Sharansky to receive top US honor

Only 3 other non-citizens received it: Mother Theresa, Mandella, and the Pope.

natan sharansky 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
natan sharansky 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former Israeli minister and statesman and world-renowned Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky will be awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony this week, becoming only the fourth non-American citizen to receive the two top civilian honors in the United States, the White House announced this weekend. Sharansky, 58, who stepped down from Israeli politics last month and now serves as a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center, a conservative Jerusalem research institute, joins Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II as the only non-American citizens to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor. "Natan Sharansky's life is the story of good conquering evil. He remains a powerful champion of the principles that all people deserve to live in freedom and that the advancement of liberty is critical to peace and security around the world," the White House statement read. "The United States honors Natan Sharansky for his contributions to the cause of democracy and freedom." The Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian award in the United States, will be awarded by US President George W. Bush to 10 individuals, including Sharansky, at a White House ceremony on Friday. The award recognizes individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." Sharansky, the Soviet dissident and Prisoner of Zion who spent nine years in the Soviet gulag for his work to advance religious liberty and human rights, was previously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1986, the year he was freed from a Soviet prison and allowed to realize his dream of immigrating to Israel. Only 28 individuals have received both awards, including the American physician and researcher Jonas Salk, who is best known for the development of the first polio vaccine, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, and the US civil rights activist Rosa Parks. "The commitment of the American people and their leaders to democracy and freedom for every individual has always given, and continues to give, strength and hope to oppressed nationals and people around the world. I am deeply moved by having been chosen to receive this honor," Sharansky said. "Natan Sharansky's determination in facing down tyranny in Soviet Russia inspired people around the world, and the moral clarity of his thought has provided much-needed intellectual leadership to the West under attack," said Daniel Polisar, president of the Shalem Center. "He is not only one of the leading statesmen of the Jewish people but is a genuine hero to millions." Sharansky is the author of the influential best-seller, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror which the US administration has used as a cornerstone for its policy to promote democracy in the Middle East. Bush, who previously invited Sharansky to the White House to discuss the book, has called Sharansky his "soul mate," citing him as an inspiration for Washington's campaign for worldwide democracy. After stepping down from a decade-long foray into Israeli politics, where he never succeeded to attract the support and admiration afforded him abroad, Sharansky now serves as the head of the Shalem Center's new strategic studies institute. The Medal of Freedom was first established by US President Truman in 1945 to recognize civilians for their efforts during World War II. The award was reinstated by President Kennedy in 1963 to honor distinguished service.