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Natan Sharansky
Natan Shernasky1.JPG
Natan Sharansky in 2007
Date of birth (1948-01-20) 20 January 1948 (age 66)
Place of birth Stalino, Soviet Union
Knessets 14, 15, 16, 17
Faction represented in Knesset
1996–2003 Yisrael BaAliyah
2006 Likud
Ministerial roles
1996–1999 Minister of Industry and Trade
1999–2000 Minister of Internal Affairs
2001–2003 Deputy Prime Minister
2001–2003 Minister of Housing & Construction
2003–2005 Minister of Jerusalem Affairs

Natan Sharansky (Hebrew: נתן שרנסקי‎; Russian: Натан Щаранский; born 20 January 1948) is a Soviet-born Israeli politician, human rights activist and author who spent many years in a Soviet prison for allegedly spying for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Natan Sharansky has served as Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency since June 2009.[1]


Anatoly Borisovich Sharansky (Russian: Анатолий Борисович Щаранский) (later Natan Sharansky) was born in Donetsk (then called Stalino), Soviet Union on 20 January 1948 to a Jewish family. He graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. As a child, he was a chess prodigy. He performed in simultaneous and blindfold displays, usually against adults. At the age of 15, he won the championship in his native Donetsk.[2] When incarcerated in solitary confinement, he claims to have maintained his sanity by playing chess against himself in his mind. Sharansky beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition in Israel in 1996.[2]

Natan Sharansky is married to Avital Sharansky and has two daughters, Rachel and Hannah. In the Soviet Union, his marriage application to Avital was denied by the authorities.[3] They were married in a Moscow synagogue in a ceremony not recognized by the government, as the USSR only recognized civil marriage and not religious marriage.

Avital Sharansky[edit]

Avital Sharansky was born Natalya Shteiglitz/Steiglitz in 1950, in Ukraine.

In the early 1970s, Avital's brother applied for a visa to leave for Israel, where he settled in Jerusalem, but her parents would not allow her to follow him. She met Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky at a demonstration near the Moscow synagogue in autumn 1973 (during the Yom Kippur War) and became active in the refusenik movement, of which Anatoly was an active member.

The couple were married on 4 July 1974, in a Jewish religious ceremony, under a Chuppah – without the required Soviet civil ceremony – but the exit visa to emigrate to Israel arrived for her alone, and she was obliged to leave her husband within 24 hours. She settled in Jerusalem, where she took the Hebrew name Avital and became religiously observant.

Throughout Anatoly's period of activism, Avital campaigned for his right to emigrate to Israel, and – after his arrest and exile to Siberia – for his freedom. Natan was arrested on 15 March 1977 and charged; he was convicted in 1978 on multiple crimes (including treason, which carried the death penalty). After the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, Anatoly was detained in Vladimir and Chistopol prisons, where for part of the time he was placed in solitary confinement; his health deteriorated, to the point of endangering his life. Later he was detained in a strict regimen colony in Perm Oblast, East Siberia.

For a total of 13 years, Avital left no stone unturned in her campaign from Israel: meeting world leaders, diplomats, politicians, and speaking in front of Jewish audiences worldwide. Avital campaigned successive US Presidents, Congress, British and European political parties, Jewish lobbies, every major Jewish convention in Israel or worldwide, the UN in New York and Geneva (under the terms of the Helsinki Final Act). Anatoly's mother, the late Ida Milgrom, campaigned within the USSR.

Anatoly was finally released in exchange for a Soviet spy on 11 February 1986, being transported the following day to what was then East Germany (Berlin), where Avital met him as he came across the bridge into West Berlin; they both flew home to Israel and thousands of waiting welcomers.

Ida Milgrom, her other son, Leonid, and Leonid's wife and two sons, subsequently received visas to join her son and daughter-in-law in Israel, where she lived in Jerusalem, until her death at age 94 (May 2002).

