June 26, 2009 / 4 Tammuz 5769
JEWISH AGENCY BOARD OF GOVERNORS UNANIMOUSLY ELECTS NATAN SHARANSKY AS CHAIRMAN OF THE EXECUTIVE
The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel voted unanimously to elect Natan Sharansky as its Chairman of the Executive today (June 25), in Jerusalem. The vote came after Sharansky's candidacy was presented and approved by the Nominating Committee, which was formed under the new governance structure enacted earlier this week.
In accepting his new role as Chairman, Sharansky spoke of the connection of Jews abroad, especially young Jews, with the State of Israel, a connection which he said should be a source of pride and strength for Jews around the world. Sharansky said the Jewish Agency must remain committed to aliyah, and that this would come through strengthening Jewish identity. He also spoke of role of the Jewish Agency in building on the notion of Jewish peoplehood.
Natan Sharansky, born in 1948 in the Ukraine, became the symbol of the movement to free Soviet Jewry, spending years in Soviet prison in isolation and forced labor. In 1986, under great international pressure, Sharansky was freed and came to Israel. Sharansky served as Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in successive governments from 1996 to 2005. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1986 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006. (See attached bio).
"Natan Sharansky is a true hero," said Richard Pearlstone, Chairman of the Board of Governors. "He is a man of deep vision and understanding of the Jewish People and, as such, he will lead the Jewish Agency forward with determination and clarity of purpose."
A new leader: Natan Sharansky addresses Jewish Agency Board of Governors in Jerusalem Thursday (June 25) after being elected Chairman of the Executive, with Richard Pearlstone, chair of the Board of Governors, looking on. Credit: Brian Hendler/Jewish Agency for Israel
BIO of Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky was born in 1948 in Donetzk, Ukraine. Mr. Sharansky graduated from the Physical Technical Institute in Moscow with a degree in computer science. After graduating, he became active in the human rights movement led by Andrei Sahkharov and very quickly became internationally known as the spokesperson for the Helsinki movement. At the same time he applied for an exit visa to Israel, which he was denied for "security reasons". 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, 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 became active in the integration of Soviet Jews and formed the Zionist Forum, an umbrella organization of former Soviet activist groups dedicated to helping new Israelis and educating the public about absorption issues. The final chapter of the historic struggle for the release of Soviet Jews was the historic rally of over 250,000 in 1987 during Gorbachev's first visit in Washington of which Natan Sharansky was is the initiator and driving force.
In early 1994, he co-founded Peace Watch - an independent non-partisan group committed to monitoring the compliance to agreements signed by Israel and the PLO. From 1990 to 1996 Mr. Sharansky served as Associate Editor of "The Jerusalem Report"..
In 1996, ten years after arriving in Israel, Natan Sharansky founded the political party Yisral B’Aliya which means both “Israel on the Rise” and “Israel for Immigration". 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 all of the successive 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 of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
Natan Sharansky was awarded the 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 since his release.
His memoir, Fear No Evil, was published in the United States in 1988 and has been translated into nine languages. His book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Freedom and Terror attracted wide-spread attention. His latest book, Defending Identity, Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy published by Public Affairs was released early June 2008.
Mr. Sharansky is married to Avital . They reside in Jerusalem and have two daughters, Rachel and Hanna.