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Sharansky, Weissglas,
and the Inaugural address:

The Israeli connection continues



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The major media have had much to say about George W. Bush's Inaugural address, in which the president pledged that American foreign policy would be oriented toward promoting world democracy. However, their analysis — whether pro or con — focused on the meaning and intent of the actual words themselves. Most mainstream accounts provided only a cursory scrutiny of the background and origins of the speech, though the big picture can be inferred by combining bits and pieces of the American reportage with what has been revealed in the more-open Israeli media. But that takes us across the frontier into taboo territory, so respectable people know to avert their eyes. For in the development of the Inaugural address, as in all aspects of the Bush war policy in the Middle East, the hand of Israel is omnipresent. Israel is the elephant in the living room ... and no respectable citizen dares to see it.

The media were forthcoming enough to reveal that the address reflected Bush's infatuation with the ideas expressed by Israeli Natan Sharansky in his The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny & Terror. In that book, Sharansky echoes many of Bush's favorite themes, in his emphasis on "moral clarity" in fighting evil. Like Bush, Sharansky describes a world "divided between those who are prepared to confront evil and those who are willing to appease it."

"I am convinced that all peoples desire to be free," Sharansky writes. "I am convinced that freedom anywhere will make the world safer everywhere. And I am convinced that democratic nations, led by the United States, have a critical role to play in expanding freedom around the globe." [1]

Since Dubya rarely reads anything, not even newspapers, the gist of Sharansky's book was probably passed on to him by his neocon advisors; and understandably so, for it confirms and expands upon the neocon war-for-democracy agenda — which has now become a central justification for American intervention in Iraq, given the war machine's inability to find any WMDs. Since his days as a Soviet dissident, when Richard Perle was pushing the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to allow Jewish immigration from the Soviet Union, Sharansky has been close to the neocons. "If you check their background [the neocons'], most of them were connected either to Senator [Henry] Jackson or to the Reagan administration or to both," says Sharansky. "And that's why, by the way, many of them are my friends from those years. And in the last 15 years, we kept talking to one another." [2]

Sharansky has remained close to the neocons, and the neocons played a major role in producing the Inaugural speech. Input came from an old Sharansky friend from the Reagan years, National Security Council official Elliott Abrams. Abrams, of Iran/Contra notoriety, is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz, one of neoconservatism's founding fathers. Other neocons who contributed to the speech included William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and founder of the militantly interventionist Project for a New American Century (PNAC); and columnist Charles Krauthammer.

The mainstream media portray Sharansky only as a heroic former Soviet dissident, with little or no mention of his activities in his adoptive homeland of Israel. It was his nine-year imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag as a human rights activist that today serves to impart to his high-flown idealistic phraseology a special force and significance; but knowledge of his activities and statements in Israel should make one rethink his actual intent, which seems to reflect baser motives.

Natan Sharansky is currently minister of social and diaspora affairs in the Sharon government and leader of Yisra'el Ba'aliyah, the Russian immigrants' party. Most notably, Sharansky is a very hard-line supporter of Israeli control of the West Bank and the Jewish settlements. As Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank has observed, he is "so hawkish that he has accused Ariel Sharon of being soft on the Palestinians." [3]

Illustrating his support for West Bank control is the fact that Sharansky is chairman and co-founder of One Jerusalem, a group whose objective is "saving a united Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel." Other co-founders of this Jerusalem-based organization included David Steinmann, who is intimately involved in leading neocon think tanks, being chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), board member of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), and chairman of the executive committee of the Middle East Forum; Dore Gold, a top advisor to Prime Minister Sharon; and Douglas Feith, the number-three man in the Pentagon as undersecretary of defense for policy and a leading proponent and actor in the war on Iraq. [4]

Sharansky openly expresses the belief that Israel is a Jewish state in which Jews should have rights superior to those of non-Jews. He did so in a quite revealing question-and-answer session for the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

The question was put to him: "Why do you, born in Russia, believe that you have more of a right to live in the land that was once Palestine and is now Israel than a Palestinian Arab who was born there?" And Sharansky responded:

Jews came here 3,000 years ago, and this is the cradle of Jewish civilization. Jews are the only people in history who kept their loyalty to their identity and their land throughout the 2,000 years of exile, and [there is] no doubt that they have the right to have their place among the nations — not only historically but also geographically.

As to the Palestinians, who are the descendants of those Arabs who migrated in the last 200 years, they have the right, if they want, to have their own state — in addition to 21 other Arab states — but not at the expense of the existence of the state of Israel.

To the question whether Jews might come together with Palestinians to form a "binational state," Sharansky replied that "we Jews have already been in this situation where there was no Jewish state to take responsibility for our people. Why should we be the first people in the world to dismantle our own national state?" [5] It might be pointed out that white South Africans, placed in a similar situation, did that very thing.

In short, Sharansky puts the goal of Jewish exclusivism far above the ideal of universal democracy. Ethnocentrism trumps the concept of equality in citizenship. Knowing Sharansky's position here, we may find it hard to perceive him as a paladin for democracy instead of as a Jewish nationalist, who puts the interests of Jews far above those of others. Sharansky's claim that the "Arabs" — referring to Palestinians — all came to Palestine within the past 200 years is not true.

