2020 Genesis Prize winner Natan Sharansky praised as ‘inspiration for democracy’

The former Jewish Agency chairman is recognised for his role campaigning for human rights


Tony Blair was among those to praise Natan Sharansky as a “distinguished leader” after the former Refusenik and Jewish Agency chairman was awarded the 2020 Genesis Prize.

Mr Sharansky was jailed by Soviet authorities in 1977 for his pro-Zionist, pro-democracy campaigns and was not released for nine years.

He then emigrated to Israel, where he became a politician and later headed the Jewish Agency, campaigning for the rights of immigrants and minorities in Israel.

The Genesis Prize Foundation announced on Tuesday that Mr Sharansky had been selected from a list of 250 nominees.

Its chairman Stan Polovets said: “At great personal sacrifice, he fought for the rights and dignity of all ethnicities, religions and nationalities.

“Today, as we witness democratic principles being challenged and human rights, along with freedoms of thought and expression, denied to so many, Natan’s example is an inspiration to all those struggling for democracy.”

Mr Sharansky said he was humbled by the award.

“As my personal hero President Ronald Reagan said, freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” he said.

“It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like to live when men were free.”

Mr Blair, the former British prime minister, said Mr Sharansky was a hero: “[his] courage united people all over the globe in a quest for freedom. He is a distinguished leader who made a significant contribution to the State of Israel, to the people who lived in oppressed societies of the Soviet bloc nations, and to humanity as a whole.”

Last year’s award was given to Robert Kraft, who owns the American football team the New England Patriots.

Previous winners of the Genesis Prize, which was launched in 2013, include Michael Bloomberg and Anish Kapoor.

Natalie Portman, the 2018 winner, refused to attend the prize ceremony in Jerusalem because she did not want to share a platform with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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