Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky was honored last night at a New York event attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former US President George W. Bush and other leaders. In his speech, Netanyahu said that Tehran, like the Soviet Union, oppresses its people.

Avital Sharansky, George W Bush, Natan Sharansky, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu (L to R)

Avital Sharansky, George W Bush, Natan Sharansky, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu (L to R) Photo Credit: Haim Zach/GPO

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former US President George W. Bush were among the guests who attended Wednesday evening an event in New York celebrating Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, a human rights activist and a former refusenik who spent nine years in a Soviet prison before immigrating to Israel.

According to reports, Bush asked that the event be closed to the press and the organizers complied with his request. However, Netanyahu’s office released the prime minister’s remarks a few hours after the event. In his speech, Netanyahu recalled the struggle with the Soviet Union to arrange the release of the refuseniks, saying that he told many: “If you press hard enough, they will crack.”

“That same faith should guide us today, because there’s another would-be empire in the Middle East,” Netanyahu continued, referring to Iran. “It too oppresses its people. It too terrorizes its neighbors. But it too has a hollow core. If you press them, they will crack. They will succumb to strong pressure from the free world.”

“Iran’s aggression must be stopped and can be stopped,” he added. “If you want to honor Natan’s legacy, then support the brave men and women of Iran who are fighting for freedom, yearning for freedom, praying for freedom and praying for our support for their struggle. That’s the best way to honor Natan’s legacy.”

Sharansky, born in 1948 in Donetsk, Ukraine, was convicted of collaborating with the CIA and sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1977. He was released from prison in 1986 due to fierce international pressure and a campaign led by his wife, Avital, who was waiting for him in Israel. On the same day of his release, he left the Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel.