Commentary Magazine


Topic: Natan Sharansky

The Wall Compromise and the “Judaizers”

When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

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When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

Many Israelis are opposed to efforts to create space for Jews to live in what are now predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. But treating the area in Silwan that the group rescued from neglect and transformed into an archeological park that allows visitors to see the remnants of King David’s Jerusalem as an “illegal settlement” is outrageous. It is one thing to support a two-state solution and even to imagine that parts of Jerusalem will be part of a putative Palestinian state. But when Jews employ the term “Judaizers” to denigrate those who honor the Jewish history of the city they are adopting the language of anti-Zionism, not peace.

It should be remembered that all of Israel is the product of similar efforts to recover the history of the ancient homeland of the Jewish people that had been either erased or forgotten during centuries of foreign rule. That’s why Palestinian nationalism has always sought to deny Jewish history, especially in Jerusalem. It’s disturbing that some on the left have remained silent about the shocking vandalism of artifacts by the Wakf while condemning the efforts of those who have worked to preserve and protect the ancient Jewish heritage of the city.

The Sharansky plan for the Western Wall is worth fighting for, and if the City of David Foundation is an obstacle to that effort they should not be allowed to administer Robinson’s Arch. But their work at the City of David deserves praise, not condemnation. Whatever American Jews think about the peace process, they should avoid confusing their justified concerns about pluralism and the Wall with arguments about dividing Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is a city of both Jews and Arabs, but its ancient history is proof of Jewish ties that run deep in its history as well as the hearts of Jews everywhere.

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Palestinians and the Western Wall

Five women were arrested today at the Western Wall as the dispute about the right of non-Orthodox Jews to conduct egalitarian services there continued. The confrontation that came, as it always does, on the first day of the Hebrew month displayed the usual nastiness as an Orthodox man was also arrested reportedly for trying to burn a prayer book of one of the Women of the Wall. But there were some hopeful signs that the compromise proposed by Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky won’t be opposed by Orthodox leaders. In particular, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Foundation that currently runs things at the Wall, said he wouldn’t oppose Sharansky’s plan to expand the Western Wall Plaza so as to create another equally large space in which egalitarian services may be held.

Sharansky’s idea for creating “One Kotel for One People” based on the principles of access, equality and unity is a good one. If implemented, it would not only substantially improve the site; it would effectively end a long-running argument that serves only to alienate the majority of American Jews from Israel. But as I wrote yesterday, the real obstacle to this project is not the desire of some to keep the Wall functioning solely as an Orthodox synagogue rather than as a national shrine for all Jews. The problem is the willingness of Palestinians to use threats of violence to prevent any changes in the area. What I did not discuss fully yesterday was why exactly the Muslim religious authorities that control the Temple Mount compound above the Wall Plaza would care about stopping Jewish religious services. The answer goes to the heart of the Palestinian rejection of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem or any part of the country.

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Five women were arrested today at the Western Wall as the dispute about the right of non-Orthodox Jews to conduct egalitarian services there continued. The confrontation that came, as it always does, on the first day of the Hebrew month displayed the usual nastiness as an Orthodox man was also arrested reportedly for trying to burn a prayer book of one of the Women of the Wall. But there were some hopeful signs that the compromise proposed by Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky won’t be opposed by Orthodox leaders. In particular, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Foundation that currently runs things at the Wall, said he wouldn’t oppose Sharansky’s plan to expand the Western Wall Plaza so as to create another equally large space in which egalitarian services may be held.

Sharansky’s idea for creating “One Kotel for One People” based on the principles of access, equality and unity is a good one. If implemented, it would not only substantially improve the site; it would effectively end a long-running argument that serves only to alienate the majority of American Jews from Israel. But as I wrote yesterday, the real obstacle to this project is not the desire of some to keep the Wall functioning solely as an Orthodox synagogue rather than as a national shrine for all Jews. The problem is the willingness of Palestinians to use threats of violence to prevent any changes in the area. What I did not discuss fully yesterday was why exactly the Muslim religious authorities that control the Temple Mount compound above the Wall Plaza would care about stopping Jewish religious services. The answer goes to the heart of the Palestinian rejection of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem or any part of the country.

Any attempt to expand the area of the ancient remnant of the Second Temple will hinge on a renovation of the Mugrabi Bridge, a ramp that allows access to the Temple Mount from the area around the Wall. As I noted previously, Muslims reacted to an Israeli plan to repair that facility with threats of violence even though it would have been to their benefit. They did the same thing in 1996 about the opening of a Western Wall tunnel exit that had nothing to do with them.

Some put this down only to the bad feelings that have poisoned all relations between Jews and Arabs in the dispute over sovereignty over Jerusalem and the land of Israel/Palestine. But this is not just a manifestation of malice. Muslim clerics associated with both the “moderates” of the Palestinian Authority and the extremists of Hamas agree that Jews have no claim to any part of the Western Wall, no matter how they wish to pray there.

The Wakf, the Muslim authority that governs the Temple Mount compound, claims that the Kotel is part of their bailiwick and reject Jewish sovereignty over any part of it or the city that surrounds it. Palestinian Authority leaders and their media have repeatedly claimed that the ancient temples were not built on the Mount where Muslim conquerors subsequently built mosques, just as they deny the associations of the Jews with the rest of their ancient homeland.