Avital holds an M.S.W.; she lectures in Jewish Studies for Russian-speaking olim, as well as talking about her past to young students, but remains largely out of the public eye. Avital and Natan live in Jerusalem and have two daughters. On 28 May 2013, Avital was awarded the prestigious Emma Lazarus award by the American Jewish Historical Society in recognition of her heroic efforts on behalf of Natan and the millions of Soviet Jews seeking freedom. Elie Wiesel presented the award to Avital.

Imprisonment and activism[edit]

Sharansky was denied an exit visa to Israel in 1973. The reason given for denial of the visa was that he had been given access, at some point in his career, to information vital to Soviet national security and could not now be allowed to leave. After that Sharansky became a human rights activist and spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Group. Sharansky was one of the founders of the Refusenik movement in Moscow.

In 1977 Sharansky was arrested on charges of spying for the DIA and treason and sentenced to 13 years of forced labor in Perm 35, a Siberia[citation needed] labor camp (Gulag[citation needed]). He kept himself sane during solitary confinement by mentally playing chess.[4] Sharansky appeared in a March 1990 edition of National Geographic magazine. The article, "Last Days of the Gulag" by Mike Edwards, profiles through photographs and text one of the few remaining Soviet prison labor camps (known as the Gulag[citation needed]). The article featured a photo of Sharansky and his wife Avital in their home in Israel viewing photos of the same Gulag where Sharansky had been imprisoned, but as it appeared in 1990. Sharansky remarked in the article that after viewing images of the prisoner's faces he could discern that the protocol of oppression was still at work. The author also showed Sharansky a photo of the cold isolation cell where Sharansky had himself been confined. Sharansky commented with irony that conditions had improved slightly — the stark cell now featured a thin bench bolted to the middle of the floor. He said that if that bench had existed when he was there he could have utilized it to sleep, albeit uncomfortably.

As a result of an international campaign led by his wife, Avital Sharansky (including assistance from East German lawyer Wolfgang Vogel, New York Congressman Benjamin Gilman and Rabbi Ronald Greenwald) Sharansky and three low-level Western spies (Czech citizen Jaroslav Javorský and West German citizens Wolf-Georg Frohn and Dietrich Nistroy) were exchanged for Czech spies Karl Koecher and Hana Koecher held in the USA, Soviet spy Yevgeni Zemlyakov, Polish spy Marian Zacharski and East German spy Detlef Scharfenorth (the latter three held in West Germany) in 1986 on Glienicke Bridge.[5][6] Sharansky was released in February 1986. He was the first political prisoner ever released by Mikhail Gorbachev due to intense political pressure from Ronald Reagan.[citation needed]

Sharansky immediately immigrated to Israel, adopting the Hebrew name Natan. Due to his age and poor health, he was exempted from the standard mandatory three years' military service, but had to undergo three weeks of military training and do a stint in the Civil Guard.[7] In 1988, he wrote Fear No Evil, his memoirs of his time as a prisoner, and founded the Zionist Forum, an organization of Soviet emigrant Jewish activists dedicated to helping new Israelis and educating the public about absorption issues. Sharansky also served as a contributing editor to The Jerusalem Report and as a Board member of Peace Watch. In 1986, Congress granted him the Congressional Gold Medal.[8] In 2006 US President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom,.[9]

On 17 September 2008, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation awarded Sharansky its 2008 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award.[10]

Israeli political career[edit]

Sharansky and Ronald Reagan, December 1986

In 1995 Sharansky and Yoel Edelstein founded the Yisrael BaAliyah ("Israel in aliya", or a pun, "Israel on the rise") party, promoting the absorption of the Soviet Jews into Israeli society. The party won seven Knesset seats in 1996.[11] It won 6 seats in the Israeli legislative election, 1999, gaining two ministerial posts, but left the government on 11 July 2000 in response to suggestions that Prime Minister Ehud Barak's negotiations with the Palestinians would result in a division of Jerusalem. After Ariel Sharon won a special election for Prime Minister in 2001, the party joined his new government, and was again given two ministerial posts.[12]

In the January 2003 elections the party was reduced to just two seats. Sharansky resigned from the Knesset, and was replaced by Edelstein. However, he remained party chairman, and decided to merge it into Likud (which had won the election with 38 seats). The merger went through on 10 March 2003,[13] and Sharansky was appointed Minister of Jerusalem Affairs.

