Category Archives: Law, Politics & Military

Jews in the World of Law and Politics

Jew of the Week: Natan Sharansky

The Refusenik

Anatoly Borisovich Sharansky (b. 1948) was born in Donetsk, Ukraine. He was a child chess prodigy, and won his city’s chess championship as a teenager. He went on to study math in Moscow and later worked in a secret Soviet research lab. In 1973, Sharansky applied for an exit visa to Israel and was refused. Henceforth, he became a vocal activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and became the world’s most famous refusenik. He soon expanded his scope to work for all human rights, and was the spokesperson for the Moscow Helsinki Group, today Russia’s primary human rights organization. In 1977, Sharansky was arrested on trumped-up charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 13 years of hard labour. He was tortured, and kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time. (He would later remark that one of the things that helped him through it was playing chess in his mind.) After ceaseless activism from his wife, mother, and countless international supporters, Sharansky was finally released in 1986. Shortly after, he received a Congressional Gold Medal from the US government. He moved to Israel and started going by his Hebrew name, Natan. A couple of years later, he published a bestselling memoir, Fear No Evil. (This book was passed on by Helen Suzman to Nelson Mandela, then still in prison, and inspired his ongoing struggle.) In 1995, Sharansky co-founded the Yisrael BaAliyah political party to advocate on behalf of hundreds of thousands of new Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel. They won seven seats in their first election. Sharansky served as Minister of Industry and Trade, then Minister of Internal Affairs, and even Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. In 2003, as chairman of his party, he merged it with Likud, and became Minister of Jerusalem Affairs. In 2005, Sharansky resigned in protest of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. He is a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements, and co-founded One Jerusalem, an organization that works to keep the Jewish capital from being divided ever again. President Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 2006, and he won the Israel Prize in 2018. Last year, he won the prestigious Genesis Prize, and donated all $1 million of it for coronavirus relief. Currently, Sharansky heads the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and continues to serve on the board of the Jewish Agency.

Sharansky: The Dangerous Rise of the Un-Jews

Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict in 5 Easy Points

Words of the Week

Jews came here 3,000 years ago and this is the cradle of Jewish civilization. Jews are the only people in history who kept their loyalty to their identity and their land throughout the 2,000 years of exile, and no doubt that they have the right to have their place among nations—not only historically but also geographically. As to the Palestinians, who are the descendants of those Arabs who migrated in the last 200 years, they have the right, if they want, to have their own state… but not at the expense of the state of Israel.
– Natan Sharansky

Jew of the Week: Yitzhak Shamir

In Memory of a Great Israeli Prime Minister

Yitzhak Yezernitsky (1915-2012) was born in what is now Belarus and spent his youth in Poland. As a young man, he joined Betar, the Zionist organization founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. After a short time studying law at the University of Warsaw, he made aliyah and changed his last name to “Shamir”, after King Solomon’s Biblical stone-cutting tool used to construct Jerusalem’s Holy Temple. Tragically, his entire family that remained back in Europe was killed in the Holocaust. Before his father was murdered by villagers, he reportedly said: “I have a son in the Land of Israel, and he will exact my revenge.” Shamir joined the paramilitary Irgun force to fight off British rule, and later was part of the more aggressive Lehi, or “Stern Gang”. For his activities, he was imprisoned a number of times. (During one imprisonment, he met his future wife Shulamit, who had been arrested by the British for “illegal” immigration, having escaped Nazi-allied Bulgaria by boat.) In 1946, Shamir was arrested again and this time exiled to Eritrea in Africa. He managed to escape by digging a 200-foot tunnel, and found asylum in France. Shamir moved back to Israel immediately after the Declaration of Independence in 1948. He participated in the War of Independence, and later joined the Mossad. One of his main missions was Operation Damocles, to assassinate former Nazi rocket scientists helping Egypt develop missiles. He later resigned from the Mossad due to controversy over that operation. In 1973, he was first elected to the Knesset as a member of Likud. He became Foreign Minister in 1980, and Prime Minister of Israel in 1983. A hard-liner, Shamir opposed the peace treaty with Egypt, blocked a planned 1987 “regional peace conference”, and opposed the 1991 Madrid peace talks. When the Soviet Union began to fall apart in 1989, many Soviet Jews were fleeing to the United States. Shamir stepped in to stop the “insult to Israel” (as he called it) and said Soviet Jews were not refugees, since they had a home in Israel. The US changed its refugee policy and henceforth most Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel. Similarly, when the Ethiopian government collapsed in 1991, Shamir ordered Operation Solomon to airlift 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Shamir steered the country through the difficult years of the First Intifada and the First Gulf War. During his premiership, Israel established formal relations with over a dozen countries. He stepped down as Likud leader in 1993, but continued to sit in the Knesset until 1996. It was Shamir who launched Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career by appointing him to his first post (Israel’s ambassador to the UN). He would later leave Likud due to disputes with his young protégé, and only returned to the party in 2001 to support Ariel Sharon. That year, he also received the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement. Shamir left politics entirely in 2004 due to declining health. He wrote two books, including an autobiography. He has been described as one of Israel’s bravest warriors and most influential leaders. His yahrzeit is this Sunday.

Words of the Week

In their war against Israel’s existence, the Arab governments took advantage of the Cold War. They enlisted the military, economic, and political support of the communist world against Israel, and they turned a local, regional conflict into an international powder keg.
– Yitzhak Shamir

Jew of the Week: Chuck Schumer

America’s Top Senator

Charles Ellis Schumer (b. 1950) was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish family with Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish ancestry. He scored a perfect 1600 on his SAT and went to Harvard, where he first studied chemistry before switching to law. He passed the bar in 1975, but went right into politics, having once been inspired when volunteering on a presidential campaign. Schumer was elected to the New York State Assembly straight out of law school. After three terms, he won a seat on the US House of Representatives. He served on the House for nine terms until 1998, when he ran for a Senate seat instead and won again. He has since been re-elected to the Senate three times, with consistently high approval ratings. In 2016, he was voted head of the Senate Democrats, making him the minority leader. Earlier this year, when the Democrats took control of the Senate, he became the majority leader. In both cases, Schumer became the first Jew (and first New Yorker) to hold the Senate leader title. Impressively, Schumer visits every single one of New York’s 62 counties every year to meet with his constituents. He has been praised for helping average New Yorkers deal with even minor issues that are not the role of a senator to address. Over the years, Schumer has worked hard to keep jobs and factories in America, and has been fiercely critical of China. In 2017, he tried unsuccessfully to get Trump to impose a ban on Chinese buyouts of American companies. (This week, he finally pushed through a massive $250 billion “China competition bill”.) Schumer has also been praised for his assistance to veterans and for lowering healthcare costs. In 2001, together with John McCain, he introduced a bill to open the prescription drug market to more generic, cheaper versions, resulting in savings of billions of dollars. Schumer has fought for net neutrality, and criticized Republicans for allowing the FCC to pass new internet restrictions in 2018. While Schumer is pro-choice, he has also supported Efrat, an Israeli anti-abortion organization. He is currently trying to push legislation to ban BPA, cadmium, and other toxins. Over the years, Schumer has fought for tougher sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea, and is one of the few Democrats that continues to oppose a nuclear deal with Iran. He is a huge supporter of Israel, defending both its blockade of Gaza, and its settlements. Schumer cosponsored a 2017 bill making it illegal to boycott Israel. He praised Trump for finally moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Schumer has voted for more gun control and more college tuition credits, as well as stricter regulation of Wall Street. He has developed a “Marshall Plan for Teachers” to revamp education in America. Schumer is an avid cyclist. He has never lost an election in his life, and has always sought to be a balanced voice of reason in Congress.

Words of the Week

You can be a Jew and care about Israel and it does not make you any less American. You can be a Jew and lobby for Israel and it does not make you any less American. You can be, all at once, completely Jewish, completely pro-Israel and completely American.
– Chuck Schumer