Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky receives Israel's prestigious Genesis Prize

For his "lifelong struggle for human rights", former Soviet dissident turned Israeli politician Natan Sharansky has been awarded Israel's Genesis Prize for 2020

Genesis Prize Foundation announced former Soviet dissident turned Israeli politician, who served two terms as the head of Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, as the recipient of the 2020 Genesis award, often dubbed as 'Israel's Nobel'.

The award 'celebrates Jewish talent and achievement by honouring individuals for their professional accomplishments, commitment to Jewish values, and contribution to improving the world'.

The award recognizes his 'lifelong struggle for human rights'

Natan Sharansky
71-year old Natan Sharansky is the recipient of Israel's Genesis Award, for the year 2020 Wikimedia Commons

In its announcement on Tuesday, The Genesis Foundation said, "The award recognizes Sharansky's extraordinary lifelong struggle for human rights, political freedom and his service to the Jewish people and the State of Israel", Times of Israel reported. He will also be awarded with $1 million, which as per the precedent set by former recipients, would be donated. The award ceremony will take place in Jerusalem, on June 18, next year.

Sharansky responded by quoting his personal hero Ronald Reagan, who said, "freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not passed to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like to live when men were free".

He further said in a statement that he would use his time to speak about the rise in anti-Semitism and efforts to delegitimize Israel. As the recipient of the prestigious award, Sharansky has joined philanthropist Robert Kraft, actress Natalie Portman, artist Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor-director Michael Douglas, who have been former recipients of the award, since its inception in 2014.

Who is Natan Sharansky?

A computer specialist by profession, Sharansky applied for permission to emigrate to Israel, in 1973. Not only was he disallowed, he was harassed by KGB and later expelled from the Institute of Oil & Gas, where he worked. Having good command over English, he soon assumed the role of the spokesperson for the dissidents and refuseniks in contacting Western correspondents to publicize their cause.

Arrested by KGB over treason and espionage charges, he was tried secretively and later sentenced to a 13 years prison term. A child chess prodigy, he kept himself sane in solitary confinement by playing chess in his mind. "I played thousands of games, and I won them all," he told The New York Times in 1996. Nine years in detention, Sharansky was released in 1986 and was allowed to emigrate to Israel.

In Israel, he has served in the country's Parliament, the Knesset and held various ministerial roles. He has served two terms as the chief of the Jewish Agency of Israel, the largest non-profit organization of Jews.

Controversies surrounding 'Genesis Prize'

The 2018 recipient Israel-born actress Natalie Portman, refused to attend the ceremony as she didn't want to be seen as endorsing PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to present the award that year. The Foundation cancelled the ceremony in 2018. The next year's recipient, billionaire Robert Kraft brought much embarrassment, after he was embroiled in a prostitution scandal.