Born in Tashkent in 1946. Graduated from Chernovitsky University.
From the early 1970s, he worked with the Jewish and generally democratic underground movements in the Soviet Union. In the spring of 1970, he was excluded from the Komsomol for a public statement in defense of the right to repatriate.
In 1978, he joined the Ukrainian Helsinki group. Arrested in the same year and sentenced to three years of prison in a medium security prison for “slanderous insinuations that denigrate the Soviet state and social order.”
In 1984, he is once more sentenced to three years of prison in a high security prison. In 1987, he refuses amnesty, because he did not want to sign a paper which would obligate him to disavow any political activity.
In 1988, in Chernovtsy, he created the first Jewish organization in Ukraine. In 1989, he participated in the creation of the Vaad (Confederation of Jewish Organizations and Communities) of the Soviet Union, and became its co-chairman.
Member of the councils of the European Council of Jewish Communities, of the European and World Jewish Congresses, the World Zionist Organization.
From 1991 – chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine (Vaad Ukraine), executive vice-president of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine and the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine.
In 2002, at the constituent assembly of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress in Moscow (Russia), Josef Zissels was elected Chairman of the EAJC General Council.