Israel’s Minister Honors Europe’s Commitment to Democracy in Vienna

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (03/08/05)

Sharansky: Jerusalem "Symbol of Freedom and Equality."

Vienna - Nathan Sharansky, Minister for Jerusalem and the Jewish Diaspora in the Israeli Cabinet, recognized Europe’s commitment to democracy as "exemplary." During his visit of the Lauder Chabad School of the Jewish Orthodox Community in Vienna’s 2nd district, he praised particularly "the efforts made by the European Union toward Eastern Europe." Sharasky, who was a human rights activist from the Ukraine and former Soviet dissident, made a lecture tour throughout Europe speaking about democracy, human rights and Europe’s role in the Middle East peace process.

Sharansky, fifty-seven years of age, who was greeted by the students waving Israeli flags, characterized Jerusalem in his short address as the "site of the prophets" and as the "symbol of freedom and equality." Proclaimed by Israel as "eternal and undivided," the city is one of the sticking points in the peace process with the Palestinians, who likewise claim Jerusalem as their capital. A resolution by the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 made provision for establishing Jerusalem as a neutral "special area." During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied the Arab eastern part of the city; the UN declared the annexation that followed as illegal.

Sharansky was born in 1948 as Anatoli Schtscharanski in Donezk. Under Stalin following the war, his family was forced to assimilate. Despite discriminating harassment, Sharansky studied Physics and Applied Mathematics and became a colleague of the physicist, dissident and later Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Andrej Sacharow.

Having spoken out openly for the rights of Jews and human rights in general, Sharansky was arrested. He was condemned for having committed treason and spying for the United States and spent nine years in prison in the Siberian Gulag. It was there that he first came in contact with his Jewish heritage through the copy of a book containing the Psalms.

In 1986, under Head of State Mickail Gorbatschev, Sharasky was exchanged for a Russian spy. In Israel he founded "Israel Be’Alyah," the right-wing immigrant party (Israel through Aliya), which in the meantime has become the Likud Party, and then later became Minister of Industry and, subsequently, Minister of the Interior and Minister of Housing. Since 2003, he is member of the Cabinet responsible for Jewish Diaspora Affairs and Jerusalem.