Natan Sharansky, the renowned leader in the struggle for human rights, former Soviet political prisoner, and current Israeli Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, visited 13 North American college campuses as part of a week-long tour to discuss human rights and democracy in the world today. The campus tour was sponsored by the Israel on Campus Coalition, the 29-member group administered by Hillel and supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
At the University of Toronto and York University, Sharansky focused on the traditional definition of human rights and the role Judaism has played in promoting human rights through the ages. Speaking with student leaders at New York's Columbia University, the Israeli leader spoke about the shared commitment that Israel and the United States have toward democracy. He pointed out that in Israel homosexuals and women are guaranteed equal rights while in surrounding Arab countries women accused of infidelity are subjected to "honor killings" and gays are persecuted. Meeting with 30 Jewish activists from Washington-area schools, Sharansky called on students to see take pride in Israel.
"As someone imprisoned in a society that didnt believe in human rights, it gives him power and credibility as a spokesman for a democratic state," George Washington University senior Gabriel Gershowitz said to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Minister Sharansky also spoke at Boston University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, George Washington University, Princeton University, Georgetown University, University of Maryland and New York University.
A recipient of the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, Minister Sharansky was a leader of the Soviet Jewry Zionist Movement, a founding member of the Helsinki Monitoring Group, the spokesman for Andrei Sakharov and a dissident who became a political prisoner. Sharansky achieved global attention when hundreds of thousands of people and world leaders rallied for his release more than 25 years ago. Sharansky spent nine years in the Soviet gulags and prisons including years spent in solitary confinement and 405 days in punishment cells. Upon his release from prison in 1986, Sharansky immediately emigrated to the State of Israel where he was reunited with his wife Avital, who he wed eleven years earlier and had not seen since the day after their wedding.
Minister Sharansky is credited by many western thinkers with articulating human rights priorities for Western democracies in the 21st century. In his many speeches and meetings with American leaders and government officials across the globe, Minister Sharansky has been a proponent of the power of democratic governments to lead the struggle for peace.