Did you know that “Refusenik” Natan Sharansky and his supporters played a major role in bringing down the Soviet Union? Sentenced in 1978 to 13 years of forced labor for the crime of being a leader of the international human rights movement and seeking to emigrate to Israel, Sharansky’s refusal to confess to his “crimes” became a touchstone in the West for those opposed to the totalitarian regime’s repressive policies at home and abroad.
Once freed, Sharansky became a leader in Israel. He helped form a political party that gave voice to Russian émigrés, served in two governments and was chairman of the Jewish Agency for nearly a decade. His record, personal appearances and writings should have made him a bigger star than he is today. Why he is not seen on the same level as Gandhi, Dr. King and Mandela can be explained by reviewing the theme of his 2008 extended essay entitled “Defending Identity.”
Promoting identity is unpopular in the West these days. We live in a world where the emphasis is on the universal driven by Marxists and by internationalists. Marx called for the abolition of the family, nation and nationality––an objective that is widely taught in Western universities and is echoed today by the leaders of Black Lives Matter. Internationalists also attack identity, arguing that identity affiliation was behind the devastating wars of the 20th century. They claim the way to end war and bring about world peace is to get people to move beyond identity.
Sharansky challenges the internationalists’ thesis. While Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy exploited national identity, Sharansky argues identity must be accompanied by democracy. In practice, post-identity advocates divide the world into “good” and “bad” identities. Western identities are bad; the identities of people from “oppressed” nations are good. This echoes Lenin who endorsed absolute control by the working class as a step on the way to Marx’ classless society.
Post-identity theory “comes in a variety of forms,” he writes, “from post-nationalism, which envisions a global society, to post-modernism, which sees each identity as unstable and all cultural forms as morally equivalent, to multiculturalism, which regards society as lacking any center but comprised of groups with equal claims and authority.” (66)
Sharansky notes that post-identity advocates promote a moral relativism pressuring governments to accept all thought and behavior as legitimate. Thus, Moslems in Europe get away with preventing police from investigating crimes in their neighborhoods and get away with practicing child brides and genital mutilation.
Sharansky’s support for identity as a necessary element of democracy reflected his experience in the Soviet prison system where prisoners with strong personal identities––often religious based––were most successful in resisting the system’s attempt to break them down and get them to confess and rat on their colleagues.
Sharansky contrasts United States with Europe with regard to acceptance of identity. Unfortunately, the American people’s commitment to their unique identities is no longer as strong as it once was. The Left today champions a good versus bad identity thesis––i.e., black identity is good; white identity is bad. They demand that America get rid of identity symbols from statues of past heroes to food labels. The result turns guilt-ridden white Americans into pawns of movements that seek to re-write the U.S. Constitution, bankrupt the country by paying billions in reparations to blacks as well as undermining the sources of the country’s energy independence and economic prosperity.
Sharansky uses his experience as a cabinet minister in Israel to explain how multiculturalism undermines Israel’s quest to remain free and secure. In two instances he resigned from Israeli governments because he felt the prime ministers were sacrificing essential components of Jewish identity for the chimera of peace. He further explains why he opposed the Oslo Agreement that allowed the Palestine Liberation Organization, assisted in its formation and financed by the Soviet KGB, to become the governing authority in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
Oslo not only failed to require the PLO accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, but it failed to require the PLO agree to provide its citizens the democratic rights of free elections, free speech, assembly, press and religion. As a result, Oslo legitimized an organization that oppresses the Palestinian people, brooks no opposition, and enables the PLO to wage war on Israel with financial support from the West.
Sharansky’s vision is much needed in the third decade of the 21st century. Instead of standing behind a stated commitment to human rights for all people, Western leaders practice a policy of appeasement when dealing with totalitarian regimes in China, Russia and Iran. Instead of defending minority communities in Syria, Iraq, China and elsewhere, they hope that giving in to the demands of totalitarian leaders will lead to their reforming their murderous practices. In the U.S., out of fear and guilt, elected officials fail to stand up to rioters who claimed to be angered by racism when evidence suggests their true goal is to replace the country’s constitution with one that resembles the one promised by Karl Marx.
Natan Sharansky gets his due from time to time as a “Jewish hero” or a “person of great courage,” but not enough people get his message. Both democracy without identity as well as identity without democracy he argues lead to tyranny. Perhaps his next book entitled “Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People” scheduled to be release September 1 will re-introduce him to a wider audience. We can only hope.
 See “The Case for Democracy” by Sharansky and Ron Dermer, 2004.