Editor’s Note: Newsmax Editor Christopher Ruddy is visiting Israel this week and met with Natan Sharansky. The former Soviet dissident spent more than a decade in the communist Gulag. He emigrated to Israel after his release in 1986, became a Knesset member and served in four successive Israeli governments, including time as deputy prime minister. In 2006, he resigned from Israel’s Knesset, but he remains active in the country’s political discourse. He has just authored his latest book “Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy.”
Jerusalem — An Israeli businessman I met described Natan Sharansky as having an “inner strength.” Indeed he has. We might say in America he is a man of a quiet charisma.
It’s Wednesday, the day after a crazed man went on a rampage using a bulldozer in a suicidal attempt to kill and maim innocent Israelis. In the end, 16 civilians were injured before the terrorist was shot dead.
All of this took place not far from Sharansky’s Jerusalem office at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, where he serves as its chairman. Sharansky appears calm and safe, even unshakable. But he sees real threats to the state of Israel.
“There must be a serious punishment,” Sharansky says of the suicidal terrorists. First, the Israeli government should demolish the homes of suicidal terrorists, a tactic he describes as a “deterrence” that is “one of the most effective ways of social pressure” to thwart future acts.
Sharansky quickly qualifies this remedy as a “micro-therapy.”
The attacks of radical Islamics do not come in a vacuum, Sharansky posits.
He says the backers of the fundamentalist ideology that foments terror, Wahabism from Saudi Arabia, as well as the military sponsors of Hezbollah and Hamas (he names the Iranians and Syrians), need to pay a price for their support.
“I think one of the biggest failures, of shortsightedness, of all American administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, is their attitude toward Saudi Arabia,” he says.
Sharansky’s comments carry great weight here and for policy-makers in the West. Though he resigned from the Knesset as a stalwart Likud backer in 2006, he has remained active in the political debate.
The real problem for his country, he says, slowly sipping a cup of tea as he sits behind his desk, is that the Arab world sees Israel as vulnerable.
“Our adversaries have a growing feeling that we are weak and they are strong. This has to be changed,” he says. To do so, he would punish, including with military retribution, states and networks that back terrorists.
Obama and Iran
As we talk, Barack Obama is here visiting Israel. Sharansky is dubious of the candidate.
“He is definitely a big concern for me,” he says.
Sharansky thinks Obama has “a little record or almost no record, while the one who he is competing with is McCain, and we know for sure his principles.”
Sharansky continues the train of thought: “It is very alarming for me the way Senator Obama voted, the way he spoke about his desire to negotiate with Ahmadinejad, and the way some of his advisers think.
“I was at AIPAC. He made a very strong speech, speaking about a Jewish state, defensible borders, a united Jerusalem, then the next day he started correcting himself.”
Still, Sharansky feels having Obama as president is not as dangerous as having a weak Israeli government.
The threats, as the bulldozer incident showed, are constant, but none is more serious than the one Israel now faces from Iran.
“With any government of Israel, it becomes inevitable, if this [Iranian] regime becomes nuclear, that we will have to act because for us that is a question for the survival of our Jewish civilization,” he explains.
“If Iran will not change, Israel will have to act. I think it will be very tragic if Israel has to act alone.”
He is not sure that if Israel does attack Iran alone, it will solve the problem.
“The only chance it would be 100 percent successful is if the free world, and first of all the United States of America, will be supportive of Israel.”
Indeed, there is a consensus among Israeli elites — left and right — that a nuclear Iran is a direct threat to the existence of the Jewish state. The question now is whether Israel acts alone or in conjunction with the U.S. and other Western states.
The Larger Issue: Identity
The survival of the West depends on democracy, Sharansky argues. His best-selling book, “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,” made his case and figured into President Bush’s second inaugural address.
Taking his lead from Sharansky, Bush declared in the speech, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”
Bush also said during a February 2005 trip to Europe that Sharansky’s book “confirmed what I believe.”
But Sharansky believes democracy does not mean unlimited freedom overnight, especially for states that have no history of democratic institutions.
Instead, he argues for the gradual development of democratic institutions.
“First you must have the beginnings of a free society, have institutions that guarantee individuals some basic freedoms,” Sharansky says. “Elections are the end result of democracy, not necessarily the beginning of the process.”
And existing democracies, in Europe and the United States, not to mention Israel, face significant challenges. Sharansky tackles this subject in his newest book “Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy.”
The thesis of his book is that democratic society, if it has any hope for long-term survival, must offer an identity for its citizens.
Looking out at the world, he says “our enemies look so dangerous because they have a strong will.” This means they have beliefs they are ready to die for.
“The free world, if it does not have values for which people are ready to die, will be powerless, its people decadent. It will be doomed to failure.”
Identity, he says, gives people these values. It is not the enemy, as many in the West believe.
“Europe is suffering the most from a loss of identity. Faith and patriotism have weakened as it embraces a super-identity — all in an effort to avoid war.”
Europe has become John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” a world, Sharansky paraphrases, “where there is no hell and no paradise, no borders, no nations, in a world where there is nothing to die for.
“Less than two generations [after Lennon’s song], Europe is helpless and powerless against a small group of Islamic terrorists.
“It is the tragedy of Europe,” Sharansky declares, but he says of America, “in general, its society is still healthy.”
With such powerful ideas about the future of his nation and the West, is Sharansky ready for a political comeback?
He says yes, if there is a government that stands for something, has found its identity, he would consider it.
[Editor’s Note: Natan Sharansky’s “Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy” is available from Amazon by Going Here Now.]
You can also check out his Facebook group that supports the book by Clicking Here.
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