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What Natan Sharansky Gets Wrong about David and Isaiah, and Right about the Jewish Predicament

In his recent memoir, written with the historian Gil Troy, the refusenik-turned-Israeli politician-turned-Jewish Agency leader Natan Sharansky explores the lessons learned in his career in the service of the Jewish people following his release from Soviet prison. One of the book’s themes is the balancing of the universal with the particular. In this connection, Sharansky appeals to the twin biblical models of the particularist David and the universalist Isaiah—contrasting “Davidian” Israelis interested in building the Jewish homeland, by force if necessary, with American Jewish “Isaiahans,” focused on peace, human rights, and social justice. To Meir Soloveichik, Sharansky exemplifies the successful and heroic bridging of these two poles, but fails at his biblical interpretation:

The hard truth . . . is that often Israelis have missed the essence of David’s greatness, while American Jewish critics of Israel are actually ignoring Isaiah. David is more than a warrior; as Sharansky explains in his 1988 memoir, he learned from David that a constant awareness of God allowed one to “fear no evil” (the title of that great book) in the valley of the shadow of death. David defended his people but sought to remind Israel of the God Who was the source of his victory. That is why David’s truest legacy is not his defeat of Goliath but his vision of Jerusalem, a city crowned by a Temple that is an eternal locus of Jewish identity.

Interestingly, Sharansky’s own recognition of this fact inspired his greatest moment in government. As he recounts in Never Alone, he was the first to pull out of Ehud Barak’s coalition when Israel’s then-prime minister offered Yasir Arafat control of the Temple Mount. Sharansky’s resignation helped lead to the fall of Barak’s government. If Sharansky and his fellow Russian Jews, rather than Israel’s religious parties, were the first to abandon Barak, it was because, he reflects, “the connection linking our identity with the liberation of Jerusalem and the Western Wall was fresh. We hadn’t been around long enough to take it for granted. Maybe we were also the most protective of Jerusalem’s centrality to the Jewish story.” In the end, it was not Barak, the sabra warrior, but the refusenik immigrant who was the truest Davidian.

In a similar sense, many American Jews who think they are following Isaiah’s path fundamentally misconstrue him. Isaiah’s universal vision is predicated on the defeat of evil and the recognition of the Jewish right to Jerusalem. . . . Isaiah foresees a world at peace once it has come to know the God of Jerusalem and the moral truths Judaism has always preached.

In this way, Soloveichik writes, the dichotomy between the universal and particular is “the perfect prism through which we can see Sharansky’s own greatness.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Ehud Barak, Hebrew Bible, Isaiah, Israel and the Diaspora, King David, Natan Sharansky


A Senior Saudi Political Figure Takes the Palestinian Leadership to Task

In an extended television interview with an Arab broadcaster, Prince Bandar bin Sultan—who served for twenty years as the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., for a decade as head of the Saudi National Security Council, and two years as intelligence chief—responded forcefully to the Palestinian claim that the Gulf states have, by normalizing relations with Israel, “stabbed the Palestinians in the back.” Defending Saudi devotion to the Palestinian cause, Prince Bandar delivered a lengthy history of his country’s role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which he bluntly upbraided Palestinian leaders, and Yasir Arafat above all, for squandering chances at statehood and for their lack of “ethics.” While Bandar’s sentiments can hardly be described as pro-Israel, he asserted that the Palestinian leaders are every bit as responsible as the Jewish state for the plight of their people:

[After the UN issued its 1947 Resolution 181 for partitioning Palestine], a Jewish state called Israel was recognized, which became a member of the United Nations. As for the Arab side, the Palestinians rejected the resolution, and as usual, we [Saudis] supported their rejection. Many years later, the main demand of our Palestinian brothers has been UN resolution 181, which is no longer on the table. No one is discussing it now. This was the beginning, and such events, as I mentioned, were repeated once, twice, and three times.

After the Oslo Accords, I asked Abu Amar, [i.e., Arafat], God rest his soul—and as they say remember the virtues of your dead—what he thought of the autonomy provisions [offered to the Palestinians under the 1978] Camp David Treaty. He said, “Bandar, Camp David’s autonomy provisions were ten times better than the Oslo Accords.” I said, “Well, Mr. President, why did you not agree to it?” He said, “I wanted to, but Hafez al-Assad threatened to kill me and to drive a wedge among the Palestinians, turning them against me.” I thought to myself, so he could have been one martyr and given his life to save millions of Palestinians, but it was as God willed it.

Bandar recounts another incident where he came to Arafat with an offer from the Reagan administration to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians, but Arafat stalled pointlessly until the offer expired. In short, Bandar’s view of things reflects the old adage “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Read more at Al Arabiya

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia, Yasir Arafat