TEL AVIV (Jan. 31)
Natan Sharansky, the Soviet Jewry activist who spent 13 years in prisons and labor camps before he was allowed to leave the USSR three years ago, may be named Israel’s next ambassador to the United Nations.
According to press reports Tuesday, he is the choice of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was Israel’s U.N. ambassador before quitting last year to run for the Knesset.
Sharansky reportedly was approached by the Likud leaders. He declined to comment, however, telling reporters he knew only what he read in the newspapers.
Although backed by Likud, his appointment would be subject to the consent of Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, under the terms of the Likud-Labor coalition agreement. Peres is vice premier and finance minister.
Sharansky’s name is internationally known because of his long struggle for emigration rights and civil rights for Soviet Jews. His personal battle became symbolic of the plight of Jews generally in the Soviet Union.
He has not modified his deep-seated hostility toward the Soviet system since coming to Israel and has contended that the more liberal policies of President Mikhail Gorbachev are a facade.
This has been a cause of unease among many Israelis, particularly on the left, at a time when relations with Moscow seem to be thawing.
They fear that Sharansky’s freedom of action at the world organization may be compromised by his relentless criticism of Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders.
Sharansky is a mathematician by profession, specializing in cybernetics. Despite his lack of formal training in diplomacy, he could be an effective envoy for Israel.
He is a highly visible personality, popular with the world news media. Israeli journalists, in fact, complain that he has been more accessible to foreign correspondents than to them.
Sharansky, 40, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on trumped-up charges of espionage for the United States. He served 13 years before his release in an East-West “spy exchange” in February 1986.
His case had been kept before the world largely through the efforts of his wife, Avital, whom he married just before his arrest.
She settled in Israel, but frequently visited the United States and other Western countries, appealing to the public and national leaders to help secure her husband’s release.