Former Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky named Israel Prize recipient for ‘ingathering of the exiles’


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

The prize was announced on Sunday by Education Minister Naftali Bennett who released a video which praised Sharansky.

On Friday, Bennett announced that educator Miriam Peretz, two of whose sons were 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, of the Likud Party, who raised awareness of Jews of Middle Eastern origin, on Thursday was announced as the recipient of Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.

“This is a great honor and a great responsibility. When it comes to kibbutz galuyot, ingathering the exiles, this prize also goes to 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,” Sharansky said in a statement. “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.”

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 emigrated 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 announced recipients include the founders of Ormat Industries, Yehuda and Yehudit Bronicki, for industry; Gil Shwed,  CEO of Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies, for technology and innovation; author  David Grossman for literature; Sergiu Hart for economics; Shlomo Havlin for physics; Alex Lubotzky for mathematics and computer science; Yitzhak Schlesinger  for psychology; Ron Ben-Yishai for journalism; Elisha Qimron for Jewish studies; and Edwin Seroussi for music.

The Israel 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.