The proper response to tyranny
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
Diminutive in stature though he is, Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for Jerusalem and the diaspora, is surely one of the moral giants of our age. His new book 'The Case for Democracy' is a clarion call to the west to rouse itself from its moral torpor and realise that the only way to peace and security lies through the transformation of tyrannies into democracies, or from 'fear societies' into free societies.
Only then will they stop terrorising the rest of the world, because where governments are accountable to the people, their aggression is curbed. In addition, free societies have no need to demonise a spurious external threat - such as America or Israel - to divert the anger of enslaved populations away from the tyrants who oppress them.
The aim of transforming rogue states into democracies is, of course, the doctrine promulgated so controversially by President Bush. It is therefore not surprising that Sharansky has been feted by the White House and his thinking applauded in Presidential speeches.
The irony is that this is probably a rather warmer reception that he will have received from his own country. For what the book starkly lays out is that the self-delusion and lack of moral clarity in confronting tyranny that has led the west so disastrously astray applies in spades to the Israelis.
Despite - or perhaps because of - being in the front line of attack by several rogue states simultaneously, Israelis of all parties appear constitutionally incapable of grasping what the proper response to tyranny should be.
Instead of encouraging Palestinian democracy, which would harness the desire of ordinary Palestinians to live peaceful and prosperous lives, Israel has launched one disastrous attempt at appeasement after another. This has merely helped confirm the Palestinians' enslavement to tyranny, which ensures that terror continues.
Sharansky's galvanising insight is that all peoples want to live in free societies rather than fear societies. But this was waved away by Israel's governing elites, which told him in effect that moshiach (the Messiah) would arrive sooner than democracy for the Arabs.
So instead of telling the Palestinians there would be no deals unless they reformed themselves into a society governed by the rule of law and free institutions, the Israelis cultivated one Palestinian strongman after another, convincing themselves each time that swords were turning into ploughshares before their very eyes.
This was the delusion that lay behind the debacle of Oslo. The way Israel was taken for a ride during that process, with the ensuing terrible loss of life that it brought about, makes you weep - because the reason for that delusion was Israel's desperate psychological need, after half a century of bloody siege, to kid itself into believing that a bloody tyrant was miraculously turning into a man of peace.
As a result, all the evidence of the Israelis' own eyes was simply ignored. The escalating terrorism merely provoked Israel into more and more concessions. The money and power given to Yassir Arafat was clearly not benefiting the Palestinians but consolidating his own tyranny. Yet strengthening Arafat became a primary goal of the peace process on the grounds that only he could confront the 'enemies of peace'.
Sharansky is surely right to bemoan the divisions between right and left as meaningless. What matters is the division between right and wrong responses to tyranny. Where I personally part company with him, however, is over his opposition to the Gaza disengagement on the grounds that without extracting the quid pro quo of democratisation this looks like weakness. My own view is that Israel cannot escape soon enough from its self-imposed trap of ruling another people.
But Sharansky is also right is to say that when divisions within a free society are allowed to eclipse the division between free and 'fear' societies, moral confusion ensues. And he provides a graphic example from his personal experience.
When he arrived in Israel from the gulag, he put on a kippah (skullcap). A prominent Israeli journalist promptly sneered that Sharansky had merely exchanged one struggle for freedom for another.
As Sharansky writes, while in prison he thought one wore a kippah whenever one felt close to God. Since he had no kippah to commemorate many such moments in jail, his non-Jewish Ukrainian cellmate used the fabric that protected his feet from frostbite to sew one for him.
To this day, he writes, he wears this same kippah at the Passover Seder when he commemorates the journey of his people from slavery to freedom. And yet in the country of his own freedom, an Israeli religion-hater could not see the difference between this symbol of the unquenchable freedom and goodness of the human spirit and the oppression perpetrated by the KGB.
If Israelis are so morally blind that they cannot perceive when others gain their freedom, how can they ever fight for it for themselves?