Natan Sharansky and US Israel Policy

There is little doubt that George W. Bush and Natan Sharansky, a Soviet émigré who is a top political official in Israel, share a similar perspective about international affairs, especially in the Middle East.

Following his inaugural address, the U.S. president said that Sharansky’s book The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, published last September, confirmed what he already believed. He added that the Israeli author’s thinking was “part of my presidential DNA.”

Paralleling Bush’s own description of international affairs as a divide between good and evil, and those who are fighting terrorism and those who support it, Sharansky writes in his book that the world is “divided between those who are prepared to confront evil and those who are willing to appease it.”

The book makes that case that the world’s nations are situated in a stark moral universe of “free societies” that foster peace and “fear societies” that breed war and terrorism.

Sharansky and Bush appear to enjoy a mutual admiration society. Sharansky, who is Israel’s minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, praised Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech on his new Middle East policy – which aligned Washington with the Likud party’s agenda – as one of “the two greatest speeches of my lifetime,” the other being former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s speech casting the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.”

After perusing galleys of Sharansky’s book, Bush invited the Israeli minister for a personal meeting at the White House on Nov. 11, 2004. Following his Oval Office meeting with Sharansky, the president said Sharansky’s political philosophy would be part of both his state of the union and inaugural speeches.

Elliott Abrams, then special adviser to the president and the National Security Council (NSC) adviser on Near East and North African Affairs, was present at the Bush-Sharansky meeting in November.

Abrams, who has since been promoted to deputy national security adviser in charge of the administration’s global democracy policy, holds policy positions that closely reflect those of Sharansky, including an insistence that there can be no peace negotiations or land deals with the Palestinian Authority until certain preconditions are met, including an explicit endorsement of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

In addition to his new position at the NSC and as a special assistant to the president, Abrams will also oversee the NSC’s Near East and North Africa directorate.

The November session between Sharansky and the president was not the first time that Bush had met Sharansky. On an official visit to Israel in 1998, Bush, then governor of Texas, met with then Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Industry Minister Sharansky.

According to Bush, who had dinner with Netanyahu and was personally escorted on a helicopter tour of the occupied territories by Sharon, “Israel has got a tremendous amount of talent – smart folks – many of whom have immigrated from Russia.”

Sharansky, one of those immigrants, gave Bush an overview of the existing U.S.-Israeli business relationships and new opportunities, especially in the defense industry.

During his stay, Gov. Bush visited weapons-manufacturing plants, defense facilities, antiballistic missile sites, and industries doing business with Texans.

“I saw democracy firsthand in Israel,” said Bush, adding that Israel “is short on natural resources in terms of resources you find in the ground, but it’s very long on the most natural resource of all, which is brain power.”

Sharansky’s philosophy of freedom and fear, good and evil, is a projection of his own political activism both in Israel and as a “refusenik” and political prisoner in the Soviet Union.

According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the 1970s Sharansky engaged “in underground Zionist activities” until his 1977 arrest by Soviet authorities on charges of treason and espionage.

Although Sharansky and the U.S. government denied any connection between Sharansky and the CIA, he was sentenced in 1978 to 13 years imprisonment. An international campaign supported by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan led to Sharansky’s release on Feb. 11, 1986 as part of an East-West spy exchange.

That same night the self-described “Prisoner of Zion” arrived in Israel, where he quickly became the leading voice for the cause of Soviet Jewry.

In Israel and across the Middle East, Sharansky is widely regarded as a right-wing Zionist and hawk, who positions himself to the right of Ariel Sharon.

Shortly after Bush’s “axis of evil” address in January 2002, Sharansky spoke at a pro-Israel rally in Washington and commended the president for “waging a global battle against Islamic terrorism.” He said that the same countries Bush had included in his axis of evil – Iran, Iraq, and North Korea – were the ones that constituted an axis of evil confronting Israel.

The coherence between the Likud party’s agenda and that of the Bush administration was clearly on display at the December 2004 “Herzliya Conference on National Strength and Security in Israel,” which featured Sharansky and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sharansky expressed his elation about the prospects for Israel’s regional agenda, noting that the reelection of Bush was even more auspicious than the death of Yasser Arafat, whom Sharansky had repeatedly dismissed as a “murderer” and “terrorist.”

Sharansky said that Bush shared his own belief that there could be no peace in the Middle East or resolution of the Palestinian issue until the Arab world adopted economic and political reforms in line with those promoted by the Bush administration and the Likud party.

Like Sharansky, Netanyahu endorsed the new Bush doctrine that insisted that democratization must precede peace negotiations in the Middle East – a roadmap to peace that the right-wing and neoliberal Likud leader called an antidote to the Oslo peace process.

Like U.S. neoconservatives, Sharansky and Netanyahu frequently liken Bush’s plan to end tyranny and promote democracy to the U.S. foreign policy in Japan and Germany following the Allied victory in World War II.

“It will take even longer here,” said Netanyahu, a close political ally of Sharansky, “yet it is the same process.”

The United States and Israel have much in common, according to Sharansky. One of the links, he said in a speech at a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, which was the basis for an article in Commentary, the journal of the American Jewish Committee, is the spreading scourge of anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Americanism in the Islamic world and anti-Americanism in Europe are in fact linked,” argues Sharansky, because “both bear an uncanny resemblance to anti-Semitism.”

In his essay titled “On Hating Jews,” Sharansky writes: “America embodies a different – a nonconforming – idea of the good, and refuses to abandon its moral clarity about the objective worth of that idea.”

Moreover, Minister of Diaspora Affairs Sharansky believes that “Israel and the Jewish people share something essential with the United States.”

According to Sharansky, the Jews have long held that they were chosen to play a special role in history, to be what their prophets called “a light unto nations” – not unlike the United States, a nation that has long regarded itself as entrusted with a mission to be what John Winthrop in the 17th century called “a city on a hill” and Ronald Reagan in the 20th century parsed as a “shining city on a hill.”

(Inter Press Service)