Natan Sharansky Wins 2018 Israel Prize

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that Sharansky 'embodied the fulfillment of the Zionist dream - from the darkness of a Soviet prison to the light of liberty as the head of the Jewish Agency'

Head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, at the government's weekly cabinet meeting, June 25, 2017.
Mark Israel Salem

Natan Sharansky will be awared the 2018 Israel Prize, Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday.

Sharansky is due to step down as chairman of the Jewish Agency, the biggest Jewish non-profit in the world, in about three months.

Bennett said that Sharansky "embodied the fulfilment of the Zionist dream - from the darkness of a Soviet prison to the light of liberty as the head of the Jewish Agency."

President Reuven Rivlin congratulated Sharansky, saying that "you have traveled a long and moving journey, from Prisoner of Zion, a symbol of the struggle fror freedom, then MK and senior minister, now chairman of the Jewish Agency. Dear Natan, we are blessed to have you."

Sharansky was born in 1948 and studied mathematics in Moscow. He became a prominent leader of the struggle for Soviet Jewry and was imprisoned for nine years. He was released and allowed to immigrate to Israel in 1986.

A leader of the Soviet Jewish Refusenik movement, Sharansky applied for a visa to Israel in 1973 and was refused on security guards. He was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1977 and convicted of treason on charges of spying for the United States. He was sentenced to 13 years of hard labor, and served 16 months in prison before being transferred to a Soviet labor camp, where he served for for nine years. He was released in 1986 in a U.S-Soviet prisoner exchange.

Although his international renown never translated into star political power in Israel, he did serve in various cabinets, pushing his hawkish agenda, and later merging his party with the hard-line Likud.

Sharansky is scheduled to step down in June after serving for nine years as chairman of the quasi-governmental agency. If there is no replacement for him by then, the entire agency executive board will either fill in for him or appoint a temporary replacement.

The chairman of the agency is traditionally nominated by the prime minister and approved by a special appointments committee comprised of Jewish world leaders.