As Haaretz notes, the Wakf is opposed to any plans that might expand Jewish worship at the Wall or allow more people to have access to it. They also oppose all archeological digs in the area since they further establish the historical validity of Jewish claims. They also use spurious claims that Jews are trying to undermine the structure of the Mount—the same sort of libel that led to bloody Arab pogroms against Jews in the past—in order to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

There is no doubt that these unscrupulous Palestinian leaders will use the same tactics to prevent Sharansky’s plan from ever being realized. That is regrettable. But what American Jews who rightly lament the situation at the Wall should understand is that the bigger problem in Jerusalem isn’t the dispute between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews but the one in which Palestinians attempt to deny the rights of all Jews. Prior to June 1967, no Jews could pray at any part of the Wall or step foot in the Old City of Jerusalem, and that is the situation Palestinians are trying to restore. Those determined to fight to the bitter end on issues of Jewish pluralism should remember that the bigger, far more important battle is part of the ongoing Arab war to destroy Israel.

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Deft Wall Compromise Will Never Happen

Natan Sharansky was asked by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to come up with a solution to a seemingly intractable dispute over the right of non-Orthodox Jews to hold egalitarian services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. To the surprise of no one who has followed the career of a man who has embodied both integrity and principle since his days as a Prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, the head of the Jewish Agency did not fob off the assignment by coming up with a plan for further study or some other tactic for avoiding the controversy. Instead, he actually produced a proposal that would end the Orthodox monopoly over the national shrine by calling for the expansion of the Western Wall Plaza to encompass the little used section known as Robinson’s Arch, where non-Orthodox services could be held without harassment or police interference.

It’s a brilliant idea, but there’s only one problem with it. Even if, as expected, Netanyahu endorses the project, the chances of it being implemented are about as close to zero as you can imagine. It’s not just that the Orthodox establishment will cry foul and use all of their influence to ensure that it never happens. Nor will the enormous cost of such a scheme be the primary obstacle. Instead it will be a group that seemingly has no skin in the game over who controls the Kotel that will spike a plan that could go a long way toward promoting Jewish unity. Anyone who thinks the Muslim religious authorities who control the Temple Mount will consent to a course of action that will involve construction around the area and moving the ramp that allows access to the area isn’t thinking clearly.

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Natan Sharansky was asked by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to come up with a solution to a seemingly intractable dispute over the right of non-Orthodox Jews to hold egalitarian services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. To the surprise of no one who has followed the career of a man who has embodied both integrity and principle since his days as a Prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, the head of the Jewish Agency did not fob off the assignment by coming up with a plan for further study or some other tactic for avoiding the controversy. Instead, he actually produced a proposal that would end the Orthodox monopoly over the national shrine by calling for the expansion of the Western Wall Plaza to encompass the little used section known as Robinson’s Arch, where non-Orthodox services could be held without harassment or police interference.

It’s a brilliant idea, but there’s only one problem with it. Even if, as expected, Netanyahu endorses the project, the chances of it being implemented are about as close to zero as you can imagine. It’s not just that the Orthodox establishment will cry foul and use all of their influence to ensure that it never happens. Nor will the enormous cost of such a scheme be the primary obstacle. Instead it will be a group that seemingly has no skin in the game over who controls the Kotel that will spike a plan that could go a long way toward promoting Jewish unity. Anyone who thinks the Muslim religious authorities who control the Temple Mount will consent to a course of action that will involve construction around the area and moving the ramp that allows access to the area isn’t thinking clearly.

Sharansky’s proposal calls for creating a space for prayer along the remnant of the Second Temple that will reportedly allow the egalitarian movements an area that is around the same space devoted to the existing men’s and women’s sections in the Wall Plaza. The Women of the Wall, a non-Orthodox group whose members wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah, have faced harassment and expulsion by the police from the women’s section of the Wall, which is operated as if it were an Orthodox synagogue rather than a national shrine for all Jews.

As Haaretz reports:

Under the proposal, sources said, the area now known as Robinson’s Arch on the southern end of the Wall will be greatly expanded to create a prayer space roughly equivalent to the existing men’s and women’s sections. Egalitarian prayer is currently permitted at the Arch, which is an archaeological site, but that prayer is only available at limited times and with an entrance fee. The expectation is that the enlarged space would be free and open around the clock, as the Kotel is now, but that could not be confirmed.

The plan also calls for the plaza surrounding the Wall to expand, so that visitors approaching the site in the Old City could clearly chose between praying at the egalitarian section, or the existing sections reserved only for men and for women. Still under discussion is governance of the new prayer area, but several sources said that they thought it would be run by something other than the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the ultra-Orthodox organization that currently controls the Kotel.

This would create a sense of equality for all Jewish denominations at the Wall even though few Israelis support the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist movements. This would have to proceed despite what will be furious Orthodox complaints and the likelihood of demonstrations and other disruptions by Haredim who may see this as a chance to exercise their not-inconsiderable clout in the capital. However, the absence of the ultra-Orthodox political parties in the current Israeli government may give Sharansky the room to get it approved by the Cabinet.

Finding the money for the new Wall section may be difficult in a time of government budget cuts, but given a will to see this through on Netanyahu’s part and the likelihood that some of the funds for it could be raised in the Diaspora, cash won’t be the primary obstacle.

