Natan Sharansky to chair Jewish Agency

Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky, once imprisoned in the Soviet Union for his human rights activities, is to be named as chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organisation.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will also name a war historian as his ambassador to Washington.

Mr Sharansky spent nine years in Soviet prison camps. Following his release he emigrated to Israel and formed the now defunct Yisrael B’aliya party. After serving four times as a minister, he resigned in 2005, in protest over then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip.

Mr Sharansky is popular in the United States, especially among Republicans. In 1986 he received the Congressional Gold Medal and in 2006, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W Bush, who said, “If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy, read Natan Sharansky’s book, The Case for Democracy.”

Mr Sharansky will replace Zeev Beilski, who resigned from the Agency two months ago after being elected to the Knesset.

Historian Dr Michael Oren is expected to fill the key role of Israeli ambassador to Washington. The appointment is usually a personal choice by the prime minister.

Mr Oren, currently a visiting Professor at Georgetown University, is best known for his highly-regarded book, Six Days of War, an account of the Six-Day War, which was a New York Times bestseller. His recent bestseller Power, Faith and Fantasy, deals with US Middle East policy.

Mr Oren was born in upstate New York and made aliyah in 1979. He served as an officer in the Paratroopers’ Corps in the First Lebanon War. In the Second Lebanon War and the recent Gaza operation, he was a reserve media relations officer.

Mr Oren will replace current ambassador Sallai Meridor, who announced his resignation after the recent elections.

    Last updated: 4:11pm, April 23 2009