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Sharansky, Natan (Borisovich) 1948- (Anatoly Sharansky, Anatoly Shcharansky)

Sharansky, Natan (Borisovich) 1948-
(Anatoly Sharansky, Anatoly Shcharansky)

PERSONAL: Born Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky, January 20, 1948, in Donetzk, Ukraine, USSR (now Ukraine); immigrated to Israel, 1986; changed name to Natan Sharansky; married Avital Stiglitz, July 4, 1974; children: Rachel, one other daughter. Education: Physical Technical Institute (Moscow, USSR), mathematics degree, 1972. Religion: Jewish

ADDRESSES: Office—Knesset, Kiryat Ben-Gurion, Jerusalem 91950.

CAREER: Oil and Gas Research Institute, Moscow, USSR (now Russia), former computer specialist, beginning 1972; labor camp prisoner, until 1986; Israeli ambassador to United Nations, beginning 1989; founder and president of Yisrael B'Aliyah (political party), 1995-2003; Knesset, Jerusalem, Israel, minister of industry and trade, 1996-99, minister of the interior, 1999-2000, minister of housing and construction and deputy prime minister, 2001-03, minister without portfolio responsible for Jerusalem, social and diaspora affairs, 2003-. Member of Helsinki Monitoring Group, beginning 1975.

MEMBER: Zionist Forum (president, 1988), Peace Watch (board member, 1988).

AWARDS, HONORS: Medal of Freedom, U.S. government, 1989.

WRITINGS:

UNDER NAME ANATOLY SHCHARANSKY

Fear No Evil, translated by Stefani Hoffman, Random House (New York, NY), 1988, published with new introduction, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1989, published as Fear No Evil: The Classic Memoir of One Man's Triumph over a Police State, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Ron Dermer) The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2004.

Former contributing editor to Jerusalem Report.

SIDELIGHTS: Israeli politician Natan Sharansky has had two phases to his public life: before immigrating to Israel in 1986, he was one of the most prominent dissidents in the former Soviet Union. He was born into a secularized Jewish family in Ukraine in 1948. During his childhood, his most notable trait was his skill in mathematics, a talent that earned him admission to the prestigious Moscow Physical-Technical Institute. Not long after his graduation, he became engaged to Natalya Stiglitz (she later changed her name to the Hebrew Avital), and together the couple made plans to immigrate to Israel. However, only Avital was given a visa. The two married in 1974, and the very next day Avital left for Israel, hoping that Sharansky would soon be allowed to join her. However, the Soviet Union was loathe to let many Jews leave the country, let alone those who were also scientific specialists. In addition, Sharansky was becoming a very public dissident during those years, his knowledge of English allowing him to serve as a conduit between the dissident community and the Western press. In 1977 he was arrested and accused of being a spy; convicted in a 1978 show trial, he was sentenced to thirteen years in the gulag, the Soviet system of prison camps marked by horrendous conditions and backbreaking labor. Sharansky was eventually freed as part of a prisoner swap with the West in 1986, and immediately rejoined Avital in Israel.

Sharansky's memoirs were published in 1988 as Fear No Evil. The book illuminates the horrors of the Soviet Union's gulag system, where some prisoners, including Sharansky, were forced to live in freezing-cold cells without so much as a blanket to wrap themselves in and were often fed on little but bread and water. Despite the harsh conditions, Sharansky never broke. Even looking back on these abuses his account "sparkles with a … sort of wry humor," a reviewer noted in the Economist. "His prison memoir is a powerful revenge" on the Soviet authorities who sanctioned this treatment, Alex Goldfarb wrote in New Leader, as it was published "at the least convenient time for the Soviets," as the country's new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was attempting to diminish the worst abuses of the Soviet system.

Sharansky was an instant hero when he arrived in Israel, and many politicians hoped that he would lend his credibility to their political party. He demurred at first, claiming that his experience living under one-party rule had ill prepared him to be a leader in a democratic country like Israel. However, after the Soviet Union collapsed and Russian Jews began arriving in Israel en masse, Sharansky became their advocate, and took on a formal leadership role when he formed the Russian immigrant party Yisrael B'Aliyah in 1995. Sharansky, along with six other members of Yisrael B'Aliyah, were elected to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) in 1996 and joined the government of Likud prime minister Benjamin Netenyahu. This would be the high point of Yisrael B'Aliyah's life; the party lost seats in each subsequent election and, after it won only two seats in the 2003 elections and Sharansky resigned as its leader, it merged with Likud, the major right-wing party in Israeli politics.

Throughout his political career, Sharansky has argued that peace with the Palestinians will only be possible when they become a free and democratic society, and that Israel should not make major concessions in negotiations with them until that time. This placed him in an odd position in the political world; his opposition to the 1993 Øslo Accords negotiated with the Palestinians led to his being pegged as a right-winger, but his belief that a democratic Palestine was possible in the near future was generally derided as woolly headed idealism by Likud party members.

