Natan Sharansky

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Natan Sharansky
נתן שרנסקי
Sharansky in 2019
Ministerial roles
1996–1999Minister of Industry and Trade
1999–2000Minister of Internal Affairs
2001–2003Deputy Prime Minister
2001–2003Minister of Housing & Construction
2003–2005Minister of Jerusalem Affairs
Faction represented in the Knesset
1996–2003Yisrael BaAliyah
Personal details
Anatoly Borisovich Scharansky

(1948-01-20) 20 January 1948 (age 76)
Stalino, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
(m. 1974)
Alma materMoscow Institute of Physics and Technology (BMath)

Natan Sharansky[Note 1] (Hebrew: נתן שרנסקי; Russian: Натан Щаранский; Ukrainian: Натан Щаранський; born 20 January 1948) is an Israeli politician, human rights activist, and author. He served as Chairman of the Executive for the Jewish Agency from June 2009 to August 2018,[1] and currently serves as Chairman for the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), an American non-partisan organization. A former Soviet dissident, he spent nine years imprisoned as a refusenik during the 1970s and 1980s.


Sharansky was born into a Jewish family on (1948-01-20)20 January 1948 in the city of Stalino (now Donetsk) in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union.

His father, Boris Shcharansky, a journalist from a Zionist background who worked for an industrial journal,[2] died in 1980, before Natan was freed.

His mother, Ida Milgrom, visited him in prison and stubbornly waged a nine-year battle for her son's release from Soviet prison and labor camps.[3] She was permitted to follow her son to Israel six months after he left the Soviet Union.

He attended physics and mathematics high school No.17 in Donetsk. As a child, he was a chess prodigy. He performed in simultaneous and blindfold exhibitions, usually against adults. At the age of 15, he won the championship in his native Donetsk.[4] Sharansky graduated with a degree in applied mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. 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.[4][5]

After Sharansky graduated from university, he began working for a secret state research laboratory. Sharansky lived near Sokolniki Park, on Kolodezniy Pereulok in Moscow. In his spare time, Sharansky would coach young chess players at the famous chess club in the park.[6]

He took his current Hebrew name in 1986 when he was freed from Soviet incarceration as part of a prisoner exchange and received an Israeli passport with his new name.[7][8]

Natan Sharansky is married to Avital Sharansky and has two daughters, Rachel and Hannah.[8][9] In the Soviet Union, his application to marry Avital was denied by the authorities. They were married in a friend's apartment, in a ceremony not recognized by the government, as the USSR only recognized civil marriage and not religious marriage.[10]

Arrest and imprisonment[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.[11] After becoming a refusenik, Sharansky became a human rights activist, working as a translator for dissident and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, and spokesman for the Moscow Helsinki Group and a leader for the rights of refuseniks.[12] On 15 March 1977 Sharansky was arrested by the KGB, then headed by Yuri Andropov, on multiple charges, including high treason and spying for several Americans. The accusation stated that he passed to the West lists of over 1,300 refuseniks, many of whom were denied exit visas because of their knowledge of state secrets, which resulted in a publication by Robert C. Toth, "Russ Indirectly Reveal 'State Secrets': Clues in Denials of Jewish Visas".[13][14] High treason carried the death penalty. The following year, in 1978, he was sentenced to 13 years of forced labor.

Sharansky spent time in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, followed by 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 Perm 35, a post-Stalin-Gulag-type so-called "strict regimen colony" in Perm Oblast.[15]

During his imprisonment, he embarked on hunger strikes to protest confiscation of his mail, and he was force-fed at least 35 times, which he describes as "a sort of torture". Sharansky later opposed force-feeding of Palestinian detainees.[16][17]

Release from detention[edit]

Sharansky's wife Avital at the Sharansky tribunal in Amsterdam, 12 May 1980

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 was released on 11 February 1986 as part of a larger exchange of detainees. He was the first political prisoner released by Mikhail Gorbachev.[18]

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 United States, Soviet spy Yevgeni Zemlyakov, Polish spy Marian Zacharski, and East German spy Detlef Scharfenorth (the latter three held in West Germany). The men were released in two stages, with Sharansky freed first then whisked away, accompanied by the United States Ambassador to West Germany, Richard R. Burt.[19] The exchange took place on the Glienicke Bridge between West Berlin and East Germany, which had been used before for this purpose.[20][21]


Anatoly Sharansky meeting then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres after his release from the Soviet Union

Sharansky immediately emigrated to Israel, adopting the Hebrew name Natan and eventually simplifying his surname to Sharansky.

