Facing the modern KGB: What we can learn from Natan Sharanksy

Fear No Evil, by Natan Sharansky, 1998 edition (Public Affairs)

What would you do if you were arrested as a result of actions you’d taken on behalf of your religious and/or political beliefs, threatened with execution or long imprisonment, but offered leniency if you confessed and testified against your colleagues? Most of us would automatically say we’d resist, but consider the kind of pressure levied by Robert Mueller and his team of investigators against Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who as a result of being accused of lying to the FBI, lost his job, had his life and that of his family destroyed, and has been facing prison time for two years while Mueller and the boys (there are no girls on that team as far as I know) pressured him into naming names. In other words, he was punished before he was convicted. But this is America, you are probably saying. Nothing like that could happen in America. Wrong.

If Robert Mueller hasn’t personally studied the methods of the KGB, I’ll bet someone on his team has. The KGB was masterful in their methods. Torture, you’re imagining, but would it surprise you to learn that physical torture, such as beatings and waterboarding, were not used in the case of political prisoners like Natan Sharansky, the Jewish refusnik who spent nine years in the Soviet prison system many of them in the Gulag, the Soviet Union’s desolate Siberian territory.

The KBG specialized in psychological torture, such as threats to imprison one’s family and loved ones; isolation in punishment cells where you were not allowed to lie down during the day; promises of better treatment and shorter sentences if you only name names––these methods it turns out were effective on 99% of those sucked into the system. Sharansky was the one percent who successfully resisted.

How you ask? By refusing to cooperate on any level with the KGB. He refused all offers and all threats. He accepted long stays in punishment cells even though he knew he might die as a result. He lost so much body weight that he had severe heart problems that required long prison hospital stays. He went on hunger strikes over principled issues, including demanding his copy of Psalms be returned to him or demanding that his letters home be released to his family. He protested when other prisoners were mistreated even though it meant more stays in punishment or prison cells, but he knew from day one that only by having nothing to do with the KGB could he survive his ordeal without selling out his soul.

What gave him the courage to stand up to the KGB when almost no one else could? A combination of factors, including a sharp mind that he used to become a child chess prodigy, a relationship with the woman he married only days before being arrested in 1977 whose garnered support from thousands including world leaders like France’s Mitterand and the U.S.’s Ronald Reagan, and the fact that his commitment to Judaism allowed him to separate himself from anything and everything that had to do with the Soviet Union.

Anyone wanting to strengthen their own system of belief––religious or secular––can benefit from reading Sharansky’s memoir which was first published two years after he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1986, which brings us back to 2018 and the Mueller investigation.

Hampered by one’s belief that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice are incorruptible, and that KGB methods would never be applied in this country, good men such as Mike Flynn when arrested by Robert Mueller naively assume they can tell the truth and not be victimized. Of course, I wasn’t present at any of those interviews. So, I must speculate on the basis of what is known, and it is clear that Mueller’s methods of exacting cooperation and confessions out of people whose deeds were not criminal must be modeled on the techniques perfected in the Soviet Union. How else can one explain what has been done to Mike Flynn despite the fact that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did so under false pretense while he was still an official of the Trump White House and who did not believe he lied. His failure to understand that others were out to get him and the President at any cost would allow them to undertake such nefarious methods is what led to his downfall. Hence, his recent confession must be understand as that offered by a man who has undergone two years of psychological torture and who has confessed as part of a deal that might keep him out of prison and save his family further suffering.

I doubt Mike Flynn will be writing about his experience with America’s version of the KGB. His plea deal will probably require him to swear he’ll never reveal the details of how they got him to confess. Natan Sharansky withstood nine years of psychological warfare on his character. How long this country must wait for the American KGB to be brought down is anybody’s guess.

When Jews Betray Jews

Imagine a contingent of German Jews sometime in the late 1930s visiting Adolph Hitler to tell him they understand why he hates Jews so much. It must be those Eastern European Jews that bother you so much––the ones who speak that pseudo-German language called Yiddish, who wear those odd black hats and black coats and who conspire against German greatness. It’s not us good Jews you hate, Adolph, they tell him. It’s those other Jews.

Now consider the recent visit of Jeremy Ben-Ami, the leader of J-Street, to Ramallah to meet Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and “president” of the State of Palestine. I wasn’t there, but I didn’t need to be present to know the message Ben-Ami and his organization conveyed just by arranging the meeting.

We understand why you hate those Israeli Jews, Ben-Ami conveyed. They resist your claim for the entire land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They prevent your people from killing more Jews in knife, motor vehicle, and bomb attacks. They conspire with America to cut off your financial pipeline and your desire to claim Jerusalem as the capital of your city. It’s not us American Jews you should hate, Abu Mazen. It’s those Israeli Jews.

Of course, Adolph Hitler would not have taken a meeting with a contingent of German Jews, but if he had, he would have gotten a good laugh out of their plea. He would have said fine. I’ll kill the Eastern European Jews if you promise not to complain, and then later he’d come for those fine, upstanding “good” Jews.

The message J-Street conveys is equally pernicious. They divide the Jewish people into “good Jews”––the ones who hate Benjamin Netanyahu––and the bad Jews––the Israeli people who elected him prime minister and who refuse to accept his vacuous claims for the entire land. Wait until 2020 when the Democrats take back the White House Ben-Ami must have told Abbas. Then, your money will be restored. Then the U.S. will reverse the decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Then the U.S. will interfere in the next Israeli election to make sure Netanyahu is defeated. Then you can have your country back and the bad Jews will go back to Europe where they belong.