But anyone who has any memory of the reaction of Muslims to the seemingly inoffensive opening of an entrance to the Western Wall tunnels in 1996 (during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister) knows that it is the Wakf that has the ultimate veto power over the idea.

Though the Wakf has been accused, with good reason, of conducting what is for all intents and purposes a campaign of vandalism on the site of the ancient Jewish temples, it has treated any construction in and around the Kotel as a plot to undermine the Temple Mount. Dozens were killed in rioting when Netanyahu authorized the opening of an entrance to the tunnels. Since then, similar threats have prevented any repair of the ramp leading to the Temple Mount even though Israel’s plans to do so would have primarily benefited the Wakf and non-Jews, since Jews are prohibited from praying there (the one exception to the policy of free access for all faiths at the holy places under Israeli rule in Jerusalem).

The idea that the Wakf will simply allow Israel to move the ramp or rebuild it in such a manner as to prevent it from dividing the sections of the Wall is a fantasy. So, too, is the idea that Netanyahu would risk such violence merely in order to placate the Women of the Wall or a Diaspora that is disgusted by the way the Orthodox govern the Kotel.

All of which is to say that Sharansky might as well have punted on the project. In the meantime, the best we can hope for is that the Orthodox authorities will back off a bit and leave the Women of the Wall alone if they try and pray in the women’s section. In a perfect world, a new and expanded Kotel Plaza might solve the problem. But as we all know, Israel does not exist in a perfect world.

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Can the Wall Become a Symbol of Unity Rather Than Division?

The protest group Women of the Wall is back in the news. They have been fighting for the right to hold prayer services at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for years–drawing fire from the Orthodox for doing so–dressed in prayer shawls and reading from the Torah. These are practices that are normative for Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations in the United States but considered an outrageous violation of the customs of the site that is operated as if it were an Orthodox synagogue rather than a national shrine of the Jewish people, which is the way most Americans think of it. In recent months, members of the group were again arrested when they tried to hold a prayer service. The controversy was further fueled this week when Jerusalem Police Chief Yossi Pariente sent a letter to the head of the protest group warning her that they were prohibited from saying Kaddish—the Jewish prayer of mourning—when they held their monthly service at the Wall.

The ensuing furor was only contained when the rabbi who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the place, said no women would be arrested for saying Kaddish. That assurance was delivered to Natan Sharansky, the hero of the Soviet Jewish movement who now heads the Jewish Agency, the philanthropic group responsible for the absorption of Jews from the Diaspora into the country, who had expressed his dismay at this development.

But the exchange shouldn’t reassure anyone. The problem at the Wall is not only not going away, it is escalating and it’s obviously going to take more than talk from Sharansky, who was asked by Prime Minister Netanyahu to deal with the situation. Israelis need to understand that the damage being done to their country’s image by these goings on is not a minor issue. As much as he dreads any involvement in what appears to him to be a no-win situation, it is high time for him to step in and stop the madness.

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The protest group Women of the Wall is back in the news. They have been fighting for the right to hold prayer services at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for years–drawing fire from the Orthodox for doing so–dressed in prayer shawls and reading from the Torah. These are practices that are normative for Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations in the United States but considered an outrageous violation of the customs of the site that is operated as if it were an Orthodox synagogue rather than a national shrine of the Jewish people, which is the way most Americans think of it. In recent months, members of the group were again arrested when they tried to hold a prayer service. The controversy was further fueled this week when Jerusalem Police Chief Yossi Pariente sent a letter to the head of the protest group warning her that they were prohibited from saying Kaddish—the Jewish prayer of mourning—when they held their monthly service at the Wall.

The ensuing furor was only contained when the rabbi who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the place, said no women would be arrested for saying Kaddish. That assurance was delivered to Natan Sharansky, the hero of the Soviet Jewish movement who now heads the Jewish Agency, the philanthropic group responsible for the absorption of Jews from the Diaspora into the country, who had expressed his dismay at this development.

But the exchange shouldn’t reassure anyone. The problem at the Wall is not only not going away, it is escalating and it’s obviously going to take more than talk from Sharansky, who was asked by Prime Minister Netanyahu to deal with the situation. Israelis need to understand that the damage being done to their country’s image by these goings on is not a minor issue. As much as he dreads any involvement in what appears to him to be a no-win situation, it is high time for him to step in and stop the madness.

As I wrote last December, most American Jews have little understanding of the underlying issues at the Wall. The disinterest most Israelis feel about the question of religious pluralism strikes Americans as shocking. However, it is a reflection of the fact that non-Orthodox Judaism is something that most Israelis think is a foreign import with little relevance to their society. As our Evelyn Gordon wrote here a few days after my piece, Israelis are unsympathetic to a movement such as the Women of the Wall that appears to them to be primarily political and intent on disrupting the existing order of the Wall.

Yet as much as I understand that most Israelis may agree with Evelyn’s evaluation of the issue, this latest absurdity about the Kaddish prayer ought to serve as a reminder that what goes in Jerusalem affects the rest of the Jewish people. As Evelyn noted, the spectacle of women’s rights being violated in this manner hurts Israel’s image, particularly among American Jews. It is hard enough for Israel’s defenders to hold their own against the falsehoods and calumnies launched at the Jewish state’s defense policies. For them to be further burdened by incidents that constitute a violation of women’s rights and an insult to the religious practices of most American Jews is as intolerable as it is unnecessary.

