Natan Sharansky has finally thrown his hat into the political ring, and the pundits are already assessing his chances.
Sharansky’s weekend announcement was a Passover surprise, inasmuch as the famous exrefusenik, who came to Israel in 1986 after nine years in the Soviet Gulag, had for months warded off offers from established political parties and aspiring new Knesset lists alike.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, which he initiated, the famous “prisoner of Zion” said he wants to found a party made up of new immigrants and veteran Israelis alike. He called on business leaders, distinguished government officials and retired military careerists to join him.
Sharansky’s weekend announcement was welcomed by leaders of the recently formed immigrants party Da, headed by Yuli Kosharovsky, another former longtime refusenik from Moscow.
Kosharovsky said upon his recent election to head the party that he hoped Sharansky would eventually assume leadership of the movement. He urged him to head Da’s election list for June 23.
Though Sharansky did not make clear whether he considered Da part of his base, he is known to oppose an olim-only party.
He told Yediot that the new party he hopes to found would represent newcomers and old-timers alike. It would support a restructuring of national priorities with immigration and absorption at the top.
The immigrant activist did not name any supporters in his interview. Sources close to him later listed as possible running mates Yitzhak Hofi, a former Mossad chief; Reuven Merhav, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry; and businessmen Danny Gillerman and Rolando Eisen.
But most immigrant leaders and veteran political observers are skeptical of Sharansky’s chances. His announcement got a cold reception from Abba Gefen, head of a combined immigrants-pensioners party, Yad b’Yad (Hand in Hand).
Gefen, a former ambassador to Romania, called Sharansky’s move “nonsense.” He compared it to the short-lived Democratic Movement for Change, founded in 1977 by the late Yigael Yadin, a prominent archaeologist but a political amateur.
“It reflects political naivete,” Gefen said of Sharansky’s announcement.
And Robert Golan, chairman of the Soviet Immigrants Association, who heads a separate olim list, said Sharansky is “kidding himself” if he believes he can win broad support.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.