On Wednesday, October 14, Touro President Dr. Alan Kadish hosted Natan Sharansky and Dr. Gil Troy in an engaging and eye-opening discussion on the current situation in Israel and the consequences of missteps in the political arena.
A Jewish political prisoner who spent decades fighting for individual freedom, Sharansky was the leading activist in the democratic dissident movement in the Soviet Union and the movement for free Jewish emigration. He later served in four successive Israeli governments and received the highest Israeli award, the Israel Prize, as well as the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Troy is a Distinguished Scholar in North American History at McGill University currently living in Jerusalem, an award-winning American presidential historian, and a leading Zionist activist who has authored numerous books and appeared as a featured commentator on CNN.
Sharansky and Troy co-authored the recently released Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People which explores Sharansky’s extraordinary journey from the Soviet gulag as a refusenik to the Israeli political scene.
“Natan Sharanksy is a great hero, a living legend,” said Kadish. “It was a great honor to host Sharansky and Gil Troy after reading their extraordinary book on Sharansky’s important life story.”
“There was nothing Jewish in my life except antisemitism,” Sharansky told Kadish of his early life in Russia during their public discussion. “But then I began reading about the State of Israel in 1967 and I realized that I could be part of this unique nation.”
Sharansky went on to detail his life as a refusenik and prisoner of the Soviets, how he was finally released and went to Israel to fight for human rights, and came together with Gil Troy to tell his story. He explained how vital the work of his wife Avital was; how the two were newlyweds when she left for Israel and he was imprisoned.
“I recommend to everyone: before you go to prison, you have to marry as I married,” said Sharansky. Avital was a shy woman when the two met during the days of the Yom Kippur War. “Twelve years later, when we met again, she was leading demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people; she had opened the doors of every president and prime minister in the western world.”
On the matter of Palestinians, an issue that even divides the American Jewish community, Sharansky pulled no punches. “I am sympathetic to Palestinians who suffer from the lack of human rights and dictatorships in their own society,” he said. “I have said from the beginning that they should share all the rights that I have, but not have the ability to destroy me… The Oslo process was not a peace process at all. Oslo created a Palestinian dictator and we made him strong without the restrictions of a democracy.”
But Sharansky did more than criticize; the former Member of Knesset had cogent advice for today’s Israeli leaders, and high hopes for the current peace process. “Peace has to come from the bottom up,” he explained. “The Abraham Accords have a much better chance to succeed. While we are negotiating with existing dictatorships, we are also encouraging civil society — people to people, businessman to businessman — to work together.”
“Natan Sharansky’s incredibly strong Jewish spirit is truly inspiring,” said Dr. Kadish. “I encourage everyone to watch our discussion and absorb what this exceptional man has to offer.” The hour-long discussion between Sharansky, Dr. Troy, and Dr. Kadish can be viewed online.