An interview with Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, is presented. Sharansky has been among the most important political and social figures in Israel over the past decade. Currently the Minister of the Interior and formerly the Minister of Industry and Trade, Sharansky is the founder and chairman of the Yisrael B'Aliya party. As chairman on Yisrael B'Aliya, he has urged that immigration and absorption be considered a fundamental government priority. In this interview, he discusses the future of immigration in Israel, the continuing difficulties of integration among recent immigrants, and his experiences in the Israeli government.
The Immigrant Voice in Israeli Society and Politics
Ratan (Anatoly) Sharansky has been among the most important political and social figures in Israel over the past decade. Currently the Minister of the Interior and formerly the Minister of Industry and Trade (1996-1999), Sharansky is the founder and chairman of the Yisrael B'Aliya party. Even before his imprisonment in the former Soviet Union on falsified charges of treason and espionage, Mr. Sharansky was an outspoken Zionist, and has continued to be a tireless promoter of the cause of Soviet jewry since his release in 1986. As chairman of Yisrael B'Aliya, he has urged that immigration and absorption be considered a fundamental government priority. Senior Editor Ariel Simon spoke with Mr. Sharansky in early December 1999 about the future of immigration in Israel, the continuing difficulties of integration among recent immigrants, and the Minister's experiences in the Israeli government.
HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:
It has been over a decade since your much publicized aliyah (immigration) to Israel, a decade that experienced the fall of the Soviet Union. Is the need to bring Russian Jewry into Israel today as pressing as it was when you immigrated? Do the barriers against which you fought still exist, and if not is there as great a need for Jewish emigration from Russia? The Iron Curtain created by the former Soviet Union has fallen apart, as was hoped for and predicted by several former Soviet dissidents, and as a result the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not a necessary escape anymore. It is simply not the struggle for survival and freedom that it was in decades past. In the past, immigration represented the gathering of exiles; today, people are weighing different considerations and deciding where they prefer to live and what kind of life they want to lead. On the one hand, it is a much healthier situation, but on the other hand there is much less political urgency. Even though the former Soviet Union has not completely established democratic institutions, Russia is still part of the free world. However, there is no doubt that one of the major events of the past decade was the exodus of the Jewish people-who have been a people of diaspora since the exodus from Egypt-from the former Soviet Union to the nation of Israel. We moved one million people to Israel. That was a unique historical event with important consequences for the Jewish people, the life of the nation of Israel, and the nature of its society.
Your political party, Yisrael B'Aliyah, has served as a voice for many Russian immigrants in Israel. What continuing concerns do these immigrants have? What is the role of your party in integrating these immigrants into Israeli society?
First of all, the importance of the creation of a party for new immigrants was not simply to give them a voice, but also to give them the opportunity to participate in all the processes of integration and in the building of Israeli society. As the party slogan says, "There is no integration without representation. "In other words, we have abandoned the traditional "melting pot" approach according to which immigrants merely tried to blend in, and, as a result, by the second or third generation became "normal Israelis" who were allowed to participate fully in Israeli life. …