Famous ‘refusenik’ Natan Sharansky to receive prestigious Israel Prize

“Sharansky is the story of Israel,” Education Minister Bennett said upon announcing the retiring Jewish Agency head as winner of Israel’s most prestigious award for Aliyah and Diaspora work. 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett announced Sunday that Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky is the 2018 Israel Prize winner for Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) and Diaspora work.

“Sharansky is the story of Israel,” Bennett stated, referring to the near-decade that the former Prisoner of Zion sat in a Soviet jail as a “symbol of all those imprisoned for wanting to live as free and proud Jews and for their hope to make aliyah to Israel.”

The minister then praised Sharansky for “working tirelessly” for world Jewry and helping to absorb those who made the move to Israel once he was released from the Former Soviet Union.

He also gave full credit to Avital, Sharansky’s wife, saying that the prize was for her as well, for she was “a true Jewish hero” in leading the struggle to free her husband.

Sharansky, 70, is a world-famous figure due to his long imprisonment and his wife’s very public campaign to free him. He arrived in Israel in 1986 and nine years later co-founded the Yisrael B’Aliya party. Until 1996, he served variously as a journalist, Knesset member, government minister and deputy prime minister. For the past nine years, he has been chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a position from which he will retire in just a few months.

The Israel Prize will be joining the top honors already granted him in the United States – the Congressional Medal of Honor (in 1986) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (in 2006).

Mother of 2 fallen soldiers awarded prize

On Thursday, it was announced that Miriam Peretz, an educator who lost two sons in battle, had been awarded the Israel Prize in Lifetime Achievement for Strengthening the Jewish-Israeli spirit.

Peretz has traveled the country to speak to soldiers and youth about her family’s dedication to the land and people of Israel, “imparting the Jewish and Zionist heritage” to “light our ways and strengthen our hands,” as the prize committee said. She visits every family mourning a victim of terror as well as injured IDF soldiers, and has gone abroad to give lectures in Jewish communities worldwide about her love of the country and the importance of Israel to every Jew.

In the words of the committee, “Miriam is a symbol of the framework of the Jewish and Israeli spirit and is a symbol and an example of giving and helping others, society and the community.”

Politician and ‘social fighter’ also a winner

The Israel prize, the country’s highest honor, is awarded annually in several categories, including the sciences, culture, Jewish studies, lifetime achievement and exceptional contribution to the nation.

Winning the prize in the latter category this year is David Levy, who served in the Knesset and government for nearly 40 years (1969-2006). His portfolios included Minister of Foreign Affairs, Immigrant Absorption, Housing and Construction and Deputy Prime Minister. He was one of the first Sephardi politicians to rise to such high positions.

The Israel Prize committee described Levy as “a social fighter for the weaker sectors of the population, a workers’ leader and a representative of the development towns and the periphery.”