Due to his age and poor health, he was exempted from the standard compulsory three years' IDF service, but had to undergo three weeks of military training and do a stint in the Civil Guard.[22]

In 1988, he wrote Fear No Evil, a memoir of his time as a prisoner. He founded the Zionist Forum, an organization of Soviet immigrant Jewish activists dedicated to helping new Israelis and educating the public about integration issues, known in Israel as klita (lit. "absorption"). Sharansky also served as a contributing editor to The Jerusalem Report and as a board member of Peace Watch [ja].[23]

Freedom fighter awards[edit]

Israeli political career[edit]

Sharansky and President Ronald Reagan, December 1986
Sharansky is congratulated by President George W. Bush after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, December 2006

In 1995, Sharansky and Yoel Edelstein founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party (a play on words, since "aliya" means both Jewish emigration to Israel and "rise", thus the party name means "(People of) Israel immigrating (to the State of Israel)", as well as "Israel on the rise"), promoting the absorption of the Soviet Jews into Israeli society. The party won seven Knesset seats in 1996.[28] It won 6 seats in the 1999 Israeli legislative election, 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.[29]

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,[30] and Sharansky was appointed Minister of Jerusalem Affairs.

From March 2003 – May 2005, he was Israel's Minister without Portfolio, responsible for Jerusalem's 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.[31]

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).[32]

He resigned from the cabinet in April 2005 to protest plans to withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.[33]

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.[34]

NGO work and other activities[edit]

In 2019 Natan Sharansky became the Chairman of the Institute for the study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP).[35]

Since 2007, Sharansky has been chairman of the board of Beit Hatefutsot, the Jewish diaspora museum.[36]

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.[37] In September 2009 Sharansky secured $6 million from the Genesis Philanthropy Group for educational activities in the former Soviet Union.[38]

He is a founding member of One Jerusalem.[citation needed]

Media recognition and awards[edit]

In 1997, Sharansky was the focus of a 2.5-hour-long episode of Chaim SheKa'ele ("What A Life"), the Israeli version of This Is Your Life. The episode focused mainly on his experiences as a Soviet dissident, and featured many of his family and acquaintances.[39] 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 Laura Bialis' documentary Refusenik. In 2014, he took part in Natella Boltyanskaya's documentary Parallels, Events, People. He was number eleven on the list of Time magazine's 100 most influential people of 2005 in the "Scientists and thinkers" category.[40] He won the 2018 Israel Prize for his lifetime achievements and special contributions to the State of Israel in the fields of Immigration and Absorption.[41] He was awarded the 2020 Genesis Prize for his "lifelong struggle for human rights."[42] He donated the $1 million prize money to organizations combating the coronavirus.[43]

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. The book was awarded the 1989 National Jewish Book Award for Biography.[44]

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.[45][46]

His book Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, is a defense of the value of national and religious identity in building democracy.[47]

Still another book Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People tells about his political activity and how his personal experience influenced it.[48]

Political views[edit]

Sharansky and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, 19 September 2000

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."[49] In a Haaretz interview, he said:

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.[7]

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."[50]

In February 2022, Sharansky called on the Israeli government to take “a clear moral stand” against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.[51] He called the Russian invasion of Ukraine the greatest threat to the free world since World War II and said that Israel must stand firmly with the Ukrainian people.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Born Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky (Russian: Анатолий Борисович Щаранский; Ukrainian: Анатолій Борисович Щаранський).


