Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sharansky's curious new project

Bloghead and the Jerusalem Post report on Sharansky's next move: He'll be joining the Shalem Center for one year as a "distinguished senior fellow". There he plans to research and write "a book on Israel's role as the nation-state of the Jewish people."

(He denied early reports that he plans to lobby Washington against disengagement. What did I tell you?)

On the one hand, Sharansky and Shalem are a natural match. Sharansky is essentially a political conservative in the American sense, a supporter of individual liberty with respect for the traditions of society, along with a strong national defense. It's win-win: Sharansky gets the chance to think, interact with intellectuals and write another book, while Shalem (like the Jerusalem Report before them) benefits from a prestige boost and (perhaps) improved access to the corridors of power.

But why the sudden need for Sharansky to write in defense of the Jewish state? Is the Jewish state currently so endangered intellectually that only Sharansky can save it? Would someone who rejects the legitimacy of the State of Israel even be open to Sharansky's views on the subject? I doubt it.

Shalem authors have already explored this topic in substantial intellectual depth. In 2000, Shalem director Yoram Hazony published The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul, which examined the intellectual history of the idea of a Jewish state. He and others have further explored the legitimacy of the nation-state and the Jewish state in essays in the Shalem journal, Azure: here, here, here, here, here, here and here - and there are more, mostly by Hazony.

Of all the topics Sharansky could address, why this one? Why one which Hazony has already made his specialty? What qualifies Sharansky to contribute uniquely to this topic?

Speaking practically, what would make his book more powerful than Myths and Facts, or Dershowitz's book, or Netanyahu's book?

Netanyahu's book, of course, was itself ghostwritten by Hazony. Sharansky's last book was cowritten with American-born political consultant Ron Dermer. Is that what's really going on here? Is Sharansky allowing others to use him as a prominent mouthpiece for their ideas? That might explain Sharansky's curious choice to deliver his lecture on Herzl last month in English, even stumbling over some of "his own" words. The event was sponsored by the Shalem Center.

I like Shalem, and I like Sharansky. I respect and admire them and their supporters. But I can't for the life of me understand the logic behind this project. And I can't help but be suspicious.

No comments: