Genesis Prize Foundation names Natan Sharansky 2020 winner

Natan Sharansky is being recognized for his lifelong struggle for human rights, political freedom and for his service to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Natan Sharansky (photo credit: GENESIS PRIZE FOUNDATION)
Natan Sharansky
The Genesis Prize Foundation on Tuesday announced Natan Sharansky as its 2020 Genesis Prize laureate.
A human rights activist and Jewish leader, Sharansky is being recognized for his lifelong struggle for human rights, political freedom and for his service to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, the foundation explained in a release.
Sharansky is the first Genesis Prize laureate who is currently residing in Israel.
“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,” Sharansky said. “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 antisemitism is on the rise, both from the political Left and from the Right, the unity of the Jewish people and our connection to Israel is very important,” he continued. “We need to unite and combat the scourge of antisemitism and efforts to delegitimize Israel together, as one people. I intend to speak about this as the Genesis Prize laureate.”
Sharansky was born in Donetsk, Ukraine. As a young man, he made a request to make aliyah to Israel and was subsequently arrested on charges of treason and espionage. He spent nine years in prison before being released in 1986. On the day of his release, Sharansky flew to Israel.
Since then, he established the Zionist Forum to assist Soviet immigrants with their absorption in the Jewish state; established the Yisrael B’Aliyah Party to further accelerate Russian aliyah and integration; and ultimately served in four Israeli governments, including leading several ministries, as well as being a deputy prime minister under Ariel Sharon.
Sharansky is also a 2018 recipient of the Israel Prize, among other prestigious awards. He was one of the longest serving chairmen of the Jewish Agency for Israel, leading it from 2009 to 2018.
“A symbol of the Jewish quest for freedom, he has made a great contribution to strengthening the Jewish state, Jewish identity and Israel’s bond with global Jewry,” said Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog, who is also chairman of the Genesis Prize selection committee. “I congratulate my friend Natan on this prestigious global Jewish award. It rightfully complements the Israel Prize, the state’s highest honor awarded to Natan in 2018.”
Former New York City mayor and current US presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, a Genesis Prize recipient himself, also congratulated Sharansky: “His values and ethics, rooted deeply in his Jewish faith, have served as his moral compass – and his life has been a beacon to so many who dream of freedom.”
Former Prime Minsiter of the United Kingdom Tony Blair and current President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, also congratulated Sharansky. Blair described him as a “hero whose courage united people all over the globe in a quest for freedom.” Rivlin said he would use the announcement of Sharansky being named this year’s Genesis Prize laureate to “tell you again how much we appreciate your many years of work for the Jewish people in Israel and around the world, strengthening identity and fighting for our right to exist in security.”
The Genesis Prize honors individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity and commitment to Jewish values and Israel, a release explained. Honorees are bestowed a $1 million monetary award. In line with previous recipients, Sharansky will not personally accept the award, but donate the funds in his honor to nonprofit organizations, working through GPF’s philanthropic partner, Matan-United Way Israel.
According to Ahuva Yanai, CEO of Matan-United Way Israel, Genesis Prize laureates have reached more than 60 organizations in various fields with their prize money grants.
In addition to Bloomberg, previous Genesis Prize laureates are actor, producer and peace activist Michael Douglas; virtuoso violinist and advocate for individuals with special needs Itzhak Perlman; sculptor and advocate for the rights of refugees Sir Anish Kapoor; Oscar-winning actress and social activist Natalie Portman; and owner of New England Patriots and founder of the leading foundation to combat antisemitism Robert Kraft.
In 2018, the Genesis Prize Foundation honored US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing her contribution to equality and social justice.
These laureates have focused their efforts on diverse causes, ranging from inclusiveness of intermarried families in Jewish life, to improving the lives of individuals with special needs, helping to alleviate the global refugee crisis, advancing women’s equality, and combating antisemitism and efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.
Sharansky has not yet announced how he will distribute his $1 million.
The Genesis Prize award ceremony will take place in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020.