Natan Sheransky

The announced departure from politics by Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky is more than just the end of a political era for the State of Israel. It also means the loss (in an official capacity) of what may have been one of U.S. President’s Bush’s most trusted advisors on both Israeli and Russian affairs. Sharansky’s name became well known during the 1970’s when he was a member of the ‘refusenicks’ in the former Soviet Union. He was a staunch spokesman in favor of Russian Jewish immigration to Israel and more freedom to practice Judaism in his native country. These activities resulted in his being imprisoned for several years before international outcry, led by his wife, Avital, resulted in Natan being allowed to leave Russia for Israel.

Though small in stature, Sharansky soon proved he was ‘big’ in his ability to give extremely competent advice; and in his ability to make many friends in both the private and political arena of his new country. He quickly entered Israel politics and was successful in creating the first political party composed of former immigrants, Yisrael b’Aliyah, and was later a member of the Likud Party. Sharanasky has held several ministerial portfolios, including Interior Minister, Housing and Absorption Minister, and Industry and Trade Minister. In addition to his political ventures, he has also written several books, including one called In Defense of Democracy, in which he contrasted Western and Eastern Block political systems.

Sharansky has served as an unofficial advisor to several U.S. Presidents, but his relationship with George W. Bush, pictured alongside Sharansky, has been more close, with the U.S. President seeking often seeking Natan’s advice on a number of sensitive issues, both inside and outside of Israel. Sharansky has also been a strong advocator of Israel remaining in the territories it conquered in the 1967 Six Day War. He was against the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, which many say cost him his political future with both former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and present P.M. Ehud Olmert.

Sharansky, who says he wants to devote more time to writing, teaching, and other similar pursuits is still a relatively young man, and may very well return to politics one day. Other politicians from the former Soviet Union, particularly Yisrael Beitanu party head Avigdor Lieberman, may carry on many of Sharansky’s ideas and policies; especially in lieu of Lieberman’s consideration to join Olmert’s government coalition.

Though sad indeed, the political departure of the ‘little big man’ may not be long, and we have not seen the last of his warmth and candor in Israeli public and political life.