When Sharansky told Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz of the Western Wall Foundation “The Kotel must continue to be a symbol of unity for all Jews in the world and not a symbol of strife and discord,” I’m afraid the Orthodox rabbinate may have thought the incident could be papered over with platitudes. But it cannot.

Sharansky is working on a plan which, according to Haaretz, will ensure that “that every Jew in the world can pray in the manner that they are accustomed to at Judaism’s most important national and religious site.” If so, that is a formula for confrontation with an Orthodox establishment that has gotten used to the idea that it can dictate policy about the Wall even, as this week’s incident proved, to the police.

It goes without saying that Netanyahu would prefer to avoid such a confrontation if he possibly can. Even while leading a coalition that, for the first time in a long while, has no Orthodox parties among its members, the prime minister knows that knocking heads with the rabbinate will be messy and costly. But he must also know that when American Jews see headlines about women being arrested for praying at the Wall and policemen talking about prohibiting prayers, that is the sort of black eye that neither the country nor the Jewish people can afford.

When Sharansky comes forward with his plan, it will be up to Netanyahu to see that it is adopted and enforced. That won’t make everyone happy but it will end the running sore that the bans on certain services at the Wall has created. Though many, if not most, Israelis don’t identify with the Women of the Wall, the time has come to start treating the place as if it belonged to all Jews, rather than just the rabbinate. That won’t end the ongoing controversy about pluralism or make Reform and Conservative Judaism equal partners with the majority. But it will be a rational step that will strengthen the country and its bonds with the Diaspora. Let’s hope Netanyahu has the guts to see that this happens.

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Jackson-Vanik Ends, but Legacy Continues

On Election Day last week, Connecticut elected a replacement senator for the retiring Joe Lieberman, the very last Scoop Jackson Democrat. In terms of Jackson’s legacy, it was one half of the end an era; the other half begins today, as the U.S. House votes to graduate Russia from what’s known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a piece of Cold War-era legislation sanctioning the Soviet Union for its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate. The amendment is still on the books, but mostly as a symbolic measure. Now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment would actually harm American companies looking to benefit from the normalization of trade relations with Russia.

But the legacy of Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s fight for human rights in Russia will go on. The bill is set to be replaced with a bill targeting the Russian government’s recognizable human rights violators. Referred to as the Magnitsky bill, it is named for a Russian whistle blower arrested and abused by Russian authorities for uncovering corruption. Magnitsky died in custody. As with the sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration had personally opposed the Magnitsky human rights bill, and dispatched John Kerry to try and kill or water down the bill. When the Senate comes back from its Thanksgiving recess to take up its own version of the bill, we’ll find out just how much contempt Kerry has for the advocacy of human rights. Vladimir Putin’s government, unsurprisingly, isn’t thrilled with being held to account:

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On Election Day last week, Connecticut elected a replacement senator for the retiring Joe Lieberman, the very last Scoop Jackson Democrat. In terms of Jackson’s legacy, it was one half of the end an era; the other half begins today, as the U.S. House votes to graduate Russia from what’s known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a piece of Cold War-era legislation sanctioning the Soviet Union for its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate. The amendment is still on the books, but mostly as a symbolic measure. Now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment would actually harm American companies looking to benefit from the normalization of trade relations with Russia.

But the legacy of Henry “Scoop” Jackson’s fight for human rights in Russia will go on. The bill is set to be replaced with a bill targeting the Russian government’s recognizable human rights violators. Referred to as the Magnitsky bill, it is named for a Russian whistle blower arrested and abused by Russian authorities for uncovering corruption. Magnitsky died in custody. As with the sanctions on Iran, the Obama administration had personally opposed the Magnitsky human rights bill, and dispatched John Kerry to try and kill or water down the bill. When the Senate comes back from its Thanksgiving recess to take up its own version of the bill, we’ll find out just how much contempt Kerry has for the advocacy of human rights. Vladimir Putin’s government, unsurprisingly, isn’t thrilled with being held to account:

Congress will vote on a bill named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on Friday – the third anniversary of his death in detention – which is designed to deny visas for Russian officials involved in his imprisonment, abuse or death.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia had already prepared its response but gave no more details than a Foreign Ministry statement on Thursday that warned of tough retaliation.

Many on the left opposed the Magnitsky bill as well, and many others opposed pairing human rights legislation with Russia’s graduation from Jackson-Vanik restrictions. This group includes Michael McFaul, once a prominent advocate for post-Soviet democratization but currently U.S. ambassador to Moscow and tasked with representing the Obama administration’s line.

This group was right to note that Jackson-Vanik no longer applies, but they are wrong to dismiss the Magnitsky bill as irrelevant to Jackson’s legacy. As Joshua Muravchik wrote recently in COMMENTARY, commemorating Jackson’s 100th birthday, questioning the behavior of autocratic regimes and their treatment of their own citizens was at the heart of Jackson’s work, and certainly the amendment itself:

Apart from the individuals who benefited, this amendment, like Jackson’s SALT amendment, raised some freighted questions. What kind of country treated its citizens as captives? How would such a country treat us? And why, if the Soviet regime was prepared to lay to rest its conflict with us, would it continue to give so little quarter to its own people?

Muravchik also quotes Natan Sharansky’s effusive praise for Jackson’s work, which centered on Jackson-Vanik: “For many Jews in the Soviet Union Jackson became the savior of their lives,” Sharansky said.

