Sharansky (Shcharansky), Natan

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SHARANSKY (Shcharansky), NATAN

SHARANSKY (Shcharansky), NATAN (Anatoly ; 1948– ), Jewish dissident in the Soviet Union and Israeli politician, member of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Knessets. Born in Donetsk, in Ukraine, Sharansky started studying mathematics and computer sciences in 1966, obtaining his degree from the mathematics and physics institute in Moscow. After the Soviet invasion of Prague in August 1968, he decided to join the struggle for human rights in the Soviet Union. In 1973 he first applied for an exit permit in order to immigrate to Israel, but his request was denied. He proceeded to become an articulate spokesman for Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union to Israel, but refused to cooperate with Israel's efforts vis-à-vis Jews who left the Soviet Union for other destinations. Following the signing of the Helsinki Agreement for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975, he joined the Helsinki group in the Soviet Union headed by Andrei Sakharov, and was its contact man with Western journalists reporting on the dissident movement in the Soviet Union. Sharansky convinced Yuri Orlov to lead a small group of Jewish and non-Jewish dissidents to refuse exit visas that the Soviet Union was willing to offer them in order to get rid of them, so that they could continue to monitor the Soviet failure to comply with the Helsinki Accords. Accused in a March 1977 Izvestia article of working for the cia, Sharansky was arrested shortly thereafter on charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. Having gained some fame as a dissident before his imprisonment, there was a good deal of international activity to get him released. His wife Avital, whom he had married in 1974 and who had managed to leave for Israel, stood at the head of the campaign for his release. Sharansky was finally released as part of an exchange of prisoners between the United States and the Soviet Union on February 11, 1986, and received a hero's welcome in Israel. Sharansky continued to be active on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and in 1988 was elected head of the Zionist Forum – an umbrella organization engaged in helping in the absorption of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Following the Declaration of Principles in 1993, he established an organization called "Mabat Lashalom" to follow the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. In 1996, prior to the elections to the Fourteenth Knesset, he formed a new immigrants' party called Yisrael ba-Aliyah. The new party, which was considered moderately right-wing, gained seven seats and joined the government formed by Binyamin *Netanyahu. Sharansky was appointed minister of industry and trade. In the late 1990s he was accused by former prisoner of Zion Yuli Nudelman of having collaborated with the KGB, but the accusations were never substantiated. In the elections to the Fifteenth Knesset Yisrael ba-Aliyah gained six seats, and joined the government formed by Ehud *Barak. Sharansky was appointed minister of the interior – a ministry that was important for the new immigrants – after the Ministry had been in the hands of *Shas for most of the previous fifteen years. However, Sharansky and his party left the government over Barak's peace policy in July 2000. Sharansky then joined the government established by Ariel *Sharon in 2001, and was appointed deputy prime minister and minister of construction and housing. In the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset Yisrael be-Aliyah gained only two seats, and Sharansky decided to resign his Knesset seat. The two Yisrael be-Aliyah mks then joined the Likud. In Sharon's new government Sharansky, no longer a member of the Knesset, was appointed minister without portfolio in charge of Jerusalem. In the controversy within the Likud concerning Sharon's disengagement plan Sharansky joined the "rebels," who objected to the plan, and after all the parliamentary efforts to foil the plans failed, resigned from the government in May 2005. His 2004 book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, was warmly praised by U.S. President Bush. Among his other writings are (Anatoly and Avital Shcharansky) The Journey Home (1986) and Fear No Evil (1988).


A. Shcharansky, Habayta: Sippuro Shel Anatoly Shcharansky (1980); M. Gilbert, Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time (1986); A. Silberman, Freedom in Slavery: The Story of Natan Sharansky (1990); Y. Nudelman, Sharansky Beli Masekhah (1999).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]