Sunday, February 06, 2005

Column: Jerusalem of Orange

On Sunday afternoon I boarded one of five buses from Tzfat that was bound for the demonstration in Yerushalayim. I had just read the first reports of the voter turnout in Iraq and the attacks of the terrorists there. It was already clear to me that the predictions of the conservative media about a large turnout were on target and that the Iraqi people were willing to defy the terrorists and risk their lives to come out and vote. With the negativity of the leftist media and Ted Kennedy's version of Osama bin Laden's pre-election address fresh in my mind, I wondered what was in store for democracy in this country where Israelis of all ages, donning orange scarves or shirts or hats, were boarding over 1,000 buses to come to a demonstration to protest the antidemocratic deeds and plans of Ariel Sharon.

I thought it ironic that Israelis would take on the color orange as the symbol of protest, thinking -- wrongly I now discover -- that Ukraine had become the example for Israeli seekers of a referendum over disengagement. I have since learned that the color orange had been chosen here some time before Yushenko's campaign. Still, the thoughts that the assumption and color aroused were sadly ironic thoughts as I reflected on how the advance of democracy in the world -- accelerating as it is with President Bush's help -- is passing Israel by while Bush's own hero of democracy, Natan Sharansky, minister in Sharon's government, remains quiet, as if everything is in order and dissent has accomplished its purpose. I wondered if Sharansky would be at the demonstration of orange, raising it from the level of an internal venting to an international condemnation of tyranny.

Internal venting is perhaps of short term psychological value but little more. When done by a vast majority of religious settlers and their supporters it is easily demonized and dismissed. Leaders, both political and religious who take to the platform to denounce the tyranny are themselves painted as extremists -- or in the language of Haaretz -- "foes of disengagement." The international press and the Israeli press were actually gentler in their immediate demonization of the protesters, probably because of the elections in Iraq and the theme of the demonstration -- protesting tyranny -- but that was surely just a fortunate circumstance, as the unfolding of events will surely show that it was a mere respite in the process of painting all those who oppose Sharon as extremists of the national religious camp, not quite fascists but wholly worthy nonetheless of that twisted association that the left so readily makes on all who don't embrace their utopian, postmodernism, and here, post-Zionist, fantasies.

The bus took the Jordan Valley Road and the air was warm when we reached the rest stop in that low region. A friend approached as we stood around stretching our legs and enjoying the warmth. He asked me what I thought about Sharon, whether he could be as bad as he looks now. After all, he is a war hero and a builder of the settlements. Might it not be that his plan is not part of a greater strategy of this great strategist? Perhaps, he asked, he is being judged too harshly, and that this judgment comes from a place of limited vision?

This of course is the same question that has been asked about Sharon for years now. It is a question that infuriates and in my answer I found myself explaining to both of us exactly why.

Ariel Sharon is a public servant and nothing more, I said. It is a humiliating insult to the whole nation to be put in a situation where we need to guess what he is doing. He ran on a platform and was elected to fulfill it -- that is his job -- it is not the job of the people to delve to the depths of his largeness as he steers the ship into the rocks.

Ariel Sharon has no mandate but unfortunately and pathetically he still has a government, held together by and odd alliance of parties that now lead a retreat that was soundly rejected in the election -- a retreat that follows other retreats and promises yet more and more unless the ship is somehow turned around.

Natan Sharanksy wasn't there to tell the world that Sharon has no mandate and that he is abusing democracy in the worst way -- rewarding terror and endangering Jewish lives and the Jewish nation. Sharansky wasn't there to raise the protest so that the whole world would here loud and clear that Ariel Sharon is a tyrant. Until Sharansky steps up and does for his own people what he is preaching to the world, Sharon will ride a wave of support that the Left has aimed at the security, dignity, and future of Israel.


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