The Magnitsky bill is bipartisan, and reflects similar legislation taken up in Europe. Obama has apparently dropped his total opposition to the bill, perhaps in recognition that the ill-fated Russian “reset” is unsalvageable, or perhaps out of a genuine change of heart toward the importance of human rights and American global leadership. Either way, it now seems Jackson’s exemplary legacy will live on.

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Can Israel Afford a Moral Foreign Policy?

Earlier this week, I noted the fact that while President Obama has chosen not to visit Israel since taking office even when visiting the Middle East, Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be making his second trip to the Jewish state this month. The fact that Obama is still so resentful of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he couldn’t bring himself to go to Jerusalem even when it would clearly be in his political interests to do so, while Putin thinks it is good politics to go there, struck me as interesting. But our friends at the Forward have a very different take on the story. In an editorial published this week, they think it is wrong for Israel to receive Putin and urge it to cancel the visit.

In assessing this position, we need to start by saying this is the sort of editorial that explains why there is a difference between government and journalism. In seizing the moral high ground on Putin, the Forward editorialist is taking a stand that no Israeli government, no matter how righteous or devoted to the cause of human rights in Russia, Syria and Iran it might be, can possibly take. Israel has enough enemies without picking a fight with Putin even the United States would be wary of starting. This is the sort of unrealistic moral preening that we journalists love to indulge in. There is also the fact that the Forward, whose idolatry of Barack Obama seems to be boundless, has been noticeably quiet in expressing criticism of the administration’s desire for a “reset” with Putin or his appeasement of Russia on a number of different fronts.

But having said that, I’m prepared to concede the editorial has a point, especially with regard to the egregious praise of Putin on the part of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and that the question of how moral Israel’s foreign policy should be is not solely a matter for idle journalistic posturing.

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Earlier this week, I noted the fact that while President Obama has chosen not to visit Israel since taking office even when visiting the Middle East, Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be making his second trip to the Jewish state this month. The fact that Obama is still so resentful of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he couldn’t bring himself to go to Jerusalem even when it would clearly be in his political interests to do so, while Putin thinks it is good politics to go there, struck me as interesting. But our friends at the Forward have a very different take on the story. In an editorial published this week, they think it is wrong for Israel to receive Putin and urge it to cancel the visit.

In assessing this position, we need to start by saying this is the sort of editorial that explains why there is a difference between government and journalism. In seizing the moral high ground on Putin, the Forward editorialist is taking a stand that no Israeli government, no matter how righteous or devoted to the cause of human rights in Russia, Syria and Iran it might be, can possibly take. Israel has enough enemies without picking a fight with Putin even the United States would be wary of starting. This is the sort of unrealistic moral preening that we journalists love to indulge in. There is also the fact that the Forward, whose idolatry of Barack Obama seems to be boundless, has been noticeably quiet in expressing criticism of the administration’s desire for a “reset” with Putin or his appeasement of Russia on a number of different fronts.

But having said that, I’m prepared to concede the editorial has a point, especially with regard to the egregious praise of Putin on the part of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and that the question of how moral Israel’s foreign policy should be is not solely a matter for idle journalistic posturing.

Since its birth in 1948, the State of Israel has been under siege and has almost never been in a position to pick its friends with impunity. Indeed, so desperate has it been for any sign of friendship from other countries, let alone genuine cooperation or alliance, that it led to the development of a deep cynicism about its place in the world, which led it to be willing to sometimes take the hands of some unsavory regimes. Friends of Israel were right to take umbrage at the notion that an embattled nation was expected to be more punctilious about its foreign policy than greater and far more secure nations. Nevertheless, as Israel’s position grew stronger in recent decades, it was fair to say that its willingness to embrace apartheid-era South Africa or any Third World dictator who would stand apart from the global chorus of Israel-haters was often ill-considered and sometimes counter-productive.

Though Israel’s governments were justified in prioritizing security and defense, a public posture of moral blindness ill befit a nation that also sought to play upon the international community’s sense of justice. Even if it could not expect fair play for itself, brazen cynicism on such questions did nothing to enhance its position. Israeli leaders of both the left and the right have generally been uncomfortable taking stands on disputes elsewhere in the globe. But this shyness about defending human rights when Jews were not the victims only fueled the unfair comparisons of its own complex problems vis-à-vis the Palestinians to real tyrannies that are often voiced by anti-Semites and other Israel-haters.

So while it is clearly unreasonable to expect Israel to attack Putin directly or to rebuff his overtures, it is not wrong to point out that Lieberman’s coziness with the Moscow regime is an embarrassment.

In his defense, it should be noted that although he was widely considered unsuitable for his task when he took office in 2009, Lieberman has been as good a practitioner of cynical realpolitik on his country’s behalf as any of his seemingly more accomplished predecessors. Though he gets little credit for it, it was his diplomatic skills — often exercised with unsavory Third World governments — that helped stave off the so-called Palestinian “diplomatic tsunami” at the United Nations last year.

But behind the scenes diplomacy is one thing; public endorsements of Putin’s tyranny are quite another. Though only a fool would think it is not in Israel’s interests to keep Russia from sliding back to the open hostility that characterized relations during the era of the Soviet Union, there is no need for Israel to go as far as that.

