"Shafan” is Hebrew for rabbit –” a symbol of cowardice. So why would a leading dissident in Israel, Uri Avnery, describe a former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky as “Shafansky”?
The answer to this question reveals a great deal of unsavoury truths about this Russian turned Israeli who during the ’70’s became the centre-piece in an Israeli-sponsored worldwide campaign to pressure the Kremlin to allow Soviet Jews special treatment and the right to emigrate to Israel.
Since his migration to the Jewish state his fame as a dissenter evaporated as fast as his conformist policies exposed his passion for Zionist exclusivity or what we in South Africa referred to as apartheid.
According to Avnery, Sharansky’s arrival in Israel was an anti-climax for many who viewed him as a “great authentic hero”. This initial disappointment flowed from Natan’s reunion with his wife, who despite being hailed as another famous dissident, had already achieved a certain notoriety in Israel as a fanatical right-winger and extremist. Avnery found this connection “incongruous”.
But the real disillusionment was when Sharansky refused to meet Feisal Husseini, a veteran fighter for Palestinian human rights, on the grounds that he belonged to the PLO. Apart from being the representative of the Arab community in East Jerusalem, Husseini was also regarded as a real humanist.
That Husseini stood in opposition to Israeli policies –” especially the illegal ones that sought to annex and incorporate East Jerusalem as part of an indivisible eternal capital of Israel, did not compel Sharansky, the so-called human-rights activist to reach out to him.
Hence “Shafansky” symbolized the transformation of a coward who became a hardline activist against the Palestinians’ human and all other rights.
It comes as no surprise to discover that as he drifted increasingly to the extreme right, he joined the Likud where he currently holds the portfolio of “Minister for Jerusalem”. Avnery records that earlier as Housing Minister, Sharansky had “systematically enlarged the settlements on expropriated Arab land in the West Bank, trampling on the human and national rights of the Palestinians.”
It does not stop here. He now belongs to the Likud “rebels”, whom Avnery describes as a group of extreme right-wingers bent on undermining Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement” plan by preventing the dismantling of illegal settlements.
It begs the question: Since he has made much of his status as a former “victim of totalitarian oppression”, how does he reconcile his support of the totalitarian oppression of the victims of Zionism?
Far from finding any rational defense of Israeli state barbarity, Sharansky has outraged many Palestinians by his active participation in engineering their suffering. Three years ago when the world awoke to the shock and horror of Jenin, he brushed off criticism of the month-long Israeli military invasion of this refugee camp which resulted in the gruesome slaughter of countless men, women and children.
It is all the more shocking that this man is currently visiting South Africa, being hosted and treated as royalty by the Jewish Board of Deputies, on the eve of the third anniversary of the Jenin massacre. Not only does it display an arrogance which suggests that Jenin does not matter; it also displays a crude form of insensitivity to the victims of a horrible war crime.
Jennifer Loewenstein, a senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, and has worked extensively in the Occupied Territories, described her visit to Jenin as follows: “I walked through Jenin that day and the scene was surreal. What had been a crowded refugee camp was now a wrecked, bulldozed mass of destruction unlike anything I had ever seen or even imagined. Between 13,000 and 14,000 people lost their homes and all of their possessions during the indecently named Operation Defensive Shield. Nothing is left of the Jenin camp except ruins………….”
Natan Sharansky, the famed anti-Soviet dissident turned defender of Israeli apartheid has been adored by President Bush as his guru. This is not a remarkable convergence of ideas for both advocate and justify invasion and occupation.
What is remarkable though, is that Sharansky expects South Africa to buy into his nonsensical theory which recommends promoting freedom while remaining in occupation!