The story has been told over and over in the last two months: Natan Sharansky wrote a book about democracy in the world; President Bush read it and became an enthusiastic fan. The modest author was invited to meet Condoleezza Rice and the Supreme Reader in person, Bush, joined the cause of spreading praise about the book.
A reader meets the author - rare but natural. Sharansky, known in the West for some 30 years, a minister in the Israeli government, is far from being Cinderella, and it is still the stuff of fairy tales: Bush, busy dealing with the world's affairs, takes time to leaf through Sharansky's writings.
On Sunday, in an interview with C-Span, the national public affairs TV station in the U.S., Bush confirmed the popular feeing that in reality, things actually work a little differently. Bush admitted that he didn't just happen to pick up Sharansky's book, out of hunger for knowledge or thirst to discover some soul brother, but in response to the urging of a mutual friend, Tom Bernstein.
Bernstein holds the presidency of Human Rights First; in his spare time he makes his living from real estate. He's also made a fortune from financial involvement in films made by Walt Disney. And he owned a baseball team, the Texas Rangers, where he made his junior partner - George W. Bush - very rich, when he bought out Bush's share for an enormous profit for the future president.
Bush is not ungrateful. He accepted a campaign contribution from Bernstein when he was running for governor of Texas, and when he was campaigning for the Republican nomination for president and again on the way to the presidency. Bernstein, a very welcome guest in the Bush White House, also serves on the board of directors and executive committee of the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
A little before last year's November election, Bernstein sent his friend Bush some of Sharansky's writings - not the whole book but galleys, as is customary among those seeking a publicity blurb for the back cover. Bernstein, as has been reported elsewhere, was thus a messenger for Sharansky's publisher, who also knows a little about the way things are done in America: Peter Osnos, a former editor at the Washington Post.
Bush's daily reading diet, the president explained to the C-Span interviewer Brian Lamb, is usually made up of about 10 memos during working hours and between 20 to 30 pages in bed before going to sleep early (by Israeli standards) or on planes. Mostly he reads American history, his major at Yale University, but no, as he wanders the corridors of the White House he does not encounter the ghosts of past presidents Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, because, "I stopped drinking in '86."
If Bush owes anything to Bernstein, who wants to help Sharansky, that was enough, but just to be sure, a second mortgage was taken out in the name of the person who wrote the book "with" Sharansky, Ron Dermer, who is also close to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and whose brother David Dermer is mayor of Miami Beach, which was once also headed by their father. Ron Dermer worked for a Republican strategist, and David is a Democrat, but Florida Governor Jeb Bush helped him get elected, and Dermer helped out Jeb's brother and endorsed him instead of John Kerry (who, said Dermer, called Arafat a statesman, and was against the security fence) during the race for every vote in Florida.
The Dermer family helped the Bush family; the Bush family helps the Dermer family. After Bush won, in Florida and America, Sharansky and his helper Dermer were invited to the meeting with Rice - she doesn't deny that she has to read what her boss reads, both to be ready for his questions and to prepare him an executive brief - and from there to the president. The target was captured, the recommendation was disseminated: It was Bush's mouth, Sharansky's voice.
Seemingly, that's where the plot should end, but it continues. Ron Dermer, who lives in Jerusalem, has just been named the economic attache in the Israeli Embassy in Washington and goes to work there in another month. A personal acquaintance with Bush and Rice and influential people like Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the house, is going to be very helpful when it comes to meeting other people in the uppermost levels of the administration.
Just don't forget that all these connections are two-way. Sharansky is against the evacuation of Gaza and is considered in the government to be one of the votes Sharon has lost and will never recover. So far. But at the decisive moment, it is possible the phone will ring and on the line, an IOU in his tone, will be the salesman from the White House.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now