Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) announced Sunday afternoon that this year’s Israel Prize lifetime achievement award will go to former refusenik and Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky.
Sharansky, 70, was imprisoned by Soviet authorities for nine years from 1977 to 1986 after he was denied an exit visa to Israel, and accused by the Soviet government of spying for the US.
Following a global campaign to pressure the USSR, including from then-President Ronald Reagan, Sharansky was freed in a prisoner swap with the US in February 1986.
Sharansky, born Anatoly Borisovich Shcharansky, immigrated to Israel and Hebraized his name.
In the 1990s, Sharansky founded and led the Yisrael BeAliyah party, which focused on the concerns of recent immigrants from the Soviet Union. In 2003, the party merged with the Likud.
During his political career in Israel, Sharansky served in a variety of roles including Interior Minister, Trade Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Jerusalem Affairs.
In 2009, Sharansky was tapped to lead the Jewish Agency, which works to encourage immigration to Israel.
On Sunday, Education Minister Bennett announced that Sharansky would be awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement for his decades of work to advance the cause of Aliyah [immigration to Israel].
Sharansky is also a recipient of the American Congressional Medal of Honor (1986), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2006).