The website DebkaFile is reporting that Bibi Netanyahu’s choice for Israeli Foreign Minister is Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, a hero of the Soviet refusenik movement. For those of you who are not familiar with Sharansky, his story is inspiring. In the weeks just before and after the U.S. election, I wrote about Sharansky, and that story is worth repeating now that conservatives are under attack from the media and the Obama administration for being “obstructionist.”
Sharansky spent almost a decade in Soviet prison because of his activities on behalf of Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel. Sharansky notoriously refused to obey even the most mundane orders from his captors. Sharansky understood that to compromise even a little would lead to compromising a lot. Throughout his ordeal, Sharansky kept his spirits alive by reading a small book of psalms.
In 1986, the Soviets finally agreed to release Sharansky from prison, in a deal in which he was exchanged for Soviet spies in the West. As Sharansky was being led to the airplane that would take him from the Soviet Union to East Germany for the exchange, the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms.
It would have been easy for Sharansky simply to keep walking towards the plane and freedom. But Sharansky understood that the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms not because they wanted the book, but because they wanted to show that even in this last moment, they were in control.
In front of reporters covering his departure, Sharansky sat in the snow refusing to move unless the Soviets gave him back his book of psalms. Here was this diminutive man, after 10 years in prison, on the verge of freedom, refusing to budge unless one of the world’s two superpowers gave him back his book. And give him back his book of psalms they did. Sharansky proceeded to the plane, where he read Psalm 30: “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.”
Jay Nordlinger’s 2005 interview with Sharansky recounts not only the episode in the snow, but also the final moments when Sharansky walked to the car for the exchange:
Sharansky spent nine years in the Gulag, a harrowing time in which he demonstrated what resistance is. More than 400 of those days were spent in punishment cells; more than 200 were spent on hunger strikes. His refusal to concede anything to the Soviet state was almost superhuman. This was true to the very last. When they relinquished him to the East Germans, they told him to walk straight to a waiting car — “Don’t make any turns.” Sharansky zig-zagged his way to that car.
Sharansky’s arrival in Israel was greated with jubilation. After thousands greated Sharansky at the airport, Sharansky went to the Western Wall in Jersusalem:
On February 11, 1986, he began the day as a prisoner of the Soviet Union. K.G.B. guards then flew him to East Berlin, and there he was told to walk across the Glienicke Bridge and into the West. Sharansky had grown so skinny on prison rations that, on worldwide television, his state-issued trousers nearly fell to his ankles as he walked to freedom. By nightfall, he was at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, carried along on the shoulders of hundreds of jubilant Israelis. At the Wall, he prayed from a tiny Book of Psalms…
Is it time for conservatives and supporters of free enterprise, individual liberty, and capitalism in the Congress and elsewhere to do the political equivalent of sitting down in the snow? When told by the administration, the majority party in Congress, and the mainstream media to walk straight, is it time to zig and zag? Or should we yield to policies which, once implemented, will cause enormous harm and take a generation to undo. We can learn a lot from Natan Sharansky.