Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons for his role in exposing Soviet human rights abuses, has issued a call to his fellow Israelis to “stop using extreme slogans” and come to “the same negotiating table.”
In an editorial for The Times of Israel, Sharansky referenced being a prisoner in the Gulag, a system of forced labor camps during Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship over the Soviet Union.
Sharanksy said his “one consistent task” was simply to say “no” to the KGB, the Communist Party’s security service infamous for its efforts to quell dissent often through violent means. Sharanksy said his standing up to the KGB was made easier by knowing “the entire Jewish people stood behind me.”
He spoke of his political tenure in Israel, where he often had to confront opponents, saying that they were still “inherently my allies in a grand joint venture.”
However, he said that recent months have shown that Israelis have forgotten they are allies.
“The coalition,” wrote Sharansky, “is pushing reform without regard to the pain and hopes of millions of citizens.”
But the protestors are declaring “that they reject the legitimacy of the elected government itself, thus dismissing the votes of their fellow citizens.”
Sharansky said he does not support all of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s proposal, but he supports the initiative toward dialogue.
“The president’s proposal offers us the opportunity to come together again and sit around the negotiation table,” he wrote.
Sharansky also warned against the dangers of political division in the country.
“Simply saying ‘no’ with the sort of ferocity that was appropriate when facing the KGB is a tragic mistake when we face one another,” he warned, saying that the true danger is unwillingness to dialogue.
“The true danger is that we will stop talking with each other, stop building our consensus, stop finding places where we can say ‘yes’ to one another and to the values we yet share,” he said.
Sharansky wrote that consensus is the true foundation of democracies, especially for Israel. He noted that Israel faces unique challenges in the Middle East, and that the current political crisis, in which the sides cannot even agree to meet together, threatens “Israel’s very existence.”
To conclude, Sharansky wrote, “What’s important is that if we use the president’s proposal as an opportunity to go back to the negotiation table, we might avert disaster and start rebuilding the joint discourse that Israel – that we all – need.”
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.