The Israel Prize committee has decided to award Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky with the lifetime achievement award for his work in the immigration to Israel sector. “Natan symbolizes the realization of the Zionist dream,” Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett stated on Sunday.

Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir/TPS

Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, a human rights activist and a former refusenik who spent nine years in a Soviet prison before immigrating to Israel, will be awarded the 2018 Israel Prize lifetime achievement award in the fields of Aliyah and the ingathering of the Jewish diaspora, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced Sunday. “Natan symbolizes the realization of the Zionist dream, from the darkness of the Soviet prison as a prisoner of Zion to the light of freedom as the leader of the Jewish Agency,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.

“The actions of Mr. Sharansky are actions for the benefit of the Jewish people and the State of Israel and constitute complete dedication, which even damaged his freedom,” the Israel Prize committee wrote in its announcement. “His life story is a signal and symbol of the struggle of the Jewish people’s right to immigrate to the Land of Israel.”

Sharansky, born in 1948 in Donetsk, Ukraine, was convicted of collaborating with the CIA and sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1977. He was released from prison in 1986 due to fierce international pressure and a campaign led by his wife, Avital, who was waiting for him in Israel. On the same day of his release, he left the Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel.

Watch: The story of Natan Sharansky

After a decade in Israel, Sharansky founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party, which eventually merged into the Likud. In 2009, he was selected as the chairman of the Jewish Agency. He is slated to step down from the position in June.