World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


Bush's Guru: the Frightening Truth

GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033

[This week: Sharansky under the loupe: Avnery's article is followed by a link to the one of Meron Benvenisti. See also: link to schedule Teddy Katz North- America speaking tour.]

Uri Avnery 12.3.05

Soon on the Gush site: Hebrew: :òáøéú

Bush's Guru

An American and a Soviet soldier meet in Berlin in 1945 and get into an argument about which of their countries is more democratic. "Why," the American said, "I can stand in the middle of Times Square and shout 'President Truman is a scoundrel' and nothing will happen to me!"

"Big deal," the Russian retorted, "I can stand in the middle of Red Square and shout 'Truman is a scoundrel' and nothing will happen to me!"

It is perhaps this story that inspired Natan Sharansky's theory that the ultimate test of democracy is that a person can stand in the town square and denounce his government, without anything happening to him. True, but rather simplistic, I would say. Simplistic enough to catch the imagination of that other great thinker, George W. Bush. When Israelis heard for the first time about Bush citing Sharansky as his guide and mentor, they gasped in disbelief. Sharansky? Our Sharansky?

To explain this reaction, one has to go back a little bit. We first heard of Natan Sharansky (actually Anatoliy Shcharansky, but the name was simplified and Hebrewized when he came here) as a "dissident" in the Soviet Union. After attracting international attention in Moscow, he was arrested by the KGB and sentenced for treason, in what looked like a particularly clumsy attempt to silence him. As we heard it, he was not broken in the hell of the Gulag but remained a proud fighter for his rights and ideas. A huge international campaign demanded his release.

In the end the Soviets decided to get rid of him and exchanged him for a valuable Soviet spy held in America. The picture of this small but upright figure crossing the bridge in Berlin has remained imprinted in our memories.

We waited for his arrival in Israel with bated breath. Here he was, a great, authentic hero, the man who had single-handedly defeated the Soviet colossus, a modern David defying mighty Goliath.

Seeing him in the flesh was an anti-climax. For a hero, he looked singularly unimpressive. But appearances mislead, don't they? At the airport, Anatoliy, now Natan, was reunited with his wife, another famous dissident. Since she had already achieved a certain notoriety in Israel as a fanatical right-winger and religious extremist, her connection with the human-rights activist seemed incongruous.

The real disillusionment, at least for me, started with the Husseini affair. Some good soul arranged a meeting between the great dissident and Feisal Husseini, the leader of the Arab community in East Jerusalem, a fighter for Palestinian human rights and a real humanist. Sharansky agreed, but at the last moment retracted, claiming that he had not known that Husseini belonged to the PLO. (Which is rather like not knowing that Bush is an American.) At the time I wrote an article about him under the heading "Shafansky". "Shafan" is Hebrew for rabbit, the symbol of cowardice. From then on, the great human rights fighter gradually became an uncompromising activist against the human (and any other) rights of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

First he established a party of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, achieved a respectable election result and joined a coalition headed by the Labor Party. But after some time his party started falling apart. He tried to save it by resigning from the government of Ehud Barak, on the grounds that it had made too many concessions to the Palestinians over Jerusalem.

Finally, in an admission of political bankruptcy, he joined the Likud. He is now a quite unimportant member of the government, calling himself grandly "Minister for Jerusalem", but serving actually as a Minister without Portfolio, who has been put, pro forma, in charge of Jerusalem affairs.

In the meantime, he has suffered some unpleasantness. Another famous immigrant from Russia published an extremely critical book about him, alleging that he had never been a prominent dissident, but that his importance had been deliberately inflated by the KGB in order to exchange him for its genuinely important agent in the American prison. Also, the book insinuates that his role behind bars was considerably less heroic than advertised.

Sharansky sued for libel and won, but only after the indignity of hearing some other prominent former dissidents testify against him. Throughout the years, Sharansky - in line with many "Russian" immigrants - was drifting to the extreme right. Already as Housing Minister, he had systematically enlarged the settlements on expropriated Arab land in the West Bank, trampling on the human and national rights of the Palestinians. Now he belongs to the Likud "rebels", the group of extreme right-wingers who are trying to undermine Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan and prevent the dismantling of settlements.

For years now, he has peddled the idea that peace with the Arabs is impossible until they become democratic. In Israel, this was dismissed as just another propaganda gimmick serving the Israeli government's opposition to any peace that would mean an end to the occupation. Since Sharansky is totally ignorant of Arab affairs and has probably never had a serious conversation with an Arab, it is hard for Israelis to take him seriously. As far as I know, nobody does, not even among Rightists.

His highly unoriginal contention that "democracies do not make war against other democracies" is a perfect alibi for the United States to attack Iraq, Syria and Iran, which are, after all, no democracies (while dictatorships like Pakistan and Turkmenistan remain good friends).

The idea that the teachings of this particular political philosopher are the guiding star of the mightiest leader in the world, the commander of the biggest military machine in history, is rather frightening.

A thrilling epic of freedom By Meron Benvenisti

What symbolizes the "spirit of democracy" that is blowing strongly all over the Middle East? Is it the demonstration by the opposition, which led to the downfall of the Lebanese government, or is it rather the "demonstration of the million" two days ago, which demanded the continuation of the Syrian presence in Lebanon? Judging by the attitude toward it, the first demonstration - which has been called the "Cedar Revolution" - is seen as an event that compares to the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine and the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia, and as proof of the victory of the doctrine of democratization of U.S. President George W. Bush and his spiritual mentor, MK Natan Sharansky.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


At The UN: Paris Climate Agreement Moves Closer To Entry Into Force

The Paris Agreement on climate change moved closer toward entering into force in 2016 as 31 more countries joined the agreement today at a special event hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The End Game In Spain (And Other World News)

The coverage of international news seems almost entirely dependent on a random selection of whatever some overseas news agency happens to be carrying overnight... Here are a few interesting international stories that have largely flown beneath the radar this past week. More>>

Amnesty/Human Rights Watch: Appalling Abuse, Neglect Of Refugees On Nauru

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, most of whom have been held there for three years, routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government, as well as frequent unpunished assaults by local Nauruans. More>>


Other Australian Detention

Gordon Campbell: On The Censorship Havoc In South Africa’s State Broadcaster

Demands have included an order to staff that there should be no further negative news about the country’s President Jacob Zuma, and SABC camera operators responsible for choosing camera angles that have allegedly made the President ‘look shorter’ were to be retrained... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On A Bad Week For Malcolm Turnbull, And The Queen

Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate goal – mere survival – is still within his grasp... In every other respect though, this election has been a total disaster for the Liberals. More>>


Gordon Campbell: On Bidding Bye Bye To Boris

Boris Johnson’s exit from the contest for Conservative Party leadership supports the conspiracy theory that he never really expected the “Leave” option to win the referendum – and he has no intention now of picking up the poisoned chalice that managing the outcome will entail... More>>


Get More From Scoop

Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news