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


An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy