Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS
Outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, winner of the Israel Prize

by Andrew Friedman

Natan Sharansky will be awarded the Israel Prize for his achievements in the area of Aliyah (immigration to Israel) and Kibbutz Galuyot (the ingathering of the exiles), Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced Sunday.

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The award will cap decades of activism for Sharansky, 70, first as an activist in the Soviet Union for the right to emigrate and later as a Knesset member for the Yisrael Ba’aliya party that he founded in 1996 to address issues facing Russian immigrants at the height of a massive wave of immigration following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

After leaving politics in 2003, Sharansky has served as Chairman of the Board of Beit Hatefutsot, the Jewish diaspora museum, and from 2009 to 2017 as the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors.

Prior to making Aliya in 1986 Sharansky was best known for the time he spent in Soviet prisons following his arrest in 1977 on trumped-up treason charges. His best-selling memoir, Fear No Evil, outlines his refusal to cooperate with the Soviet-era secret police (KGB) during his imprisonment and is considered one of the defining accounts of Jewish life in the Soviet Union.

Education Minister Bennett praised Sharansky and his wife, Avital, as “the story of Israel” and a portrayal of the “victory of human freedom over the despair of tyranny.”

“Anatoly Sharansky sat as a prisoner of Zion in the Soviet jail for almost a decade and became a symbol for all those who were in prison for wanting to live as are and proud Jews,” Bennett said, using Sharansky’s given Russian name.

Bennett also singled out Avital Sharansky as a “true Jewish hero” for leading demonstrations throughout her husbands imprisonment and demanding his release.

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