Learning from Sharansky: Taking a stand against anti-Israel propaganda

The sweet faces of the two young Israeli women hacked to death by Palestinians last month pain Israelis deeply, and the indifference to these murders and so many others confounds them. Dafna Meir, a 38-year-old mother of six, was stabbed to death in her home on Jan. 17; Shlomit Krigman, slaughtered Jan. 26 near her local grocery, was 23.

Dafna and Shlomit are among the 30 Israelis killed and 200 wounded by Palestinians since October alone. Their killers were egged on by popular songs like “Lovers of Stabbing” and “Stab The Zionist” that blare from Palestinian radio stations. Palestinian leaders, spurning the offer of an independent state living in peace with Israel, have chosen instead to turn their society into just another Mideast variant of Murder, Incorporated — encouraging the killings of Israelis and glorifying them, knowing that when it comes to the killing of Jews, much of the world will remain blase.

In Boston last week, one of the world’s symbols of courage, Natan Sharansky, marked Holocaust Remembrance Day with a talk at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. Sharansky’s life has served as a vivid rebuke to moral indifference. A Jewish dissident in the Soviet Union, he was denied an exit visa to Israel and was jailed for nine years by the Soviets for his beliefs. Half of that time was spent in solitary confinement, and for over 400 days the KGB kept him in the very harshest confinement it had at its disposal, a “punishment cell.”

Sharansky refused to bend, let alone buckle, and in 1986 — thanks to an international campaign on his behalf led by his wife Avital — he was released and permitted to join her in Israel. Sharansky says he was eager to visit the Kennedy Institute “to thank Ted Kennedy for all he did during those years.” Kennedy was the first American politician to meet with Jewish “refuseniks” in the Soviet Union, defying authorities by visiting Sharansky and others during his 1974 trip to Moscow.

During Sharansky’s incarceration, Kennedy met often with Avital. “His office was a war room for my wife,” Sharansky recalls. “He showed the way for many other American politicians by presenting our demands as his own.”

Diminutive in size, enormous in stature, Sharansky downplays what he was forced to endure as a price for insisting on his freedom. Asked what he remembers thinking about while imprisoned, he says he recalls thinking: “There is nothing more that I can do to contribute. It was a very easy way to be part of something big.”

Sharansky now devotes himself to another cause he regards as something big: encouraging college students to stand up against a campaign of intimidation leveled against supporters of Israel that is intended to bully them into remaining silent. “The problem of anti-Israel propaganda, of anti-Semitic propaganda, on campuses is huge,” he says.

A mathematician, Sharansky strains to understand the logic of some of the criticism directed Israel’s way. The Swedish Foreign Minister’s head-spinning characterization of the deaths of Palestinian stabbers while they were attacking Israelis as “extrajudicial killings,” for example, leaves him perplexed. Trying to stop murderers from murdering, he says with understatement, is “[t]he minimal self-protection that any free country can take.” He notes that to its north, Israel faces a dictatorship sworn to its destruction with chemical weapons, a terrorist enterprise with 100,000 missiles aimed at it and an assortment of jihadist groups, while on the West Bank the question is who will take over: “Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS?”

Against the freshly painful backdrop of the stabbings of Dafna Meir and Shlomit Krigman, the humble Sharansky’s unspoken message is itself humbling. The times may be challenging, Sharansky conveys by his very presence before college audiences less than one third his age. But it is no time to give up, or to back down.

This piece was originally published in the Boston Herald.

About the Author
Jeff Robbins, a former United States Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the Clinton Administration, is an attorney in Boston, Massachusetts