Draft Sharansky for president

An icon of human rights and a champion of democracy, he would lift Israel's banner high.

October 15, 2006 21:43
4 minute read.
Draft Sharansky for president

natan sharansky 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])


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Likud MK Natan Sharansky says he will delay his departure from the political scene until November 15. From then on, Sharansky has made clear, he intends to focus on his writing and policy analysis interests. As much as one sympathizes with his desire for privacy, and despite his obvious unease with the relentless expectation of delivery of political services/favors and his distaste for the personal schmoozing which politics demands, it is too soon for the Jewish people to release him from active duty. There is one more public service for which he should be drafted. Sharansky should be elected Israel's next president. (This proposal has nothing to do with the present clouds over the presidency. Whatever the outcome, a new president must be chosen within a year.) Sharansky as president offers unique gifts to the State of Israel. His life and career summon up the golden years when Israel was recognized widely as a light unto the nations (one of the first post-colonial nations, avant garde of democracy in the Middle East, helper of developing nations in Africa) and as a beacon attracting Jews in every part of the world to recover their Jewish identity and Jewish pride. Electing Sharansky as president would be a statement of intention to recover that high ground. His knowledge and strongly-felt connection to the Diaspora, together with his wisdom, would nurture the deepening of the worldwide bond of Jewish peoplehood. Sharansky's own fight for freedom for Soviet Jewry and his record on human rights would offer an important ongoing check to the human rights community's slide toward identification with the Palestinians, however one-sided and unjustified the reasons for this development. There has been a serious erosion of Israel's international standing as a human rights cause and exemplar of the right values in this realm; consequently, the state's legitimacy is under assault. Offering an icon of human rights and a sage master of how to advance democracy as Israel's titular leader would lift our banner high and help reverse a disturbing decline. THE UNITED States has emerged as the key and most steadfast ally of Israel. Sharansky has celebrity status in the United States as an avatar of the best human values. He has earned enormous respect and unparalleled access to the governing elite. Equally important: his popularity and integrity are recognized as widely among Democrats as among Republicans. It is urgent that American support for Israel remain bipartisan. Internally, Sharansky offers a role model for conciliation and mutual respect between religious and secular. The religious-secular issue will make or break the long-term stability of the Jewish state - even if it is currently on the back burner due to the dangers from external enemies and Islamic terrorism. It is well known that Avital Sharansky is a deeply devout woman with a strong connection to Rav Kook's disciples and the settler movement. Yet husband and wife have avoided extremism or being swept into polarized politics. Natan has consistently been an important role model and spokesperson for cultural coexistence and pluralism. (Incidentally, their beautiful love story and the couple's long-term faithfulness to each other is no small bonus in his candidacy.) THE SINGLE biggest objection to this proposal may come from those who argue that Sharansky's opposition to the withdrawal from Gaza stamped him as a man of the Right who cannot, therefore, represent the Left. After all, the president is meant to be a figure above the political fray, one who can be embraced by the whole spectrum of the public. However, Sharansky's objections to withdrawal were principled. He gave up the perks of government ministers. Moreover, he opposed this step for the right reasons. He did not seek to hold on to the territories for the sake of spiritual redemption in a Greater Israel or to keep the settlers in place, whatever the cost in keeping Palestinians at bay. He made clear that the issue was the need to nurture and reward democratization among Palestinians, which provides the only long term solid ground for a true peace. He insisted that a unilateral withdrawal that rewarded terrorism or reflected "tiredness" and lack of will in the Israeli public would boomerang and not advance peace. The second Lebanon war and the post-withdrawal behavior of Hamas has proven him right. The outcome is that Sharansky retains respect even on the religious Right, where the legitimacy of the State has been (unjustly and unwisely) shaken; while much of the Left now accepts his point that unilateral withdrawals alone cannot bring the desired steps toward peace and reconciliation. WHILE THE president is not intended to play a strong political role, Sharansky's wisdom and principles could help navigate the treacherous twists and turns of the next phase of the road toward improving the Israel-Palestinian relationship in the context of upgrading the unstable, radicalizing, deeply troubled Middle East. We should also keep in mind the alternative choices. One need only consider the possibilities of a Reuven Rivlin or Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau to see how Sharansky's statesman-like wisdom and principled moral standing offer much greater promise of lifting the public out of its depression and lifting up the fallen crown of dignity of the political leadership. Sharansky for president! The writer is president of the Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation.

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