The $1 million award honors individuals for their outstanding professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people. Selected from among two hundred and fifty nominees, Sharansky has chosen, as have previous laureates, to forgo the $1 million monetary award, which the foundation will donate to nonprofits.
As a leader of the Soviet dissident movement in the 1970s, Sharansky demanded that the USSR live up to its international human rights obligations, was arrested, and spent nine years in the Soviet penal system as a prisoner of conscience. Released in 1986 following an intense international pressure campaign, Sharansky moved to Israel, where he continued his activism on behalf of freedom, democracy, and human rights and later served in government, including a stint as deputy prime minister. As head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, he focused on increasing repatriation of Jews to Israel, strengthening the links between Israel and global Jewry, and fighting for the rights of new immigrants, religious minorities, and women — including an effort to develop a separate, egalitarian prayer space for women near the Western Wall.
"I am humbled by this honor and thank the Genesis Prize Foundation for recognizing my work to promote democracy, rule of law, and human rights," said Sharansky. "As my personal hero President Ronald Reagan 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."
"Natan Sharansky is one of the great human rights advocates of our lifetime," said Genesis Prize Foundation co-founder and chair Stan Polovets. "At great personal sacrifice, he fought for the rights and dignity of all ethnicities, religions, and nationalities. Today, as we witness democratic principles being challenged and human rights, along with freedoms of thought and expression, denied to so many, Natan's example is an inspiration to all those struggling for democracy. While this is particularly true in parts of the world under authoritarian rule, even in democracies our freedoms cannot be taken for granted. Natan's ideals and vision are as relevant today as they were in the 1980s when he took on the totalitarian Soviet regime — and won."