Sharansky's fortunes rebounded in 2004, when he published The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. In this book, Sharansky takes what he learned about totalitarian governments from living in the Soviet Union and applies them to the repressive regimes that currently occupy his thoughts: the Muslim countries surrounding Israel. Sharansky argues that the world is divided into two kinds of countries: "free" societies and "fear" societies. To tell the difference, Sharansky suggests the following test: could one stand in a public square in one of a certain country's cities, say something of which that country's government disapproves, and not have to worry about being arrested for one's speech? If so, the country is free; if not, it is based on fear.

Sharansky's own experiences are found throughout this "eloquent, deeply personal manifesto," as Gary Rosen described it in Newsweek International. He uses his knowledge of life in the Soviet Union to explain to a Western audience why the public statements of the populations of fear societies cannot be taken at face value and why the West's policy of constructive engagement with today's problem countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Palestine, is as certain to fail as detente did when it was tried with the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and 1970s. But Sharansky's argument also has a hopeful side: He believes that it is possible to democratize these countries and that once they are free they will cease to be a threat to Israel and the West. As Arch Puddington wrote in Commentary, "The Case for Democracy is suffused with the optimism that sustained Sharansky during his years of imprisonment…. It is hard to imagine a more compelling advocate for the cause of freedom."

Particular attention began to be paid to The Case for Democracy when American president George W. Bush read the book and discovered that it meshed well with his own ideas about how to reform the Middle East. Bush began encouraging just about everyone he met to read the book, and he even invited Sharansky to the White House to discuss it. "It made him very excited," Sharansky told John F. Dickerson of Time magazine. "He said, 'There are the things that I believe, but here you give a theoretical basis for those beliefs.'"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Anatoly and Avital Shcharansky: The Journey Home, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1986.

Gilbert, Martin, Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

PERIODICALS

America's Intelligence Wire, July 9, 2003, Neil Cavuto, interview with Sharansky; September 17, 2003, Neil Cavuto, interview with Sharansky and Saeb Erekat; March 2, 2004, Greta Van Susteren and Mike Tobin, interview with Sharansky; April 1, 2004, John Gibson, interview with Sharansky; February 3, 2005, Nathan Anderson, "World Needs Freer Societies."

Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, July 12, 2002, Jonathan Rosenblum, "Democracy: What a Beautiful Idea"; October 8, 2003, "Israeli Minister Pledges Uncompromising Fight against Terror."

Boston Globe, February 1, 2005, Megan Goldin, "Sharansky: From Soviet Dissident to President Bush's Muse."

Commentary, November, 2004, Arch Puddington, review of The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, p. 72.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 22, 2005, Anton La Guardia, "President Bush's Guide to the Middle East," p. 5.

Economist, August 6, 1988, review of Fear No Evil, p. 72.

Financial Times, February 7, 2005, Amity Shlaes, "A Dissident's Manual for Mideast Democracy," p. 17.

Maclean's, September 25, 1995, Barbara Amiel, "A Timeless Hero for Troubled Times," p. 9; February 10, 1997, "A Dissident Returns," p. 29.

Nation, March 1, 1986, Alexander Cockburn, "Their Gulags and Ours" and "Was Sharansky a Spy?," p. 230.

New Criterion, December, 2004, Stefan Beck, review of The Case for Democracy, p. 83.

New Leader, April 7, 1986, Mose Decter, review of Sharansky: Hero of Our Time, p. 16; June 13, 1988, Alex Goldfarb, review of Fear No Evil, p. 17.

New Republic, February 27, 1989, "A Man for All Nations," p. 10.

Newsweek International, December 20, 2004, Gary Rosen, "Freedom from Fear: Sharansky Brings Moral Clarity to Another Fight," p. 57; January 17, 2005, "Periscope," p. 2.

People, May 12, 1986, "A New Beginning," p. 67; February 17, 1997, Thomas Fields-Meyer, "A Hero's Return," p. 123.

Publishers Weekly, November 15, 2004, review of The Case for Democracy, p. 55.

Time, March 3, 1986, "Better Late than Never," p. 51; June 20, 1988, Patricia Blake, review of Fear No Evil, p. 86; May 31, 1999, "Sharansky: Nobody's Pawn," p. 66; January 17, 2005, John F. Dickerson, "What the President Reads," p. 45.

Time International, May 17, 1999, "Israel's Kingmakers," p. 23.

United Press International, January 31, 2001, interview with Sharansky, p. 1008031u8680.

U.S. News and World Report, May 19, 1986, "A Survivor's Tour of Triumph," p. 35, interview with Sharansky, p. 36; May 23, 1988, Richard Z. Chesnoff, "The Man Who Beat the KGB," p. 30; May 13, 1996, "In the Middle," p. 28; November 11, 1996, Ted Gest, "Just Visiting," p. 25.

Weekly Standard, December 6, 2004, Meyrav Wurmser, "Democracy Defended: Natan Sharansky Explains Why Democracy Makes the World Safer," p. 28.

ONLINE

FrontPage Online, http://www.frontpagemag.com/ (February 10, 2005), Jamie Glasov, interview with Sharansky.

Jewish Virtual Library Web Site, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ (February 10, 2005), "Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky", (February 23, 2005), "Yisrael B'Aliya."

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