Natan Scharansky - biography
Natan Sharansky (born 1948) (Hebrew: נתן שרנסקי, (Ukrainian: Натан Щаранський, Russian: Натан Щаранский) is a former Soviet refusenik and prisoner, Israeli politician, human rights activist and author.
Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky (Ukrainian: Анатолій Борисович Щаранський, Russian: Анатолий Борисович Щаранский) (later Natan Sharanky) was born in Stalino, Soviet Union on January 20, 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. When incarcerated in solitary confinement, he claims to have played chess against himself in his mind. Sharansky beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a simultaneous exhibition in Israel in 1996.
Natan Sharansky is married to Avital Sharansky, with whom he has two daughters, Rachel and Hannah. In the Soviet Union, his marriage application to Avital was denied by the authorities. They were married in a Moscow synagogue in a ceremony not recognized by the government. Sharansky lives in Jerusalem.
After being denied an exit visa to Israel in 1973, 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 United States and treason and sentenced to 13 years of forced labor in Perm 35, a Siberian labor camp.
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 Jerzy Kaczmarek and GDR spy Detlef Scharfenorth (the latter three held in Western Germany) in 1986 on Glienicke Bridge.
Sharansky made aliyah to Israel, adopting the Hebrew name Natan. In 1988 Sharansky 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. In 2006 US President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On 17 September 2008,the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation awarded Sharansky its 2008 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award.
Israeli political career
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. It won 6 seats seats in the Israeli legislative election, 1999, gaining two ministerial posts, but left the government on 11 July 2000 in response to suggestions that Ehud Barak's negiotations 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.
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 a haul of 38 seats). The merger went through on 10 March 2003, 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. 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. He was re-elected to the Knesset in March 2006 as a member of the Likud Party. On November 20, 2006, he resigned from the Knesset to form the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies. From 2003 to 2005, Sharansky was a member of the Israeli cabinet (the second Ariel Sharon government). He resigned on 2 May 2005 in protest of the ruling Likud party's plan to withdraw Israeli communities from the contested Gaza Strip. Sharansky is the founder and former chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center.Since 2007, Sharansky has been Chairman of the Board of Beit Hatefutsot, the Jewish diaspora museum, and since June 2009 is the chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
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. In September 2009 Sharansky secured $6 million from the Genesis Philanthropy Group for educational activities in the former Soviet Union.
Media recognition and awards
Before his rise to power in Israel, Sharansky appeared in the March 1990 edition of National Geographic in Mike Edward's article "Last Days of the Gulag". In the article he describes his life in the Soviet prison system and is shown in Israel looking at photos of the Gulag taken for the article. 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.
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."
His book Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, is a defense of the value of national and religious identity in building democracy.
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." 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.”