Natan Sharansky, the outgoing head of The Jewish Agency, is to receive the prestigious Israel Prize for his work in promoting aliyah.
Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik and a long-term campaigner for human rights, was described by Israel's education minister, Naftali Bennett as having "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."
A great honour
“This is a great honour and a great responsibility," Sharansky responded. “When it comes to kibbutz galuyot, ingathering the exiles, this prize also goes to [his wife] Avital and to all the Aliyah activists and Prisoners of Zion in the Soviet Union who fought valiantly for the right to immigrate to Israel. It also goes to the entire Jewish people, which supported the refuseniks’ struggle for freedom.
“The ingathering of the exiles continues – Aliyah today is an Aliyah of free choice: Israel is the best place for self-actualization as a Jew and for impacting the future of the Jewish people. We must do everything to ensure that Israel remains a home to every Jew in the world.”
President Reuven Rivlin said that Israel was blessed to have Sharansky.
“Congratulations to Israel Prize laureate, my dear friend Natan Sharansky,” he tweeted. “You have travelled a long and moving journey, from Prisoner of Zion, a symbol of the struggle for freedom, then MK & senior minister, now chairman of the Jewish Agency. Dear Nathan, we are blessed to have you.”
Bennett had already announced that Miriam Peretz, whose two sons were killed in combat, 12 years apart, was to be awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement for “strengthening the Jewish-Israeli spirit.”
Bennett said that Peretz “has dedicated her life to educational activity. Miriam didn’t choose her difficult life circumstances, but she has chosen to live and enliven an entire people. She is the mother of us all.”
Recipients of the Israel Prize must be Israeli citizens or organisations that have demonstrated excellence or broken new ground in a certain field.