I’m not making it up just to make them both look like space cadets! Those are a pretty accurate paraphrase of what Natan Sharansky said of his relationship with his new patron saint, George Bush in today’s New York Times (A Compliment Sharansky Can’t Refuse):
Mr. Sharansky, freed from a Soviet jail in 1986 and an Israeli since then, mused on his isolation here and his new fan. “I’m viewed as a cosmonaut, who spent so much time in the Soviet Union I don’t belong to this world,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “And now the president is viewed as an astronaut, way out in space. And they want me to explain how it looks from out there!”
Earth to Natan: “Come in please!”
As if this wasn’t enough damage, Sharansky firmly planted his other foot in his mouth:
“Today they call me a right-wing extremist,” he said, in a jovial but practiced way. “Tomorrow I’ll be called a left-wing extremist.” What “I am,” he says, landing the punch line, “is a refusenik,” a perpetual idealistic dissident from the messy realities of any current order.
“Left-wing extremist?” Don’t think there’s any danger of that happening anytime soon. What planet is this guy on anyway? He’s not as far right as you can go within Israeli political life, but Comrade Cosmonaut Sharansky is pretty far out there in terms of his detestation of the Palestinians and his overweening (and misplaced) faith in Israel’s superiority over its enemies throughout the world.
I prefer not to call him an idealist. Rather I share Leon Wieseltier’s apt one word description of Sharansky, “utopian.” We all know what damage utopians can do with their single-minded visions of how human beings should behave (Karl Marx, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler and Albert Speer are but a few examples). Certainly, I wouldn’t compare the damage Sharansky has done within the Israeli body politic to these other titans of evil. But the delusions he harbors and promotes to his countrymen and women are nostrums they can barely afford given the urgency of the crisis they face.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.