As much as Israelis have vainly hoped for a normal existence, the Jewish state has also always aspired to stand for Jewish values and the Jewish people. As such, it is far from wrong to expect it to support not merely democracy for itself but the rights of all peoples.

I should add that I myself have written in the past to chide some Israelis — even those whom I greatly admired — for being willing to treat the question of human rights as somehow not being their business. In February of 1997, I even tweaked Natan Sharansky, a man whom I consider a genuine hero and then serving as Israel’s Trade Minister— for not using a meeting with his Chinese counterparts to raise the topic of the status of prisoners in the Chinese gulag. The piece (written originally for the Jerusalem Post under the headline “Say it Ain’t So, Natan,” is not available on their website, but can be read here on the site of San Francisco’s J Weekly which subsequently picked it up) motivated Sharansky to use a second meeting with the Chinese to do exactly as I had asked him to do. That earned him a rebuke from Israel’s Foreign Ministry but confirmed my high opinion of his integrity.

The standard here should not be, as the Forward’s piece seems to want, to demand that Israel be tougher on Russia than even the United States, but that it must be prepared to speak up about human rights, even when it is inconvenient. The Jewish state may still be beleaguered, but it is not so weak that it must be compelled to prostitute itself on behalf of Putin, as Lieberman appears willing to do. A completely moral foreign policy is a luxury that not even a superpower can always afford, but we have a right to expect that Israel’s approach to the world should consist of more than raw cynicism.

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Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

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The Latest Milestone in Chinese Tyranny

For the last two decades, those committed to warm ties with Beijing have tried to tell Americans that the development of capitalism in China—albeit a capitalism that must operate in a system in which the rule of law and property rights are a matter of government fiat—would eventually transform the totalitarian system. But today, as the New York Times reports, another milestone has been passed in which such hopes have been revealed as utterly unfounded.

The Chinese capital was the setting on Wednesday for the trial of Liu Xiaobo, one of the country’s leading human-rights advocates. Liu faces up to 15 years in prison for calling for open elections and free speech. His role in promulgating Charter 08, a manifesto in favor of Chinese political freedom, is the chief reason for the government’s latest attempt to silence Liu. As the Times notes, the document’s language that states “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes” is itself viewed as a crime by the Communist Party.

The persecution of Liu is something of a history of China’s abuse of human rights since 1989. At the time of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University but returned home to join the hunger strikers. When the Chinese army struck, he was arrested and held for 21 months without trial. In 1996, he was sent to the laogai—China’s gulag—for three years for calling for the release of others still imprisoned for their participation in the Tiananmen events. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Communist Party but the charter, which evokes similar protests by Czech opponents against the Soviet empire, has motivated the government to try and put him away again. Reporters were barred from the trial, as were other dissidents who bravely came to support Liu. This is all we know of the proceedings:

Liu Xiaoxuan, the defendant’s younger brother, was one of two family members allowed in the courtroom. After the trial adjourned, he tried to recall details of the proceedings — court officials had prevented those in the room from taking notes — and he repeated his brother’s final words, spoken to a judge. Mr. Liu, according to his brother, said that he came from a long line of persecuted thinkers and hoped he would be the last. “He said that if he was sent to jail, it might bring others freedom of speech,” Liu Xiaoxuan said.

It would be nice to think that were true. But neither the Obama administration—which allowed Beijing to humiliate the president during his recent trip there—nor its predecessors have had any interest in the fate of Chinese dissidents or the drive for pushing the world’s largest tyranny to change its behavior. The Chinese authorities have stepped up their suppression of freedom in the last year with a vengeance. Yet most Americans either don’t care or still actually believe the propaganda about the Chinese not caring about freedom, which business interests put forward about China and democracy. As with the successful campaign to stifle concerns about Chinese human rights that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government can count on the self-interest of the business community and the indifference of Washington to allow it to continue its abuses with impunity.

Yet the attempt by Liu to courageously invoke the example of those who challenged the seemingly unshakable grip of Soviet communism in 1977 ought to remind us all that even the most powerful of tyrants can be resisted and toppled. Provided, that is, that dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo be not forsaken by the forces of freedom elsewhere. Just as the West once embraced men like Vaclav Havel and Natan Sharansky, Americans must not allow Liu’s oppressors to triumph in silence.

For the last two decades, those committed to warm ties with Beijing have tried to tell Americans that the development of capitalism in China—albeit a capitalism that must operate in a system in which the rule of law and property rights are a matter of government fiat—would eventually transform the totalitarian system. But today, as the New York Times reports, another milestone has been passed in which such hopes have been revealed as utterly unfounded.

The Chinese capital was the setting on Wednesday for the trial of Liu Xiaobo, one of the country’s leading human-rights advocates. Liu faces up to 15 years in prison for calling for open elections and free speech. His role in promulgating Charter 08, a manifesto in favor of Chinese political freedom, is the chief reason for the government’s latest attempt to silence Liu. As the Times notes, the document’s language that states “We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes” is itself viewed as a crime by the Communist Party.

