I recalled, vividly, Sharansky's stance as a "prisoner of conscience" in the former Soviet Union, his celebrated release and, later, his arrival in Israel. I also remembered how, while at first silent about Israel's treatment of Palestinians, he finally spoke out in condemnation. And then, I recalled, how the Israeli establishment pounced on him and not only silenced this former human rights champion-but turned him into an apologist for Israeli policy. Later, as Sharansky entered Israeli politics, he was allied with the right wing. He moved from silence in the face of violations of Palestinian human rights to being an advocate for these violations. Still later, as a minister in the government, he carried out these same violations.
Of course most Americans don't remember Sharansky's history as a "refusenik" or "prisoner of conscience." They probably don't even remember the Soviet "gulags." What they do know about Sharansky is that he has become the "darling" of the Bush Administration. It has been reported that it was a long conversation Sharansky had with Vice President Cheney that led to the Administration's decision to isolate, ignore, and seek the removal of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. And, more recently, it was after a long meeting in the White House between President Bush and Sharanksy that the President emerged to praise his book The Case for Democracy. President Bush said, "I felt like his book just confirmed what I believe. He writes a heck of a lot better than I could write, and he's certainly got more credibility than I have..."
"Ay," to borrow from Shakespeare, "there's the rub." The point is, does Sharansky have credibility? The recent above-mentioned criticisms from the right and left appear to agree that because of his silence in the face of Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights and denial of democratic rights to this occupied people, he is not credible.
It is also not credible to complain about the US' use of torture or "secret detentions" or Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinian detainees, and not condemn similar practices when they are carried out by Arab governments.
Our goal must be to be consistent in the defense of rights. Or else we are no better than, and no less hypocritical than, Natan Sharanksy.
[Edited to add the link I forgot. D'oh!]