Moreover, it is really not magnanimous of Sharansky to acknowledge a right of "Arabs" to have their own state while noting that "Arabs" already have 21 states of their own. Following Sharansky's principles we must presume that the Palestinians have a right to migrate to Oman. But as should be obvious to anyone who follows the news, Arabs are not simply one monolithic mass. Further, Sharansky's proviso that the Palestinians cannot set up their own state "at the expense of the existence of the state of Israel" would seem to banish them from the West Bank, since by their very presence there the Palestinians would remain a demographic threat to the Jewish state and use vital resources, such as water, that Israel depends upon.

Sharansky's aim of protecting the exclusivist nature of the Jewish state violates the central tenets of current liberal thinking on democracy. But in Israel any political party that openly opposes the principle of "a Jewish state" or proposes to change it by democratic means is prohibited by law from participating in elections to the Knesset. [6] Nor do we find equal treatment of citizens in the Jewish state; the collectivist government of Israel spends far more money on its Jewish citizens than it does on the Palestinian citizens of Israel. For example, the housing ministry spends about $30 on Jewish towns for every dollar it spends on Arab towns. (In this connection we may recall that Sharansky is a former housing minister.)

The Ministry of Education, for its part, in 2004 spent $6 on a Jewish child for every dollar spent on an Arab child. [7] Although the Palestinian inhabitants of Israel are permitted to vote, they are obviously far from equal under the law. They are even far from achieving the separate-but-equal treatment at the hands of government that was law in the United States prior to 1954; and, in fact, the percentage of government funds allocated to Palestinians falls far short of what was allocated to blacks by the old segregated South, a social system that provoked incessant condemnation worldwide. Yet as presented by Sharansky, Israel is the model democracy.

In his old job Sharansky's full moniker was minister of housing and construction, a position characterized by opponents of the Israeli occupation as "minister of illegal settlements and demolition." While in that post, Sharansky authorized the construction of numerous new housing units in the West Bank for Jewish settlement, construction made possible by seizing Palestinian land. [8]

Sharansky's emphasis on "democracy" provided the ideological rationale for ending any Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians. His idea was straightforward: no concessions, funds, or legitimacy for the Palestinians unless they first adopted "democracy."

The Israeli policy of disengagement with the Palestinian government would induce the United States to act likewise and demand that Palestine must first establish a democracy before there could be talks with Israel. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote: "By coincidence — or something more — the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan Sharansky published in the Jerusalem Post on May 3 [2002] sounds a lot like the peace proposal Bush delivered in the Rose Garden on June 24." [9] The wording was so similar that Milbank asked, "Is Natan Sharansky working in the White House speechwriting office?" Sharansky was not; his neocon clones, however, were. And they were involved not just in speechwriting but in the actual making of American policy for the Middle East — though "involved"' is an understatement.

Democracy! one may exclaim. What could be wrong with that? The key is how Sharansky interprets democracy. Democracy entails elections and the end of terrorist violence; and many Palestinians would agree with that. But in Sharansky's view democracy also requires the abolition of "anti-Semitism." And criticism of Israel is equated with anti-Semitism. As Sharansky advisor Tehila Nahalon sees it, "You can't brainwash people for four years that Israel is an illegitimate country and that Israelis are like the Nazis and that Israelis are monsters, and expect that nothing will happen to Jews." [10]

Sharansky insists that the Palestinians must revise their charter, schoolbooks, and other official documents to eliminate all language that questions the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism. [11] The great crime in the world is not the Israeli expulsion, occupation, and oppression of Palestinians — whom Sharansky simply depicts as recent Arab immigrants with little claim to Palestine — but rather anti-Semitism.

"No hatred has as rich and as lethal a history as anti-Semitism," Sharansky bombastically declaims. [12] And such anti-Semitism will continue to be exhibited by Palestinians, by definition, as long as they exhibit hatred for Israel.

Under Sharansky's Orwellian construct, it is the Israeli Jews who are the victims, and the Palestinians who are among the victimizers. The Palestinians have to earn the right not to be oppressed by the Israelis. But if the Palestinians were to stop making "anti-Semitic" complaints about Israeli injustice and oppression, what reason would Israel have to make any concessions?

Actually it is unlikely that the Palestinians would ever accept the idea that it is justifiable for an exclusivist Jewish state to have control over land that was once their home. Therefore Sharansky's rule of refusing to negotiate with the Palestinians until they become democratic would have the effect of ending any negotiations with the Palestinians and essentially freezing the status quo. And that is its intent.

Sharansky's high-flown democratic verbiage provides the ideological cover for the Sharon regime's policy of disengagement. The real purpose of that policy was candidly revealed by Sharon's close personal advisor Dov Weissglas (widely considered, in fact, to be Sharon's eminence grise) in an interview with Ha'aretz magazine in October 2004. Many in the Israeli settler movement feared that Sharon was making concessions to the Palestinians that must result, ultimately, in abandoning the settlements, but Weissglas explained that such was not the case at all:

There will be no timetable to implement the settlers' nightmare. I have postponed that nightmare indefinitely. Because what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did. The significance is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders, and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. What more could have been anticipated? What more could have been given to the settlers?

