Genesis Prize to be awarded to Natan Sharansky

Sharansky chosen due to his lifelong struggle for human rights, political freedom and his service to the Jewish people and Israel.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Natan Sharansky
Natan Sharansky
Hillel Maeir/TPS

The Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) announced on Tuesday that legendary human rights activist, Jewish leader, and Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky is the the 2020 Genesis Prize Laureate.

The award recognizes Sharansky’s extraordinary lifelong struggle for human rights, political freedom and his service to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. He will be honored at the Genesis Prize Ceremony in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020.

Head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Chairman of the Genesis Prize Selection Committee Isaac Herzog said, “Natan Sharansky is a true Jewish hero and an outstanding human being. A symbol of the Jewish quest for freedom, he has made a great contribution to strengthening the Jewish State, Jewish identity, and Israel’s bond with global Jewry. I congratulate my friend Natan on this prestigious global Jewish award. It rightfully complements the Israel Prize, the state’s highest honor awarded to Natan in 2018.”

Chairwoman of the Genesis Prize Committee, Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel (retired) Tova Strasberg-Cohen said, “The 2020 Genesis Prize honors a person of extraordinary integrity and humility, whose pride in his Jewish roots and heritage inspired his remarkable accomplishments. At great sacrifice, he dedicated his life to the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the entire word, in the spirit of Tikkun Olam. The tireless struggle for human rights, dignity and liberty is a noble quest of his soul. I look forward to honoring Natan Sharansky in Jerusalem, a city that symbolizes the dream and aspiration of his entire life.”

The annual Genesis Prize honors extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values and Israel. While two previous Genesis Prize Laureates were born in Israel and are Israeli citizens, Sharansky is the first Genesis Prize Laureate currently residing in Israel.

In line with the tradition established by previous recipients of the Prize, Mr. Sharansky has chosen to forgo the $1 million monetary award. GPF will donate the funds in his honor to nonprofit organizations, working through its philanthropic partner Matan-United Way Israel.

Matan previously managed Genesis Prize grant competitions for NGOs working on improving the lives of people with disabilities (in honor of Izthak Perlman), women’s empowerment (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), and is managing the ongoing grant competition for projects combatting delegitimization of Israel in honor of Robert Kraft.

Ahuva Yanai, CEO of Matan-United Way Israel, said, “In recent years, grants in honor of Genesis Prize Laureates have reached more than 60 Israeli organizations from various fields. These projects are making a real impact across Israel’s non-profit sector. We are extremely honored to have the opportunity to support Natan Sharansky in making the world a better place.”

Sharansky first gained global renown in the 1970s as a fearless fighter for the freedom of Soviet Jewry and a leader in the Soviet dissident movement, where he worked alongside Nobel Prize Laureate Andrei Sakharov. Arrested for his challenge to the Soviet regime, he spent nine years incarcerated as a Prisoner of Zion – much of it in solitary confinement - refusing to disavow his demand for freedom for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Unbroken, Sharansky became a symbol of the Soviet Jewry’s fight for heritage and homeland. Released in 1986 following an intense international pressure campaign, spearheaded by his wife Avital, he immediately flew to Israel. His release was followed by mass exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union: in the subsequent years, 1 million Jews made aliya, contributing to the demographic, economic and cultural growth of the Jewish State.

Sharansky’s life-long human rights advocacy has been recognized by numerous awards. He is the sole living non-US citizen to receive both the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Only Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Pope John Paul II received both honors.

After making aliya, Sharansky had a distinguished civic career in Israel, serving as a member of Knesset, and a minister in four governments. He retired from politics in 2006, and from 2009 to 2018 headed the Jewish Agency for Israel, the world’s largest Jewish nonprofit. Sharansky’s primary work at the Agency’s focused on aliya, as well as programs strengthening Jewish identity and Israel’s connection to Diaspora Jewry. He also spoke and wrote frequently on both Jewish and universal human rights.

Sharansky said. “I am humbled by this honor and am grateful to the members of the two committees that selected me, headed by Supreme Court Justice Tova Strasberg Cohen and Chairman of the Executive of Sokhnut Bougie Herzog. Having been raised as an assimilated Jew in the Soviet Union, I discovered my Jewish identity and belonging to the Jewish people thanks to Israel. This connection to Israel gave me and other refuseniks the strength to fight for the rights of Jews as well as other people whose essential freedoms had been denied. Today, when anti-Semitism is on the rise, both from the political Left and from the Right, the unity of the Jewish people and our connection to Israel is very important. We need to unite and combat the scourge of anti-Semitism and efforts to de-legitimize Israel together, as one people. I intend to speak about this as the Genesis Prize Laureate."

The Genesis Prize is a global award that celebrates Jewish achievement and contribution to humanity. Launched in 2013, the Prize is financed through a permanent endowment of $100 million established by The Genesis Prize Foundation. The Foundation is based in Tel Aviv and New York.

All laureates have selected causes that are important to them, and award funds in their honor have been donated to these causes. These initiatives have included support of social entrepreneurship based on Jewish values, inclusiveness of intermarried families in Jewish life, improving the lives of individuals with special needs, helping to alleviate the global refugee crisis, advancing women’s equality, and combatting anti-Semitism and efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.