Sharansky's Hypocrisy

The Middle East has more than its share of outrageous hypocrites, but since his arrival in the region, Russian émigré to Israel Natan Sharansky has fought valiantly to secure a place among them. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Sharansky again lectures Arabs about human rights and democracy, expressing relief that Israel did not conclude a peace agreement with the odious regime in Syria.

Sharansky decries what he calls "the dismal aftermath of the revolts in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia," as if the outcomes in these three countries were all the same and simply bad. He shows no interest in the fact that Egyptians, Libyans and Tunisians have all at last been able to vote freely for new governments, with very different outcomes in each case, particularly regarding the fortunes of Islamist parties. In spite of his manifest denunciations of dictatorships, it's almost impossible not to detect some latent nostalgia for the autocracies of Mubarak, Qaddafi and Ben Ali in his "dismal aftermath" characterization.

Sharansky suggests "a combination of pressure and encouragement [for...] nurturing the spread of free institutions, the rule of law and democratic institutions in all areas of civic life." I also advocate this approach, and take a back seat to no one as a critic of Islamists, and tyrants. The difference is that Sharansky only applies these standards for Arab human rights to Arab governments, not Israel's occupation, whereas I insist they are universal, and must apply to all people, including Palestinians living under Israeli military control.

If he were sincere, Sharansky's human rights and democracy interventions would be helpful. But his political career in Israel betrays him as an expansionist Jewish nationalist who has cynically deployed this rhetoric to rationalize Israel's occupation and denial of Palestinian human rights.

Sharansky extols the virtues of Arab "citizens... prepared to fight to preserve their hard-won freedoms" but fails to note that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are not citizens of the state that rules them or any other state: the ultimate form of disenfranchisement.

Sharansky absurdly dismisses Palestinians as "the descendants of those Arabs who migrated in the last 200 years," a malignant misrepresentation of history. But, he allows, at least in theory, "they have the right, if they want, to have their own state... but not at the expense of the state of Israel,” whatever that might, exactly, mean. Yet Sharansky has opposed every effort to actually make peace with the Palestinians or allow them to create such an independent state.

Sharansky rejected the Road Map of the Middle East Quartet, apparently because its main Phase One requirement for Israel was an end to all settlement activity. In 2000, he resigned from the government over the possibility of a compromise on Jerusalem, and in 2003 he authored an article entitled "The Temple Mount is More Important than Peace." As a government minister he approved numerous confiscations of Palestinian property. In 2005, he again resigned in protest of Israel's unilateral redeployment and removal of settlements from Gaza and the northern West Bank.

This self-styled "champion of human rights" has robustly defended Israel's policy of "administrative detention" without due process for Palestinians. His modus operandi is to "contextualize" Israel's abuse of Palestinian human rights in terms of national and security necessity, in effect giving his own country a free pass when it comes to the standards about which he incessantly lectures everybody else. His basic dictum is that Palestinians must "prove" they are worthy of independence and human rights.

And he has accused Jewish Israeli peace activists of being "collaborators" intent on "setting the Jewish home on fire." So much for political pluralism and tolerance.

Nationalism is often the handmaiden of the hypocrisy. But there is no excuse for being taken in by it, especially when the chasm between what is preached and what is practiced is as gaping as that between Sharansky's words and deeds.