Natan Sharansky is supposed to be responsible for ministerial oversight of Jerusalem. But his real job is to serve as chief character assassin responsible for a vicious campaign of lies intended to undermine Palestinian rights.
Before coming to Israel, Sharansky was the victim of Soviet oppression. He claims he was tortured in the old Soviet campaign of hatred against Jews.
It’s a convenient shield Sharansky often exploits to deflect criticism that he and many of his right-wing Israeli colleagues are engaged in a vicious hate campaign against Palestinians.
While Sharansky often speaks about Palestinian failures in the peace process, he fails to address Israel’s own violations. Israel continues to confiscate Palestinian lands, expand illegal settlements and build the Apartheid Wall that is slowly encircling Palestinian cities.
When the issues do surface, as they did recently in meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Sharansky’s boss, and President Bush, Sharansky’s job is to deflect public attention elsewhere.
For example, Sharansky recently repeated exaggerated claims that Palestinians, as a society, promote anti-Semitism and teach their children hate.
Of course, Palestinians don’t have to teach their children to hate Israel. Israelis teach Palestinians to hate Israel by their own policies.
When Israeli snipers shot and killed three Palestinian children who were playing soccer near an illegal Israeli settlement, Sharansky and others defended the soldiers, asserting that the children were transporting bombs. And of course, we have to take Sharansky’s word, because Israel prohibits neutral third parties from investigating such incidents.
Brushing off the murder of Palestinian children, Sharansky mentions that many maps displayed by Palestinians do not show Israel, as evidence that Palestinians are anti-Semitic.
That may be so. But I have seen many maps displayed by Israelis that do not show Palestine, even as occupied territory. And, Israel continues to assert that Jerusalem is its capital, in clear violation of international law. But what’s the law to a champion of free speech like Sharansky?
When Sharansky talks about free speech, he is referring to the fact that Israelis are free to hate Palestinians, but Palestinians have no right to be angry or to criticize Israel.
Palestinians, Sharansky claims, continue to refer to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the anti-Semitic fabrications published by the Russian secret police in the early 20th century to blame the Jews for Russia’s troubles. Sharansky doesn’t mention that copies of the Protocols are freely sold in many Western nations, including in many American bookstores, alongside copies of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
For every example that Sharansky highlights as evidence of Palestinian anti-Semitism, there are just as many examples of Israelis denying Palestinian rights, history and justice. Many Israelis insist Palestinians “don’t exist.” Others deny Palestinian Christians and Muslims outnumbered Jews more than three to one when the UN partition was approved.
Some Palestinians are learning to hate Israelis. But that lesson is not being taught in Palestinian classrooms or by Palestinian parents. It’s taught every day by Israeli soldiers who are rarely held accountable for the taking of innocent Palestinian lives.
The real obstacle to peace is Sharansky and his right-wing colleagues. Sharansky is living proof that a victim of oppression often makes the worst oppressor.
Few Israelis have the courage to speak out against Sharansky. It’s so much easier to blame Palestinians for everything. But that doesn’t contribute to peace. It only makes peace more unlikely.
— Ray Hanania, the former national president of the Palestinian American Congress, is an author and syndicated columnist based in Chicago.