JERUSALEM – One of the Israeli cabinet’s leading hawks says his country’s military is showing more restraint against Palestinian fighters than the United States has shown in Afghanistan, and he says European criticism of the Israeli campaign is anti-Semitic.
Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, Israel's minister of housing, told Fox News in an interview Thursday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should take the initiative in developing a closer personal relationship with President Bush.
Sharon, he said, should not wait to be called by Bush, but should call the American president more often to brief him on the situation in the Middle East.
Sharansky, 54, who was born in Ukraine, spent six years in prisons and gulags in the former Soviet Union after he was convicted of spying for the United States. He was freed in 1986 as part of an East-West prisoner exchange and immigrated to Israel, where he became a force in Israeli politics and established a conservative party, Yisrael b’Aliyah.
During the interview, Sharansky used the same unflinching language as Sharon in describing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as the mastermind of terrorism against Israel. He also brushed off criticism of the month-long Israeli incursion into Palestinian areas including Jenin, where 13 Israeli soldiers were killed Tuesday, and Ramallah, where Arafat is holed up and due to meet with Powell on Saturday.
“The army spent two weeks in Jenin rooting out the terrorists, and then there was a pause in the operation,” Sharansky said. “What was that pause used for? We found that it was used to booby trap buildings, and to prepare a terrorist network that resulted in the loss of 13 soldiers.
“We made a decision not to use bombs in the Jenin operation, not to use warplanes, but to go house to house, to avoid civilian casualties. As a result of that decision, which was made by the army and also by the cabinet, we created the situation where a terror network could be installed, and it ended up costing many more Israeli lives and also the lives of more Palestinian civilians.
“Now I ask you to compare that decision and the principles on which it was based to two recent wars — the war of the United States in Afghanistan, and the European war in Yugoslavia.
"Which culture stuck to its principles of human rights being the most important value? And yet from whom do we hear the loudest criticism? From those same Americans and Europeans.”
Sharansky reacted strongly to the European Union threat earlier this week to impose sanctions on Israel in retaliation for its military operation, which he said smacked of a double standard.
“You look at the American people and it is not an anti-Semitic people," he said. "America was put together in a special, unique way, unlike the older countries of Europe. So I don’t consider the criticism coming from America as anti-Semitic. We share values and goals for civilization.
“In Europe, however, there is a history of anti-Semitism. I think that after the Holocaust, the Europeans were shocked by what had happened, it was so overwhelming to most people that such a thing could go on. And so anti-Semitism went underground, and become politically incorrect.
“Over the years, however, Europe has been subject to very skillful, powerful propaganda. The Palestinians' propaganda is only the most recent example. And so now that we are fighting this war on terror, we are the closest relatives to the Europeans in the Middle East. And yet we are judged by such a different standard than they would judge themselves.
"As a result of this propaganda, I believe the Europeans are being relieved of this burden of guilt that they have carried since World War II. See, they can say, ‘See, the Jews are doing to the Palestinians exactly what we once did to them. They are no better than we are.’”
Of Sharon’s relationship with Bush, Sharansky said, “We are concerned by criticism from the U.S. administration, because we share the same values as they do.” He said that while Sharon and Bush were on friendly terms, he believed the prime minister should take the initiative to create an even closer bond.
“Pick up the phone more often," Sharansky said. "Say, ‘Mister President, I know you have a lot of things to worry about, but I want to tell you what’s going on here.’”
John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."