Socialism’s Biggest Failure: Israel

Unless you’re an Israel scholar, you may not know that most of the founders of the modern state of Israel were socialists. The system they put in place in 1948 was based on socialist principles, reflecting both the experience many had growing up on kibbutzim or activism in socialist organizations in Europe.

The founders created an economic system dominated by the public sector, which to a certain extent fit the needs of the nascent country at the time. By taxing private enterprise heavily, they sought to build a social infrastructure, including government buildings as well as roads and housing, hoping to handle the massive flow of immigrants into the country.

Labor unions were especially strong which meant Israel’s factories were inefficient in relation to competitors elsewhere. Food and public transportation were heavily subsidized. By the 1980s, Israel was crippled with run-away inflation, mounting national debt and a lack of foreign reserves. Socialism was a failure.

How did that society evolve into the economic miracle of today? In 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, one of the heroes of the War of Independence, convinced the Labor Party to accept drastic measures including deep cuts in public spending, freezing public sector salaries, and cancelling automatic salary adjustments for unionized workers. Further, responsibility for setting interest rates was transferred from the Treasury, which used the printing press to win political support for the government to an apolitical Bank of Israel. Import duties designed to protect local businesses were slashed and Peres began to lower taxes.

In 2003, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added crucial components to the transition from the failed socialist system to free market capitalism, when he reduced social spending, cut taxes, raised the pension age, and sold state assets to the private sector, even the El Al airline.

The result? Today Israel is one of, if not the fastest growing economies in the developed world. Inflation is 0.4%, unemployment is 4%, and the shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies. Although poverty has not been eliminated, it is less than it was in 1985 and per capita income is about to pass both Britain and Japan. Israel imports more than $100 billion annually and has a trade surplus––something the U.S. has been unable to achieve for decades.

Socialist policies nearly brought about the country’s ruin. They undermined incentive and ingenuity. Today, Israel is known for its technical ingenuity. That could not have taken place under the socialist model where all property belonged to the state and personal initiative was neither encouraged nor rewarded.

Those who argue socialism can’t be judged by its implementation in places like Russia, Cuba or Venezuela, have a hard case to make that it can work anywhere given its failure in Israel where the entire leadership of the country was fully committed to it and gave it nearly forty years to work before throwing in the towel.

Anti-Religious Sentiment is Winning in the U.S.

This year’s presidential election is a test of the role religion will play in America’s future. In recent years, America’s highly secularized society has moved from tolerating people’s commitment to their religions to becoming anti-religion. The one exception is Islam, which sharia observant practitioners can confidently tell their followers will become the dominant religion in this country in this century.

What are no longer tolerated are Christian and Jewish based beliefs and values that interfere with government authority over all aspects of life––from the womb to the grave. People of faith are routinely portrayed as bigoted and as using religion as screens for their repressive conservative political beliefs.

Anti-religious teachings dominate college campuses where students learn to despise their parents and replace traditional religious values with an unquestioning adherence to the values of liberalism––faith in government and its leaders, disdain for capitalism and its bounties, disdain for America’s past in light of slavery and imperialistic dominance over third world countries, and a belief that climate change is the just reward for man’s arrogance and greed.

That this anti-religious ideology has become overtly anti-Christian can be seen on several fronts, including the failure of the Obama administration to do anything to protect the Christian sect being slaughtered in Syria by ISIS as well as documents uncovered from the Democrat Party which show the anti-Catholic, anti-Christian tendencies of its top officials. Obamacare’s running roughshod over Christian institutions with regard to birth control is another example.

The rise of anti-Semitism in American society over the past two decades is a direct reflection of the strength of this anti-religious ideology. Modern anti-Semitism, as opposed to that based on Christianity’s slanderous claim that Jews must be punished for eternity for having betrayed Jesus, reflects the view that Israel as a Jewish state is a remnant of Western colonialism, and thus is by definition repressive and undemocratic.

The entertainment industry has already well into promulgating anti-Christian and anti-Jewish stories and I predict the number and overtness of the attacks will continue to escalate.

On the agenda for those who see religions (except Islam) as inherently repressive and irrational will be an attack on first amendment grounds that prevents the state from taxing property owned by a religious institution. We won’t see a direct attempt to tax churches and synagogues, but school buildings and other property is too enticing for liberal government officials who need to keep filling their coffers to pay off constituents and donors.

Why tolerance for Islam? It fits the overall narrative. Islam is the religion of oppressed peoples. Anyone who has watched Quantico, the TV show about the FBI, has been given a taste both of anti-Israeli and pro-Islam story lines. Ironically, liberals admire Muslims’ devotion to their religion. Christianity and Judaism have been watered down so much in American society that people who have a need to commit themselves to something prefer liberalism, and they seem willing to make room for Islam because at least its followers are not wishy-washy.

It may be too late to reverse this trend and even should long-shot Donald Trump win the November election it’s unlikely he will be able to turn the tide. Conservative Supreme Court justices could engage in delaying tactics, such as preventing local governments from taxing religious property and ruling partial birth abortion unconstitutional, but secular anti-religion liberalism is America’s prevailing ideology. Better get used to it.