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Sharansky and Netanyahu to attend Thatcher funeral

    President Ronald Reagan meets with Natan Sharansky in 1986, soon after his release (Photo: White House)
    President Ronald Reagan meets with Natan Sharansky in 1986, soon after his release (Photo: White House)

    Israel will be represented by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a prominent former Soviet dissident at Margaret Thatcher's funeral on Wednesday.

    The Israeli leader will be joined by former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky, who is now the chairman of the Jewish Agency.

    The Israeli embassy in the UK confirmed that Mr Netanyahu will arrive on Wednesday morning, following attendance at celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of independence on Tuesday.

    Mr Sharansky's plight during the Soviet era, including being sentenced to 16 years in solitary confinement for his refusenik activities, was brought to the attention of Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s.

    He was finally released in 1986, when he stepped across a bridge in Berlin and was able to make a liyah. Marking 20 years of freedom at a lecture in 2006, Mr Sharansky paid tribute to Baroness Thatcher, saying that Britain's reaction was "by far the strongest… of any foreign country at that time to the situation of one specific prisoner.

    "That says a lot about Margaret Thatcher-about her determination, about her commitment, about her global view, about her always seeing the big picture."

    He met Baroness Thatcher several times during her lifetime, and was personally invited, along with his wife Avital, to the funeral service by the Thatcher family.

    Baroness Thatcher's work to support Soviet Jews and Christians behind the Iron Curtain was recalled this week by those involved in the campaign at the time.

    She was a leading and reliable voice supporting free emigration for Soviet Jews," a spokesman for B'nai B'rith International said in a tribute message. "She spoke forcefully on behalf of Jews prevented from leaving the Soviet Union and demanded that restrictions be lifted."

    "We remember her now and her example of concern for those unjustly suffering under dictatorial regimes throughout the world," said Margaret Rigal and Rita Eker, of the 35's (Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry).

    While in London, Mr Sharansky is expected to meet communal figures to discuss moves towards a resolution for the long-running dispute over women praying at the Western Wall.

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who worked in Lady Thatcher's cabinet as a Secretary of State for Scotland, will also be attending the funeral. He will be accompanied by former US Secretary of State Dr Henry Kissinger who recently called Baroness Thatcher's leadership "a breath of fresh air."

    Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies, will also be attending. He paid tribute to Baroness Thatcher as “always extremely supportive and admiring of the ethos of the British Jewish community".

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