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.”

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

 

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror