Natan Sharansky in Montreal: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Conscience

Natan Anatoly Sharansky spoke to students at Hillel House and to the Jewish community a few days ago. Natan Sharansky is a Jewish activist for Jewish and Soviet human rights, a former prisoner in the Gulag. He was miraculously freed through the activism of Jews all over the world. After being liberated from the Soviet prison, he served in the Israeli government for nine years. He is now the head of the Jewish Agency of Israel (Sochnut). He spoke about his experiences.

He spoke about how and why he was arrested, what brought down the totalitarian Soviet Union. He explained that the human being has two needs which must be met, one is for freedom of expression, and the other is for identity and belonging. Identity is knowing who you are and what you stand for. This he received from his identity as a Jew.

Jews were persecuted in Soviet Russia. Sharansky knew that he needed both his identity and his freedom – if he were to acknowledge that he was a spy for Israel he could have gained his freedom. He refused. He was not willing to compromise on either front and he understood that all those who had an identity – i.e. who knew what they were fighting for – were his allies and friends in prison. His captors offered him his freedom if he would denounce Israel and his Jewish identity. He refused.

The activist support of Jews in the US and Europe was what enabled his release and the release and exodus of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Jews from the Soviet Union. (I was one of those social workers on the receiving end of Russian Jews escaping from tyranny in NYC.) The softening of the Soviet regime vis a vis the Jews led eventually to the downfall of the Soviet totalitarian system and an extension of human rights to all Soviet citizens.

He also spoke about the inevitability of the Arab spring Рthe need of the people to overthrow  totalitarian dictators in Egypt and Libya and elsewhere. He explained that Egyptians are rebelling against the totalitarianism of Mubarak, and fighting first for freedom of expression:

“If their only choice is the Muslim brotherhood or Mubarak totalitarianism, they will choose the brotherhood.”

The test will be whether the brotherhood will be able to deliver on the promise of freedom of expression and tolerance of identity. So far, there is already a prisoner of conscience, in Egypt, who has been imprisoned for speaking out against the military, Michael Nabil. Here, he talks about the Arab spring while interviewed by Irwin Kotler. Sharansky

He also spoke about the conflicts experienced by Jewish students on campuses all over North America due to the fraudulent claims of the BDS – Boycott Divestment Sanctions – and IAW (Israel/apartheid) movements that have branded Israel with the sins of South African apartheid, and made the Palestinian cause the poster child for human rights activism on North American campuses.

Here is what Israel and the Jewish Agency of Israel is doing about it. They are bringing Israeli fellows to campuses and also inviting students to come to Israel for internships and study to learn the truth for themselves.