Friday, December 08, 2006

Sharansky for President

Next summer the post of presidency of the state of Israel falls vacant. Writing in the Jewish Chronicle (sub required), Jonathan Freedland is in little doubt as to who he would like to see fill this largely symbolic post:

[Nathan Sharansky’s] election would recognise the arrival of the one million Russians who have come to Israel in the last 15 years or so, granting them the status of fully accepted members of Israeli society. By making the man who embodies the Soviet aliyah the national figurehead, Israel would be saying that the Russians are no longer newcomers, no longer even “the Russians,” but that they are Israelis.

That balm to communal pride might also be wise politics. For otherwise the appetite among Russian-Israelis to see the elevation of one of their own could find its outlet in Avigdor Lieberman, the Moldovan-born authoritarian, bigot and would-be Czar who now, terrifyingly, serves as Israel’s deputy prime minister.

If Russian-Israelis need a role model, let it be Sharansky over Lieberman every time. What’s more, the refusenik formerly known as Anatoly, and his personal struggle as a Soviet prisoner of conscience, makes him, still, a man of international reputation and moral authority.

And heaven knows the presidency of Israel needs that just now. The current incumbent, Moshe Katzav, stands accused on multiple counts of rape and sexual harassment and yet refuses to step down. Every day he clings on as president he demeans an office that is meant to supply a measure of dignity to Israel’s bruising political culture. He should resign now and make way for a man who knows only too well the value of democracy and democratic institutions — because he learned those lessons the hard way.

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