Natan Sharansky Named Genesis Prize Laureate for 2020

The Genesis Prize Foundation, which likes to refer to itself as the “Jewish Nobel,” announced Tuesday that its 2020 prize will be awarded to former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky.

The organizers will be hoping next year's event passes off without controversy following several scandals in recent years.

The 2020 award was in recognition of Sharansky’s “extraordinary lifelong struggle for human rights, political freedom and his service to the Jewish people and the State of Israel,” the foundation said. Sharansky served as chairman of the Jewish Agency for nine years, stepping down in August 2018. Before that he served as a Knesset member and minister in four Israeli governments.

Sharansky is the first recipient of the prize to live in Israel. As Agency chairman, he served as a member of the selection committee. After he left the post last year, he was appointed chairman of the foundation’s advisory board. He recused himself from the process once he learned he had been short-listed. Representatives of the foundation said the advisory board is not involved in selecting the candidates.

Natan Sharansky shaking hands with Ariel Sharon after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport from Moscow in February 1986.Nati Hernik / GPO

Responding to the announcement, Sharansky said: “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 is very important,” he added. “We need to unite and combat the scourge of anti-Semitism and efforts to delegitimize Israel together, as one people. I intend to speak about this as the Genesis Prize laureate.”

Born in Donetsk in 1948, Sharansky was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1977 after the Soviet authorities found him guilty of collaborating with the CIA. After serving nine years in prison, he was released on February 11, 1986, arriving in Jerusalem the very same day after emigrating to Israel.