The persecution of Liu is something of a history of China’s abuse of human rights since 1989. At the time of the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989, he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University but returned home to join the hunger strikers. When the Chinese army struck, he was arrested and held for 21 months without trial. In 1996, he was sent to the laogai—China’s gulag—for three years for calling for the release of others still imprisoned for their participation in the Tiananmen events. Since then he has been a thorn in the side of the Communist Party but the charter, which evokes similar protests by Czech opponents against the Soviet empire, has motivated the government to try and put him away again. Reporters were barred from the trial, as were other dissidents who bravely came to support Liu. This is all we know of the proceedings:

Liu Xiaoxuan, the defendant’s younger brother, was one of two family members allowed in the courtroom. After the trial adjourned, he tried to recall details of the proceedings — court officials had prevented those in the room from taking notes — and he repeated his brother’s final words, spoken to a judge. Mr. Liu, according to his brother, said that he came from a long line of persecuted thinkers and hoped he would be the last. “He said that if he was sent to jail, it might bring others freedom of speech,” Liu Xiaoxuan said.

It would be nice to think that were true. But neither the Obama administration—which allowed Beijing to humiliate the president during his recent trip there—nor its predecessors have had any interest in the fate of Chinese dissidents or the drive for pushing the world’s largest tyranny to change its behavior. The Chinese authorities have stepped up their suppression of freedom in the last year with a vengeance. Yet most Americans either don’t care or still actually believe the propaganda about the Chinese not caring about freedom, which business interests put forward about China and democracy. As with the successful campaign to stifle concerns about Chinese human rights that preceded the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government can count on the self-interest of the business community and the indifference of Washington to allow it to continue its abuses with impunity.

Yet the attempt by Liu to courageously invoke the example of those who challenged the seemingly unshakable grip of Soviet communism in 1977 ought to remind us all that even the most powerful of tyrants can be resisted and toppled. Provided, that is, that dissidents such as Liu Xiaobo be not forsaken by the forces of freedom elsewhere. Just as the West once embraced men like Vaclav Havel and Natan Sharansky, Americans must not allow Liu’s oppressors to triumph in silence.

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Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

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Visa Stupidity

A young, pro-American, “neolibertarian” blogger from Argentina named Pablo Martin Pozzoni recently wrote me this lament:

A few months ago I got the chance that I never have had before: to visit the country that I admire the most, because of what it is and represents, I had to stubbornly defend my decision against the hysterical anti-Americanism for which my country is well known…. This simple dream was cut short…not because of an economic or political situation in my country [but] by the Embassy of the United States…. Without taking into account my motivations or interests, I was considered something that anybody that knows me, and I am well known in Internet, will realize that is unthinkable and even laughable: a potential illegal immigrant.

It reminded me of other such tales. The Czech Republic and Poland, two of our staunchest allies, were on the brink of winning non-visa entry into the U.S. for their citizens, which several western European countries enjoy, when the deal was scotched by 9/11. Instead, would-be Czech and Polish visitors have to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for a visa application (which is not refundable) and wait on long lines. If this doesn’t cure their philo-Americanism, nothing will.

The ostensible reason is security, but I doubt there has ever been a Czech or Polish terrorist who targeted the U.S. The real purpose of the screening process is to weed out anyone who might wish to stay in the U.S. But what harm, exactly, would a few Czech, Polish, or Argentine illegal immigrants do? And is that harm—such as it might be—worth the ill will we invite at a time when we have a serious dearth of foreign friends?

The stories get even more absurd. This June, when President Bush tried to revivify his democracy-promotion agenda by delivering a stem-winder at a conference in Prague organized by Natan Sharansky and Vaclav Havel, and meeting with a group of dissidents from around the world, the most important Iranian dissident who had been invited was unable to attend. Mohsen Sazegara was scheduled to be one of the conference’s speakers, but he was forced to cancel: U.S. immigration authorities refused to promise him undelayed reentry into the U.S. (where he lives in exile).

Read More

A young, pro-American, “neolibertarian” blogger from Argentina named Pablo Martin Pozzoni recently wrote me this lament:

A few months ago I got the chance that I never have had before: to visit the country that I admire the most, because of what it is and represents, I had to stubbornly defend my decision against the hysterical anti-Americanism for which my country is well known…. This simple dream was cut short…not because of an economic or political situation in my country [but] by the Embassy of the United States…. Without taking into account my motivations or interests, I was considered something that anybody that knows me, and I am well known in Internet, will realize that is unthinkable and even laughable: a potential illegal immigrant.

It reminded me of other such tales. The Czech Republic and Poland, two of our staunchest allies, were on the brink of winning non-visa entry into the U.S. for their citizens, which several western European countries enjoy, when the deal was scotched by 9/11. Instead, would-be Czech and Polish visitors have to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for a visa application (which is not refundable) and wait on long lines. If this doesn’t cure their philo-Americanism, nothing will.

The ostensible reason is security, but I doubt there has ever been a Czech or Polish terrorist who targeted the U.S. The real purpose of the screening process is to weed out anyone who might wish to stay in the U.S. But what harm, exactly, would a few Czech, Polish, or Argentine illegal immigrants do? And is that harm—such as it might be—worth the ill will we invite at a time when we have a serious dearth of foreign friends?

The stories get even more absurd. This June, when President Bush tried to revivify his democracy-promotion agenda by delivering a stem-winder at a conference in Prague organized by Natan Sharansky and Vaclav Havel, and meeting with a group of dissidents from around the world, the most important Iranian dissident who had been invited was unable to attend. Mohsen Sazegara was scheduled to be one of the conference’s speakers, but he was forced to cancel: U.S. immigration authorities refused to promise him undelayed reentry into the U.S. (where he lives in exile).