Weissglas summed it up: "With the proper management we succeeded in removing the issue of the political process from the agenda. And we educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate. That certificate says: (1) There is no one to talk to. (2) As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3) The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens — when Palestine becomes Finland. (4) See you then, and shalom."

Emphasizing his point one more time, Weissglas explained that the proposed disengagement "is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." Weissglas's strategy depends heavily on the notion that forestalling negotiations will ultimately bring about the complete integration of the West Bank into the Israeli state.

Weissglas's references to Finland had special meaning for neoconservatives, who previously used the term with a negative connotation to describe the situation of Finland during the Cold War, in which the country was not communized as were the countries of Eastern Europe but rather was required to refrain from taking foreign-policy or military positions incompatible with Soviet policy. The Finns, after staunchly fighting Stalinist Russia during World War II, had simply acceded to the exigencies of power.

During the latter stages of the Cold War, the neocons repeatedly voiced the alarm that Western Europe might voluntarily accept "Finlandization" to avoid the possibility of war with the Soviet Union. To become like the Finns, therefore, the Palestinians would have to recognize that resistance to Israel was futile and accede to its dominating power. But whereas the Soviets did not interfere extensively in Finland's internal policies, the Israeli plan for Palestine — even a "democratic" Palestine — would be much more intrusive. The West Bank would be carved up by Jewish settlements and a grid of Israeli military roads, with the Palestinian population separated into a number of non-contiguous little Bantustans. In addition, Israel would control the water and the border regions.

Weissglas's scheme accords nicely with Sharansky's, under which Israel could justifiably control Palestine and deny any rights to the Palestinians until Palestinians established "democracy" in their country — i.e., a type of polity that Israel would judge to be a democracy. With Israel as the judge and with censorship of "anti-Semitism" in place, a "democratic" government in Palestine would be one that voluntarily accepted Israeli domination. Until such a time, the Palestinians could be ruled by the Israelis in a despotic fashion. When one sweeps aside the high-sounding words and looks at the bare reality of the situation, what the Sharansky/Sharon/Weissglas plan offers the Palestinians, essentially, is the choice of either voluntary or involuntary subjugation by Israel. Sharansky's great contribution is that, by virtue of his heroic stature and lofty language, he provides moral cover for the brutal Israeli reality of human domination and exploitation.

Bush's Inaugural address illustrates anew the linkage between the Israeli Right and U.S. policy. As I have shown elsewhere [13], Israeli rightist Oded Yinon promulgated the whole idea of regime-change in the region as long ago as 1982; furthermore, Israel was intimately involved in the war on Iraq, providing bogus WMD information and calling for the attack; and Israeli officials have been pushing for a U.S. attack on Iran. According to Seymour Hersh, the Israelis have been intimately involved in the actual planning. [14]

But what would the Sharansky "democracy" idea mean for American foreign policy in the Middle East? Generalizing from the Palestinian situation, Sharansky is saying, fundamentally, that people in undemocratic societies have no rights that powerful democracies need respect. Sharansky and the neocons want Washington to apply that principle to the entire Middle East, which would allow the United States to legitimately invade and take over non-democratic countries and continue to rule them until they could set up a government that the United States deemed democratic. Before such a democratic emergence, the entire Middle East could legitimately become American-occupied territory. Significantly, American military intervention could take place without the need for allegations of terrorism or possession of WMDs.

It is revealing that the colorful phrase "fire in the minds of men" uttered by Bush on January 20 comes from Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Possessed (variantly titled The Devils), a novel about 19th-century Russian revolutionaries. Unlike Bush (or his speechwriters, rather), Dostoevsky did not intend a positive connotation; rather, the "fire" represents the destructive danger of the nihilistic ideology that possessed the revolutionaries, which threatened to incinerate society. [15] One wonders whether that is what Bush's neocon speechwriters intended. (One assumes Bush himself had little to do with the speech except to read it aloud.)

It's interesting that there is another reference in The Possessed that would seem to have complete relevance to Sharansky's concept of democracy. As Dostoevsky's revolutionary-ideologue character Shigalov explains with respect to his own plan for a future society: "I have started out with the idea of unrestricted freedom and I have arrived at unrestricted despotism." Like Shigalov, Sharansky preaches democracy and freedom, and ends up justifying tyranny. But in contrast to Shigalov's unintentionally tyrannical result, the establishment of tyranny over Arabs and Muslims is the very purpose of the Sharansky agenda. That is an understandable aim for the furtherance of Israeli state interests, and it is a predictable aim for the United States, for as long as the neocons continue to hold the reins of power.

February 2, 2005
(Shvat 24, 5765)

Editor's note. Sources that are usually trustworthy and authoritative disagree over the spelling of that eminence grise's last name: whether it is "Weissglas," "Weisglass," or even "Weissglass." One may speculate that the difficulty has arisen from discrepant transliterations from the Hebrew. In any event, in this as in all things, TLD is prepared to be educated.

© 2005 Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved.

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