From March 2003 – May 2005, he was Israel's Minister without Portfolio, responsible for Jerusalem, social and Jewish diaspora affairs. Under this position Sharansky chaired a secret committee that approved the confiscation of East Jerusalem property of West Bank Palestinians. This decision was reversed after an outcry from the Israeli left and the international community.[14] Previously he served as the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Minister of Housing and Construction since March 2001, Interior Minister of Israel (July 1999 – resigned in July 2000), Minister of Industry and Trade (1996–1999). He resigned from the cabinet in April 2005 to protest plans to withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. He was re-elected to the Knesset in March 2006 as a member of the Likud Party. On 20 November 2006, he resigned from the Knesset to form the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies. Since 2007, Sharansky has been Chairman of the Board of Beit Hatefutsot, the Jewish diaspora museum,[15] and since June 2009 is the chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

NGO work[edit]

In June 2009 Sharansky was elected to the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel by the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.[16] In September 2009 Sharansky secured $6 million from the Genesis Philanthropy Group for educational activities in the former Soviet Union.[17]

Media recognition and awards[edit]

In 2005, Sharansky participated in "They Chose Freedom", a four-part television documentary on the history of the Soviet dissident movement, and in 2008 he was featured in the Laura Bialis documentary Refusenik. He was number eleven on the list of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of 2005 in the "Scientists and thinkers" category.[18]

Published works[edit]

Sharansky is the author of three books. The first is the autobiographical Fear No Evil, which dealt with his trial and imprisonment. His second book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror" was co-written with Ron Dermer. George W. Bush offered praise for the book:

"If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy... For government, particularly – for opinion makers, I would put it on your recommended reading list. It's short and it's good. This guy is a heroic figure, as you know. It's a great book."[19][20]

His book Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, is a defense of the value of national and religious identity in building democracy.[21]

Political views[edit]

Sharansky and Vladimir Putin

Sharansky has argued that there can never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians until there is "the building of real democratic institutions in the fledgling Palestinian society, no matter how tempting a 'solution' without them may be."[22] In a Haaretz interview, he maintained the "Jews came here 3,000 years ago and this is the cradle of Jewish civilization. Jews are the only people in history who kept their loyalty to their identity and their land throughout the 2,000 years of exile, and no doubt that they have the right to have their place among nations—not only historically but also geographically. As to the Palestinians, who are the descendants of those Arabs who migrated in the last 200 years, they have the right, if they want, to have their own state... but not at the expense of the state of Israel."[23] In the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011, he told Moment Magazine, "To sign an agreement you must have a partner who is dependent on the well-being of his people, which is what democracy means."[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Leadership, Board & Staff | The jewish agency for Israel". Jewishagency.org. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  2. ^ a b Kasparov beaten in Israel. New York Times. (16 October 1996). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  3. ^ "Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  4. ^ "BBC News - Natan Sharansky: How chess kept one man sane". Bbc.co.uk. 2014-01-03. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  5. ^ Hero Is Home: Israel Cheers Shcharansky. Chicago Tribune. (12 February 1986). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  6. ^ Shcharansky Swap Confirmed. Chicago Tribune. (11 February 1986). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  7. ^ Sharansky begins military training
  8. ^ Congressional Gold Medal recipients. Clerk.house.gov. Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  9. ^ Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. 7 December 2006
  10. ^ Natan Sharansky to receive Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. Associated Press via Ynetnews (28 February 2008)
  11. ^ Natan Ščaranskij; Anatoly Shcharansky (2006). The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror. New Leaf Publishing Group. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-89221-644-4. 
  12. ^ "Governments of Israel". Knesset.gov.il. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  13. ^ "Parliamentary Groups in the Knesset". Knesset.gov.il. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  14. ^ Nonna Gorilovskaya. "The Dissident: An Interview With Natan Sharansky". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  15. ^ Sharansky new Beth Hatefutsoth head – Israel Jewish Scene, Ynetnews. Ynetnews.com (20 June 1995). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^ Berkman, Jacob (2009-09-02). "Genesis group gives Jewish Agency $6 million for education projects in FSU | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". Blogs.jta.org. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  18. ^ TIME, 18 April 2005, Natan Sharansky: Bush's Favorite Author
  19. ^ John F. Dickerson (January 10, 2005) What the president reads. CNN
  20. ^ William Kristol (24 January 2005) Honoring Democracy. From the 24 January 2005 issue: Honor points the path of duty; the path of duty for us is the defense of liberty, Weekly Standard, Volume 10, Issue 18.
  21. ^ Sharansky Interview regarding ''Defending Identity'', 14 July 2008. Inkwellreview.blogspot.com (26 July 2008). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  22. ^ Natan Ščaranskij; Anatoly Shcharansky (2006). The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror. New Leaf Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-89221-644-4. 
  23. ^ Sharansky’s Double Standard. For the advocate of universal democracy, human rights don’t begin at home by Michael C. Desch (The American Conservative. 28 March 2005 Issue)
  24. ^ Natan Sharansky (May–June 2011). "What Is Israel’s Next Move In The New Middle East?". Moment Magazine. Moment Magazine. 


External links[edit]

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2776 news items

The Jewish Week

The Jewish Week
Wed, 26 Nov 2014 06:37:30 -0800

It took a couple of brief chapters into the novel to begin thinking that Kotler resembled Natan Sharansky, the world's best-known former dissident who spent more than a decade in a Soviet prison on false espionage charges before moving to Israel, where ...

The Times of Israel

The Times of Israel
Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:33:30 -0800

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Minister of Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver pose with a family from France, who immigrated to Israel in July 2014. (photo credit: David Salem) ...

Arutz Sheva

Arutz Sheva
Fri, 19 Dec 2014 00:15:00 -0800

The teens were joined by Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky, who lit the Hanukkah menorah and said that the high schoolers' visit to Israel is "a massive expression of solidarity that reflects the warm and unique ...

Jerusalem Post

Jerusalem Post
Thu, 18 Dec 2014 03:15:00 -0800

Natan Sharansky Sofa Landver Beit Brodetsky Center. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver join young immigrants from around the world in dedicating the Beit Brodetsky Center for Young Immigrants in ...

Jewish Exponent

Jewish Exponent
Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:15:00 -0800

She has comforted kindergartners in a bomb shelter in Israel, hugged the Phillie Phanatic during Jewish Heritage Night at Citizens Bank Park and discussed the critical needs of the Jewish people with Natan Sharansky, the once-renowned Soviet dissident ...


Wed, 17 Dec 2014 07:02:01 -0800

Many, like the one Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky used in a Soviet internment camp 34 years ago, remain only in the memory of those touched by their light. Back in 1980, Sharansky was one of a group of political prisoners and the only Jew.

Jewish Chronicle

Jewish Chronicle
Thu, 24 Jul 2014 02:11:15 -0700

I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end of Jewish history in Europe. What makes the situation in Europe unique in history is the fact that Europe has become very intolerant of identities in a multicultural and post-nationalist environment ...


Wed, 17 Dec 2014 03:55:52 -0800

The UN adopted its Zionism is Racism bill while the Herzogs were in New York and Natan Sharansky was arrested during that era of refusniks. Ramaz students went to the UN “close to weekly and sat and protested. We would have mass rallies in the late ...

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