JERUSALEM (JTA) — Natan Sharansky was unanimously elected to head the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Sharansky was elected chairman Thursday by the agency’s board of governors at its meeting in Jerusalem. He was to be sworn in the same day.
His nomination for the four-year term by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sparked controversy as the Jewish Agency works to assert its independence from political influence.
Sharansky, a former prisoner of Zion, most recently served as chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.
He was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment and hard labor in a Soviet prison in 1977 after he applied for an exit visa to Israel. After years of international pressure, including a massive rally in Washington, Sharansky was released in 1986 and went directly to Israel.
Sharansky founded the immigrant political party Yisrael B’Aliya in 1996 to accelerate the absorption of the massive numbers of Russian immigrants into Israeli society. Between 1996 and 2005 he served as a minister in the successive governments.