Natan Sharansky: Bush Darling, Neo-Con Hero
Natan Sharansky has become the flavor of the month within neo-con circles in Washington, DC (see Bush’s Book Club Picks a New Favorite).
“Mr. Sharansky: how much accuracy & truth is there in your accusations of Palestinian anti-Semitism?” (credit: Yves Logghe/Associated Press)
He’s recently published The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror and apparently Bush and his speechwriters cribbed from it extensively for the Inaugural and State of the Union speeches. Bush showered his acolyte with an audience in the White House and has been flogging the book with everyone he meets. At this rate, Sharansky hardly needs an agent since the President’s doing all the heavy lifting of book promotion for him. Hear this Bush encomium:
“I felt like his book just confirmed what I believe,” Mr. Bush said in an interview on Thursday in the Oval Office. “He writes it a heck of a lot better than I could write it, and he’s certainly got more credibility than I have. After all, he spent time in a Soviet prison and he has a much better perspective than I’ve got.”
The first comment is of course telling, but not surprising. When he reads a book (and he only got to page 211 of this one apparently!) he does so to confirm what he already believes. So Sharansky and Bush have a mutual admiration society and reinforce each others limited political perspectives. As for Sharanksy writing a heck of lot better than Bush could–now, that wouldn’t be too difficult would it??
The Bush-Sharansky love fest represents yet another example of the ever-strengthening alliance between neo-Cons, the religious right and Israeli Likud hawks.
Before I go on to pulverize Sharansky I should explain that when I was a graduate student studying Hebrew and Comparative Literature at UCLA in the late 1970s, I was quite active in Hillel. Anatoly (as he was then known) Sharansky was the cause celebre for Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller. We had several visits from Avital Sharansky, his wife, while he was still imprisoned in the Soviet gulag. I’m glad that I participated in the struggle to free him. He deserved the right to express himself fully and live as a free man.
But Sharansky’s subsequent life as a politician in Israel has involved pandering to the lowest common denominator within the LIkud constituency. Sharansky began his political life in Israel by forming a party devoted to the interests of Russian immigrants. But his politics quickly turned to an emphatically negative outlook on the Palestinians and on issues concerning Israeli security. Some of Sharansky’s views on the Palestinians remind me of the days of the Cold War when Americans viewed the Soviet Union as world enemy #1, the land of the wild-eyed Bolshevik.
Last week, Haaretz brought us this incendiary study conducted by Palestine Media Watch and sponsored by Sharansky’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry. PMW is run by Itamar Marcus, a settler who worked as part of the government PR apparatus when Netanyahu was prime minster. By the looks of his site, he aspires to be the Brent Bozell of Israeli media criticism of Palestinian society. This site trumpets the worst that it finds within the Palestinian educational system and in the media and tells its querulous readers that all Palestinians are basically bad and out to get them. Let me make clear that I too am deeply concerned about Palestinian misconceptions of Jews or even Jew hatred as expressed in Palestinian society. But the difference between my conception of the problem and PMW’s is that I firmly believe that the surest way to combat Palestinian ignorance on the subject of Israel and Judaism is to bring peace between both peoples. The Sharanskys and Marcuses of this world believe that there can be no peace until Palestinians relinquish their prejudices. That is foolish utopianism (as Leon Wieseltier calls it).
Which brings me to a similar subject. George Bush and Natan Sharansky share a belief that democracy, in and of itself is the cure to all the ills of the Middle East. They entirely gloss over issues like poverty, political and military oppression (the Occupation), etc. And of course, it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to bring peace to this region with the single message “democracy;” as democracy devoid of social and economic justice is an empty promise.
Finally, I wanted my readers to read a few of the more outrageous generalizations from the Sharansky sponsored study of the Palestinian educational system. Here’s how Haaretz characterizes it:
[it] accuses the Palestinian Authority of conducting systematic Nazi propaganda against Jews. The researchers admit that no direct proof of a directed policy was found, and that the theory that they developed was based on “circumstantial evidence” through analyzing Palestinian publications with clear anti-Semitic themes.
Sharansky said Tuesday that Palestinian Authority schools were training “tens of thousands of future terrorists.”
[The study claims] that the PA has constructed a “legal file,” as they phrase it, against Jews, consisting of the same messages used by Nazi Germany.
Haaretz correspondent Amiram Barkat notes another weakness of the study in his article: “Most of the [allegedly anti-Semitic Palestinian] material shown was from 1999-2003, while only a few were taken from the past year, and only two were from the past two months.”
So it seems that Natan Sharansky has another thing in common with his greatest admirer; they both never let mere inconvenient facts get in the way of their overall ideological narrative.
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Bush’s statement, “I felt like this book confirmed what I believe,”
is eerie, because I predicted that Bush would say, “It’s a great book
because it’s like he knows what I’m thinking!” Yet more evidence of
Bush’s intellectual capacities. Remember, Bush said he doesn’t read
newspapers because his aides tell him all he needs to know, thus
avoiding “the filter” of the media.
I would remind you of the story of the two antagonistic French
intellectuals meeting on the street. One enthusiastically
congratulates the other on his newspaper article on some burning
question of the day. He explains that far from converting him, it
served to confirm him more soundly in his previous stand, because
in order to prove to himself that the article was “rubbish” he had
to produce effective counter-arguments for every seemingly ridiculous
point made. When the second intellectual unhappily pronounces his
article to be a failure, the first corrects him, “But my dear fellow,
of course your article was a success–it forced me to think!”