Natan Sharansky wins Israel Prize for promoting immigration to Israel


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky, the outgoing head of The Jewish Agency, will receive the  Israel Prize for promoting aliyah and the ingathering of the exiles.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced the prestigious honor on Sunday and released a video praising Sharansky.

“This is a great honor and a great responsibility,” Sharansky said in a statement. “When it comes to kibbutz galuyot, ingathering the exiles, this prize also goes to [his wife] Avital and to all the Aliyah activists and Prisoners of Zion in the Soviet Union who fought valiantly for the right to immigrate to Israel. It also goes to the entire Jewish people, which supported the refuseniks’ struggle for freedom.”

“The ingathering of the exiles continues – Aliyah today is an Aliyah of free choice: Israel is the best place for self-actualization as a Jew and for impacting the future of the Jewish people. We must do everything to ensure that Israel remains a home to every Jew in the world.”

On Friday, Bennett announced that educator Miriam Peretz, who had two sons killed in combat 12 years apart, will be awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement for “strengthening the Jewish-Israeli spirit.” Former Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who raised awareness of Jews of Middle Eastern origin, was announced Thursday as the Israel Prize recipient for lifetime achievement.

In announcing the prize for Peretz, the prize committee said that since her sons’ deaths, Peretz “has dedicated her life to education and instilling Zionist Jewish heritage, undertaking lecture tours for young people and Israeli soldiers, as well as traveling to communities around the world to light our way and strengthen our hand. Beyond that, Miriam has been assisting bereaved families and army wounded.”

Levy, 80, was born in Rabat, Morocco, and immigrated to Israel in 1957. He entered the Knesset in 1969 and served as a lawmaker until 2006, mostly for the Likud party. The prize committee called him “a social fighter for the weaker sectors of the population, a workers’ leader and a representative of the development towns and the periphery.”

Other Israel Prize winners were announced previously in several fields. The prize is awarded each year in several categories in a special public ceremony on Independence Day, which will be celebrated this year on April 19, the 70th birthday of the Jewish state.

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