When They Start Talking About 'Anti-Zionism,' Natan Sharansky Knows What They Really Mean

When They Start Talking About 'Anti-Zionism,' Natan Sharansky Knows What They Really Mean

Listen to my interview with the former Soviet refusenik on how to spot antisemitism. Also, fixing the sometimes fraught relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.
A screenshot from my Zoom call with Natan Sharansky.

When I was a teenager in 1983, my local community in the Detroit area had a “run for Soviet Jewry,” — a 10K designed to raise awareness and funds to help Jews who were prisoners in the Soviet Union for no other reason than they were Jews. Instead of numbers on our shirts, each runner was given the name of a refusenik, as they were called since they had been refused permission to emigrate.

On my chest was the name Anatoly Sharansky. So, Sharansky and I ran a little over six miles together. The name piqued my curiosity, and, in those pre-Internet days, I sought out information from my college library’s microfiche newspaper collection. I learned more about Sharansky’s life from child chess prodigy to physicist to his incarceration and solitary confinement on trumped-up charges of spying.

Sharansky was released in 1986, emigrated to Israel, changed his name to Natan Sharansky, and has held several Israeli government positions over the years. Most recently, he was chairman of the Jewish Agency.

About a month ago, I finally had the opportunity to talk to him in advance of something called the Z3 Project on Israel-Diaspora relations. The California-based group asked me to interview Sharansky to discuss his work in improving ties not between Jews and gentiles but between Jews and Jews—primarily between Israel and the Diaspora. Of course, I jumped at the chance to talk to my childhood hero. I was curious about many things, but I wanted to get his take on the current wave of antisemitism.

To say that Sharansky has experience with antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism would be an extreme understatement. As a former Soviet “Prisoner of Zion,” he spent years under torturous conditions in the gulag. He knew that when Soviet leaders began to talk about Zionism, all Jews, Zionist or not, were in trouble. When he was finally released and immigrated to Israel, he was surprised to notice the same phenomenon. That’s when he came up with what he called his “3D test” of antisemitism. They are:

  • Delegitimization of Israel

  • Demonization of Israel

  • Double standards in judging Israel

Put them together, you can bet that what is billed as criticism of Israel is actually antisemitism. The 3Ds became the basis for widely accepted definitions of antisemitism. But the battle is still being fought, he says, not with other nations, but with Jews in America who are reluctant to be seen as equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

In this interview, we discussed this dilemma and other areas where Israel and the Diaspora meet.

Click the arrow at the top of this email for the full conversation. In the future, I’ll also link to other interviews I conducted for the Z3 Project on Israel Diaspora relations.

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