How Natan Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov Faced Down Soviet Tyranny and Persevered

Dec. 30 2021

On Tuesday, the Russian supreme court decided to shut down Memorial, a highly regarded institution dedicated to documenting the horrors of Stalinism. The court issued a similar ruling yesterday against its sister organization, Memorial Human Rights Center, which fights present-day violations of civil rights. In light of the disturbing direction in which Russia has been headed, Michael Mandelbaum reflects on two of the heroic figures who helped to bring down Soviet tyranny: the refusenik leader Natan Sharansky and the atomic-scientist-turned-dissident Andrei Sakharov.

In his powerful and affecting memoir, Fear No Evil (1988), Sharansky several times mentions the name of Andrei Sakharov. In his excellent biography of Sakharov (2002), Richard Lourie reports that Sharansky keeps a portrait of Sakharov in his office, to remind himself of his fellow dissident’s “straight, clear, pure moral thought.” Sakharov was a scientist of great accomplishment. . . . He was also, however, a free thinker, and the development of his ideas led him to express publicly his opposition to the regime’s oppressive practices and to support, again publicly, those similarly opposed.

Sharansky, Sakharov, and their fellow dissidents stand as luminous examples of courage in the face of perilous circumstances. They illustrate the value of persistence in a righteous cause even when success seems distant, or even impossible. And they testify to the power of the political ideas that govern democracies. After his release, Sharansky said, “They tried their best to find a place where I was isolated. But all the resources of a superpower cannot isolate a man who hears the voice of freedom, a voice I heard from the very chamber of my soul.”

Nor are the qualities that Sharansky and Sakharov personified relevant only to the past. In the face of Putin’s dictatorship in Russia, the repressions of the Communist Party in China, the assault on freedom by the ruling mullahs in Iran, and threats to life and liberty elsewhere, courage, persistence, and a determined and often perilous commitment to the ideals of democracy remain, alas, both relatively rare and still greatly needed.

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Read more at American Purpose

More about: Natan Sharansky, Soviet Jewry, USSR, Vladimir Putin

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror