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October 29, 2018 9:42 am

Sharansky Warns Against Post-Pittsburgh Aliyah Push

avatar by Ira Stoll

Natan Sharansky. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli politicians tempted to try to capitalize on the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre by urging American Jews to immigrate to the security of Israel should hold their tongues.

So says Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet prisoner who became deputy prime minister of Israel and recently stepped down after nine years of leading the agency in charge of gathering Jewish immigrants to Israel. Sharansky made his remarks Sunday in Manhattan at the Jewish Leadership Conference, which drew 800 participants from 28 states for a full day of discussions on Jews and conservatism.

“I am now waiting with fear,” Sharansky said, predicting that Israeli politicians would react as they did after antisemitic attacks in France, by inviting Jews facing physical threats to their safety to make aliyah, or move to the Jewish state.

As he did after the killings in France, Sharansky suggested that “shelter” isn’t the best motivation for Jewish immigration to Israel. “Shelter — shelter can be in Miami, too,” he said.

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Aliyah of escape is almost finished,” Sharansky said. In its place, he said, “Mainly it’s aliyah of free choice. They are doing it because it’s their home. You need to strengthen their identity.”

Sharansky noted that for such views, he was accused of being “anti-Zionist” as the head of the Jewish Agency, which has long been in charge of attracting and absorbing new immigrants to Israel.

At the event Sunday, just a day after an assailant apparently motivated by antisemitism killed 11 Jews in their Pittsburgh synagogue, Sharansky was awarded the inaugural Herzl Prize by the Tikvah Fund, a non-profit organization that develops leaders and promotes Jewish and conservative ideas. He was interviewed by Elliott Abrams, who was a foreign policy official in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.

Abrams asked Sharansky, who is known for promoting freedom and democracy, whether he favored such an approach in Egypt.

“There are no people who want to live under dictatorship,” Sharansky said, adding that democracy isn’t just elections, but also freedom and the rule of law, which could sometimes take “hundreds of years” to develop.

Sharansky praised President George W. Bush for meeting with dissidents rather than dealing with dictators. “For this point, there is no difference between Obama and Trump,” Sharansky said, blaming Obama for having “really betrayed the Iranian Revolution.”

The conference also heard from Israel’s justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, who warned that legislation outlawing rent increases could worsen Israel’s already significant problem with housing affordability. She suggested an alternative approach focused on making it easier to obtain building permits. “Most land is owned by the state,” she said.

Observing that Shaked had expressed condolences over the American Jewish casualties, a founder of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, noted that such statements usually go in the other direction, with American Jewish leaders offering statements of solidarity after terrorist attacks in Israel. The role reversal “is a little unnerving,” he said.

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