to you, the court, who were required to confirm a predetermined sentence: To you I have nothing to say."

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