The former Soviet Prisoner of Zion, Natan Sharansky, has been elected chairman of the Jewish Agency. The vote, on Thursday evening, was unanimous despite initial concerns by American delegates.
Mr Sharansky, born in 1948 in the Ukraine, became the symbol of the movement to free Soviet Jewry, spending years in Soviet prison in isolation and forced labour. In 1986, after international pressure, he was freed and came to Israel.
Natan Sharansky served as minister and deputy prime minister in successive governments from 1996 to 2005. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1986 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006.
In accepting his new role as chairman, Mr Sharansky spoke of the connection of Jews abroad, especially young Jews, with the state of Israel, a connection which he said should be a source of pride and strength for Jews around the world. He said the Jewish Agency must remain committed to aliyah, and that this would come through strengthening Jewish identity. He also spoke of role of the Jewish Agency in building on the notion of Jewish peoplehood.