How Natan Sharansky became an icon of Israel’s history

by Michael Sax

Natan Sharansky spent 9 years in a Soviet prison because he wanted to move to Israel.  He lived to tell about it. Today he lives in Israel and is the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, but he never forgets about the Jews locked away in Russia.

Background – Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky was born in 1948 in the Ukraine. After graduating from the Physical Technical Institute in Moscow with a degree in computer science, he applied for an exit visa to Israel. The government denied this based on phony “security reasons.” Very quickly, Natan – or Anatoly as he was called then – became involved in the struggle of Soviet Jewry to earn their freedom and emigrate to Israel.  Around the world, his name became synonymous with the struggle of Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union.

Sent to jail for wanting to go to Israel

In 1977, a Soviet newspaper alleged that Anatoly Sharansky was collaborating with the CIA. The U.S. Government denied this, yet the Soviet court found Anatoly Sharansky guilty. They sentenced him to thirteen years in prison including solitary confinement and hard labor. Anatoly’s wife, Avital, led a worldwide campaign to free him and the the international community placed intense pressure for years on the Soviet Union. As a result, Anatoly gained freedom on February 11, 1986. This was nine years after he was first sent to jail. He emigrated to Israel and arrived in Jerusalem that very day.


Upon his arrival to Israel, Anatoly – now Natan – continued the struggle for Jews in the Soviet Union. Most noteworthy was a momentous rally of over 250,000 people on December 7th, 1987. Natan Sharansky was the rally’s initiator and driving force. The rally coincided with Soviet President Gorbachev’s first visit in Washington. It was also influential in pressuring the Soviet Union to ease its restrictions on emigration.

Impact on George Bush

Consequently, Natan Sharansky was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1986. They also presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006. In addition, he has continued to lead human rights efforts both through his writings as well as public activities. His New York Times bestseller, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Freedom and Terror attracted wide-spread attention. After reading the book, President George Bush said: “If you want to understand my political DNA, read this book.”  In conclusion, Natan has accomplished wonders and his books are especially relevant for all freedom-lovers worldwide.

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