When the Baathist former Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam joined with Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddin Baynouni to form the National Salvation Front, the U.S. found itself in a quandary. It wanted to encourage this exile operation— which promised to be the most powerful opposition to the recalcitrant Assad regime—but it was reluctant to embrace these two men. The solution hit upon by U.S. officials was to work through Ammar Abdulhamid, a prominent Syrian liberal with whom the U.S. felt comfortable, and who was elected to the NSF executive committee. However, Abdulhamid was severely constrained in trying to influence the NSF: he could not attend any of its meetings, which are held in various locations across Europe. Abdulhamid has been living in the U.S. with temporary asylum status for two years, waiting to be granted permanent asylum. In the meantime, U.S. authorities refuse to give him a travel document.

If the arguments about security are absurd when it comes to Czechs and Poles, in the cases of Sazegara and Abdulhamid, there is no conceivable security issue. They already live in the U.S. Of course we need to scrutinize carefully potential terrorists who want to enter our shores. But surely we can do that and at the same time make it easy for friendly foreigners to visit or study here, or to take asylum here when their struggles for freedom endanger their lives.

Before 9/11, our responsible agencies made it easy for anyone to enter, including known terrorists. Now they make it difficult even for known friends. Previously, our border security was disarmed. Now we have loaded up and shot ourselves in the foot. There must be a better way.

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Where Is Nelson Mandela?

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”

But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.

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Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”

But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.

Say an ill word about Nelson Mandela and you become, in the eyes of the mainstream media, international glitterati, and pop culture stars, a heretic of all that’s right and good in the world. But no one is immune from criticism, not even someone who spent 27 years of his life languishing in prison for the ideals of non-racialism and democracy. And if that’s the standard for sainthood, why are figures like Armando Valladares (who spent 22 years in a Cuban gulag suffering conditions far worse than those Mandela faced), Vladimir Bukovsky, and Natan Sharansky not given the same hagiographic treatment as Mandela? One cannot help concluding that the nature of the regime behind the imprisonment—whether a right-wing authoritarian one in the case of South Africa, or a left-wing totalitarian one like the Soviet Union or Cuba—affects the attention paid to the prisoner. And so I am left asking the same question Nat Hentoff posed four years ago, regarding Mandela’s silence in the face of Robert Mugabe’s destruction of Zimbabwe: “Where is Nelson Mandela?”

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Who Are the True Jihadists?

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

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The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

The concept is freighted with memories that go back 1,400 years, to the earliest days of Islam. Whether moderate Muslims like it or not, jihad has a history that extends from Muhammad’s farewell address in 632 (“I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah’”) to Osama bin Laden’s deliberate echo of his words in November 2001. The proclamations of jihad against the West that we have witnessed since the Islamic revolution in Iran are not very different from those of Muslim conquerors throughout history (several of whom came close to fulfilling those proclamations).

Nor, it should be noted, does the fact that some of the Islamic warriors of the past were admired for their chivalry (rather than abhorred for their cruelty, as the Islamists of today are) mean that their concept of jihad was any less warlike and apocalyptic. In 1189, Saladin, the great antagonist of Richard Coeur de Lion, threatened to pursue his jihad across the sea to Europe “until there remains no-one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.”

Ignác Goldziher, the Hungarian Jew who pioneered modern Islamic scholarship, began in the late 19th century the long effort by Western orientalists to reinterpret the meaning of jihad—an effort ongoing more or less ever since. But the paucity and insularity of Islamic hermeneutics means that no new interpretation of jihad is likely to gain acceptance in the dominant theological schools of Cairo and Mecca. The Wahhabi interpretation of jihad, which deliberately overlooks the prophetic injunction to practice “greater jihad” (peaceful struggle) as well as “lesser jihad” (war against the infidel), is hugely dominant among them, and will remain so. For these scholars, marooned in the 7th century, war against the infidel is not only legitimate, but laudable and even obligatory—however unholy such war may be in the eyes of more moderate Muslims.

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Weekend Reading

On Monday, an international conference will open in Prague, headed jointly by the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, former President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel, and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. The Conference on Democracy and Security will play host to reformers, dissidents, and democracy activists from every quarter of the world, as well as political leaders including President George W. Bush. Its purpose is to provide a voice for global democracy—something COMMENTARY has been doing for decades. On the eve of the conference, we offer a number of items from our archives on the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights worldwide.

Defending and Advancing Freedom: A Symposium
November 2005

Life, Liberty, Property
Richard Pipes – March 1999

Democracy for Everyone?
Peter L. Berger – September 1983

Human Rights and American Foreign Policy: A Symposium
November 1981

Dictatorships and Double Standards
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick – November 1979

On Monday, an international conference will open in Prague, headed jointly by the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, former President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel, and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. The Conference on Democracy and Security will play host to reformers, dissidents, and democracy activists from every quarter of the world, as well as political leaders including President George W. Bush. Its purpose is to provide a voice for global democracy—something COMMENTARY has been doing for decades. On the eve of the conference, we offer a number of items from our archives on the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights worldwide.

Defending and Advancing Freedom: A Symposium
November 2005

Life, Liberty, Property
Richard Pipes – March 1999

Democracy for Everyone?
Peter L. Berger – September 1983

Human Rights and American Foreign Policy: A Symposium
November 1981

Dictatorships and Double Standards
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick – November 1979

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