'Russian' clout in Israel Natan Sharansky: Refusenik mobilizes fellow immigrants and becomes a kingmaker.

June 01, 1996

THE AMAZING life of Natan Sharansky has taken another turn. After mobilizing nearly one million of his fellow emigres from the former Soviet Union, the refusenik mathematician from Moscow has become a kingmaker in Israeli politics and seems destined to become a cabinet minister.

"I was a hero. I was loved by everybody," he said, recalling his years as a symbol of Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union. "Today, I'm on the verge of becoming another dirty politician that everybody is suspicious of, and nobody thinks they can trust."

Immigrants from Russia have always played a major role in Israeli politics. But Mr. Sharansky's Yisrael Ba-Aliya party, which won seven seats in the 120-seat Knesset, represents the first successful attempt to turn immigrants from the former Soviet Union into a unified political bloc. Because of the fractured nature of Israeli politics, the party is likely to play a key role in forming a new coalition government.

Its election platform, which stressed security and opposition to a Palestinian state, along with economic liberalization and greater integration for immigrants, appears to parallel much of the thinking of the new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Sharansky, however, is seeking a political role beyond Israel. The 48-year-old activist hopes to encourage one million more Jews from the former Soviet Union to move to Israel. "We are united by our belief that the future of Israel depends not only on security but also whether we can turn Israel into a magnet which is able to attract Jews from all over the world by the quality of

life," he told reporters.

It is estimated that one in six Israelis hails from the former Soviet Union. Many of the immigrants -- universally called "Russians" no matter what republic they came from -- held prestigious professional jobs before emigrating and experienced a loss of status. They want better housing and advocate higher standards in education.

Mr. Sharansky's Knesset deputies will now have to learn the ins and outs of legislative politics. Sharing power is likely to test their cohesion as major parties, having seen the political importance of the "Russians," are certain to make concentrated efforts to recruit them to their ranks.

Pub Date: 06/01/96

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