  1. ^ "Leadership, Board & Staff". The Jewish Agency for Israel. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  2. ^ Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (3 May 2002). "Ida Milgrom, 94, Dies; Helped Free a Son Held by Soviets". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 27 May 2015.
  3. ^ Dennis McLellan (4 May 2002). "Ida Milgrom, 94; Sought Dissident Son's Freedom". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 4 August 2020.
  4. ^ a b Schmemann, Serge (16 October 1996). "Kasparov beaten in Israel, by Russians". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 6 February 2010.
  5. ^ "Natan Sharansky: how chess kept one man sane". BBC News. 3 January 2014.
  6. ^ "КГБ играет в шахматы (Fb2) | КулЛиб – Классная библиотека! Скачать книги бесплатно".
  7. ^ a b Desch, Michael (28 March 2005). "Sharansky's double standard". The American Conservative.
  8. ^ a b "Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  9. ^ Natan Sharansky receives Guardian of Zion Award for defending Jerusalem
  10. ^ "Man in the news: Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky; a free man at last". The New York Times. 12 February 1986.
  11. ^ Jewish Agency head Sharansky to get Israel Prize for immigration absorption
  12. ^ Timeline: Forty Years Of The Moscow Helsinki Group
  13. ^ Toth, Robert (22 November 1976). "Russ indirectly reveal 'state secrets': clues in denials of Jewish visas". Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ "US reporter got secrets, Russians say". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 12 July 1978.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Berman, Daphna (July–August 2012). "Natan Sharansky: act III, scene I". Moment Magazine.
  16. ^ "'I was force fed at least 35 times in Soviet prison,' Sharansky says". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Sharansky Recalls Force Feeding in Soviet Prison Was 'Torture' |". Hamodia. 12 September 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
  18. ^ Sharansky Speaks
  19. ^ Markham, James M (12 February 1986). "Shcharansky Wins Freedom in Berlin in Prisoner Trade". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Broder, Jonathan (12 February 1986). "Hero is home: Israel cheers Sharansky". Chicago Tribune.
  21. ^ Moseley, Ray (11 February 1986). "Shcharansky swap confirmed (Sharansky swap confirmed)". Archived from the original on 27 January 2020.
  22. ^ "Sharansky begins military training". The Spokesman-Review. 1 March 1988.
  23. ^ Natan Sharansky, Honorary Member
  24. ^ Congressional Gold Medal recipients Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  25. ^ Guide to the Operations and Functions Records in the Hadassah Archives, RG 15, Box 45, Folder 25, American Jewish Historical Society, Boston and New York
  26. ^ Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients The White House. Office of the Press Secretary. 7 December 2006
  27. ^ Natan Sharansky to receive Ronald Reagan Freedom Award. Ynetnews (AP) (28 February 2008)
  28. ^ Natan Ščaranskij; Anatoly Sharansky (2006). The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror. Balfour Books. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-89221-644-4.
  29. ^ "Governments of Israel". Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  30. ^ "Parliamentary Groups in the Knesset". Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  31. ^ Nonna Gorilovskaya. "The Dissident: An Interview With Natan Sharansky". Mother Jones. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  32. ^ Natan Sharansky on Human Rights and Democracy in the Middle East
  33. ^ Sharansky resigns from Israeli cabinet over Gaza
  34. ^ Sharansky To Resign From Politics
  35. ^ "Our Professional & Academic Staff » ISGAP". Archived from the original on 5 June 2020.
  36. ^ "Sharansky new Beth Hatefutsoth head". Ynetnews. (20 June 1995). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  37. ^ [1] [dead link]
  38. ^ Berkman, Jacob (2 September 2009). "Genesis group gives Jewish Agency $6 million for education projects in FSU". Jewish Telegraphic Agency g. Archived from the original on 27 February 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  39. ^ "Chaim SheKa'ele – Natan Sharansky" (in Hebrew). 1997. Archived from the original on 14 June 2022 – via YouTube.
  40. ^ Chafets, Zev (10 April 2005). "Natan Sharansky: Bush's favorite author". Time.
  41. ^ Yanko, Adir (18 March 2018). "Natan Sharansky wins 2018 Israel Prize". Ynetnews. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  42. ^ staff, T. O. I. "'Jewish hero' Natan Sharansky wins Israel's prestigious Genesis Prize". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  43. ^ "Sharansky donates $1 million Genesis Prize to alleviate COVID-19 suffering". The Jerusalem Post. 4 May 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  44. ^ "National Jewish Book Award". Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  45. ^ Dickerson, John (10 January 2005). "What the president reads". CNN International.
  46. ^ Kristol, William (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". The Weekly Standard. 10 (18).
  47. ^ Sharansky Interview regarding Defending Identity, 14 July 2008. (26 July 2008). Retrieved on 9 September 2011.
  48. ^ Sharansky, Natan; Troy, Gil (1 September 2020). Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People. Public Affairs. p. 480. ISBN 978-1541742420.
  49. ^ Natan Ščaranskij; Anatoly Sharansky (2006). The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror. Balfour Books. ISBN 978-0-89221-644-4.
  50. ^ Natan Sharansky (May–June 2011). "What Is Israel's Next Move in the New Middle East?". Moment Magazine. Archived from the original on 6 May 2011.
  51. ^ Horovitz, David. "Sharansky: Israel must take 'a clear moral stand' against Putin over Ukraine". Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  52. ^ "The Ukrainian crisis according to Natan Sharasnky". The Jerusalem Post | 10 March 2022. Retrieved 17 March 2022.


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