Honorary Member of the Board of Governors
The Jewish Agency for Israel
Natan Sharnasky was the Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel from 2009 through 2018.
Natan was born in 1948 in Donetzk, Ukraine. He graduated from the Physical Technical Institute in Moscow with a degree in computer science. After graduating, he applied for an exit visa to Israel, which he was denied for “security reasons.” Very quickly he became involved in the struggle of Soviet Jewry to earn their freedom and emigrate to Israel. At the same time, he joined the human rights movement in the Soviet Union led by Andrei Sahkharov. He became one of the founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Group which united Soviet dissidents of all types. Natan Sharansky soon became an unofficial spokesperson for both movements.
In 1977, a Soviet newspaper alleged that Mr. Sharansky was collaborating with the CIA. Despite denials from every level of the U.S. Government, Mr. Sharansky was found guilty and sentenced to thirteen years in prison, including solitary confinement and hard labor. In the courtroom prior to the announcement of his verdict, Mr. Sharansky in a public statement said: “To the court I have nothing to say; to my wife and the Jewish people I say ‘Next Year in Jerusalem.’” After nine years of imprisonment, due to intense international pressure and a campaign led by his wife, Avital Sharansky, Mr. Sharansky was released on February 11, 1986, emigrated to Israel, and arrived in Jerusalem on that very day.
Upon his arrival to Israel he continued the struggle for opening the gates of the Soviet Union. The final chapter of this historic struggle for the release of Soviet Jews was the momentous rally in Washington, D.C., attended by over 250,000 people on December 7th, 1987, of which Natan was the initiator and driving force. The rally coincided with then Soviet President Gorbachev’s first visit in Washington and was influential in pressuring the Soviet Union to ease its restrictions on emigration.
Ten years after arriving in Israel, Sharansky founded the political party Yisrael B’Aliyah, which means both “Israel on the Rise” and “Israel for Immigration.”
In 1988, in expectation of the opening of the gates of the Soviet Union, Natan Sharansky formed together with other former Refuseniks and Aliyah (immigration to Israel) advocates the Soviet Jewry Zionist Forum, an umbrella organization of former Soviet activist groups dedicated to helping new Israelis and educating the public about absorption issues. From 1990 to 1996 Mr. Sharansky served as Associate Editor of “The Jerusalem Report” and in 1994 co-founded Peace Watch—an independent non-partisan group committed to monitoring the compliance to agreements signed by Israel and the PLO.
The party was established to accelerate the absorption of the massive numbers of Russian immigrants into Israeli society and to maximize their contribution. From 1996-2005 Natan Sharansky served as Minister as well as Deputy Prime Minister in four successive Israeli governments. In November 2006 Natan Sharansky resigned from the Israeli Knesset and assumed the position of Chairman of the newly established Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is also the Chairman of One Jerusalem and Beth Hatefutsoth, the Jewish Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv.
In June 2009, Natan Sharansky was elected Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel. He was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in 1986 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006. He has continued to lead human rights efforts both through his writings as well as public activities. His memoir, Fear No Evil, was published in the United States in 1988 and has been translated into nine languages. His New York Times bestseller, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Freedom and Terror” attracted widespread attention. After reading the book, President George W. Bush was quoted saying: “If you want to understand my political DNA, read this book.” Natan’s latest book, Defending Identity, Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy published by Public Affairs, was released in June 2008. Natan Sharansky is married to Avital. They reside in Jerusalem and have two daughters, Rachel and Hanna, and two grandchildren.
Born in Donetsk, Ukraine
After denied an exit visa to Israel, Sharansky becomes an activist in the human rights movement in the USSR and becomes internationally known as the spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group. Sharansky was also one of the founders and spokesmen for the Jewish and Refusenik movements in Moscow.
Arrested and later convicted of treason and spying for the United States. Sentenced to 13 years of forced labor.
As a result of increasing pressure of a mounting international campaign led by his wife, Avital, in 1986, Natan Sharansky was released after 9 years in Siberian prison. He was brought to East Germany and led across the Glienicke Bridge to West Berlin where he was exchanged for a pair of Soviet spies. Famed for his resistance in the Gulag, he was told upon his release to walk straight towards his freedom; Sharansky instead walked in a zigzag in a final act of defiance. Sharansky then emigrated to Israel, adopting a Hebrew given name, Natan. Following his release, Sharansky receives the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Founder and first President of the Zionist Forum, an umbrella organization of Jewish activists from the former Soviet Union dedicated to helping new immigrants and educating the public about absorption issues. Sharansky also served as Associate Editor to The Jerusalem Report and as a Board member of Peace Watch.
Through 2005. Served as Minister as well as Deputy Prime Minister in all successive Israeli governments. Sharansky resigned from his position as Minister of the Interior in July 2000 over his opposition to then Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s intention to divide Jerusalem and concede other areas as part of the Camp David Accords.
Sharansky resigns from the Israeli Knesset and assumes the position of Chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Chosen as #11 in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in Scientists and Thinkers category.
Sharansky resigns from the Israeli Knesset and assumes the position of Chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
Organizes Democracy & Security International Conference in Prague for the advancement of democracy and human rights all over the world. Becomes Chairman of the Board of Beit Hatefutsot, the Jewish diaspora museum.
Receives Ronald Reagan Freedom Award from President George W. Bush, joining Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Pope John Paul II in becoming only the fourth non-American to receive both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Resigns from Adelson Institute to become the new Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel.