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Sharansky Marks 25 Years of Freedom

Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, was released from Soviet prison 25 years ago today.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 2/11/2011, 10:55 AM / Last Update: 2/11/2011, 2:25 PM

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Friday marks 25 years since Natan Sharansky, now head of the Jewish Agency, was released from prison. Sharansky was imprisoned by the Soviet Union, allegedly for espionage; the real reason for his imprisonment was his struggle against human rights violations and his attempts to immigrate to Israel.

Sharansky spent nine years in jail, of which 400 days were spent in solitary confinement. He was imprisoned in a prison known as the Gulag, where torture and abuse were known to be widespread.

While he was in prison his wife, Avital, led international protests for his freedom. In February 1986, he was freed in an exchange of prisoners between Russia and the United States.

He made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel, where he wrote a book about his experiences titled Fear No Evil, and created the Yisrael B'Aliyah party. He served as a Member of Knesset and a minister over the course of 10 years, from 1996 to 2006, although he resigned twice during that period – once in 2000 to protest suggestions that then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak would give the Palestinian Authority control over part of Jerusalem, and again in 2005 in protest of the “Disengagement” from Gaza and northern Samaria.

Sharansky received the U.S. Medal of Congress for his work for human rights in 1986. In 2006 he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2008, he was given the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award.

As head of the Jewish Agency, Sharanksy continues to work on behalf of Zionism and immigration to Israel. He is currently working on programs to strengthen young Diaspora Jews' connection to Israel, and to fight delegitimization of Israel.