Sharansky: Is He Up to The Task

Rabbi David Forman writing in the Jerusalem Post:

Counterpoint: Calling on the old Natan Sharansky

Finally, we have a high-profile appointment that makes sense. Well – not quite. Since moving here, Sharansky has led a political party into oblivion. He has occupied one government ministry after another, never succeeding at any of them. He has resigned from the Knesset on two occasions, and switched party affiliation to suit expedient needs more than ideological principles. In short, his tenure in the public arena has been an abysmal disappointment.

And yet, true to the Israeli way of political functioning, the faithful servant, no matter his ineptitude, is rewarded with prestigious government or quasi-government portfolios that, if history is our guide, will guarantee more failure…

But the question that most of us asked and hoped would be answered positively was: Will this once-great democrat continue to be the moral spokesman for all those who suffer civil liberties deprivations? If yes, then he most certainly would be the most qualified of Israeli personalities to occupy the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency.

Sadly, however, the legendary work that he did on his route to freedom ceased once he secured his own freedom. Since his arrival here, Sharansky has shown himself to be little more than an “apparatchik,” a sort of political hack who has remained strangely silent despite considerable human rights violations in Israel and the territories – social, political and religious….

One of the most sensitive issues for Diaspora Jews is the lack of official legitimacy accorded to non-Orthodox religious movements in Israel. Does not the institutionalized discrimination against non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism constitute a violation of basic religious rights? The new titular head of the Jewish people has said nothing on this issue that is so critical to Diaspora Jews.

Then again, since his arrival here, impelled by the champions of liberty throughout the world, Sharansky’s continued silence on virtually any issue of human rights violations, be they against non-Orthodox religious Jews, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, Ethiopians, immigrant workers, women caught in the “slave trade,” the poor, the disabled or the single parent, has been deafening.

The board members of the Jewish Agency have come and gone a little more than a month ago. Despite its unwieldy bureaucracy, the Jewish Agency does incredibly positive work for the Jewish people. To streamline that work and to make that body more efficient and effective, it needs a leader who is innovative and administratively capable. Most important, it needs to be guided by a person of moral stature. One can only hope that Sharansky, now being forced to act upon the international Jewish stage, will rise to the occasion, that his courage in facing up to an oppressive Soviet regime will serve as a revived symbol of his former self – a person of principle and deeds, of conscience and activism, of integrity and fair play.