Natan Sharansky Joins Political Prisoners in Pleading for Help at Congress Hearing

Forward's Gal Beckerman Speaks on Soviet Jewry Struggle


By JTA

Published January 17, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Natan Sharansky joined Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman and the relatives of political prisoners in asking the U.S. Congress to speak of their loved ones during meetings with foreign officials.

Sharansky, imprisoned by the Soviets for nine years because of his activism on behalf of Soviet Jews who wanted to emigrate, recalled at a hearing Thursday that his jailers told him, “You are in our hands. If you disappear, no one will notice.”

Instead, Sharansky told Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, thousands of activists wrote letters, attended marches and wore bracelets in support of Jewish refuseniks. Sharansky, who now chairs the Jewish Agency for Israel, said he believes he was finally freed because of these activists, according to a Washington Jewish Week report.

Keeping these prisoners in the news is key, he said as he urged Congress members to speak of specific political and religious prisoners whenever they meet with the leaders of the country in which they are imprisoned.

Sharansky and the other speakers said it was important for U.S. ambassadors to frequently ask about the fate of any political prisoners in that foreign country and hold a press conference whenever they are denied the right to meet with a prisoner.

Commission chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) suggested that those working to free political and religious prisoners use Gal Beckerman’s book, “When They Come for us We’ll be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” as a model for activism.

“If you think the Congress and the administration will save you, you are sadly mistaken,” Wolf said, explaining that a groundswell of support worldwide is what is needed. Beckerman, who also testified during the hearing at the Capitol Visitor’s Center, said the Soviet Jewry movement was successful because it combined “a tribal motivation” to help one’s own people with a general sense of outrage that someone was being imprisoned for their beliefs.

Countries holding political and religious prisoners that were discussed at the hearing include Bahrain, China, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. The commission is named for the late Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress, and whose hallmark was human rights advocacy.

Beckerman’s comments begin at the 2:29:00 mark.


Video streaming by Ustream


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.