HCJ Affirms Denial of Israel Prize to Eminent Communist Professor

Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) upheld on Thursday, April 8, the decision of far-right Education Minister Yoav Galant to block the granting of this year’s Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science to Professor Oded Goldreich, an esteemed scholar from the Weizmann Institute of Science. Goldreich, a member of the Communist Party of Israel and a supporter of Hadash, its electoral front, was nominated for this year’s Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor, in mathematics and computer science by a panel of judges. However, shortly after the nomination was announced, extreme right groups called for his disqualification.

Education Minister Galant nixed the prominent academician’s nomination because of the latter’s long and consistent political opposition to the occupation, his support for the BDS movement, and most recently his signing of a petition to the EU calling on it to halt research funding for an Israeli university located in the large settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank.

Minister Gallant, a member of the ruling Likud party, a former head of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, and a rapid supporter of the settlements, refused to sign off on Goldreich’s award. As the minister’s signature is usually a formality, the Israel Prize’s nominating committee appealed to the High Court of Justice, saying Gallant had no authority to block their choice.

2019 Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem

2019 Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem (Photo: GPO)

Michael Sfard, Goldreich’s attorney, told the court that Gallant and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had “Created a clear McCarthyist track for denying the Israel Prize to people with positions opposing occupation, expulsion and apartheid, and thus bar from it [the prize] from an entire political camp in Israel that is guilty of the same crime.”

The mathematics and computer science committee of the Israel Prize said on Thursday, prior to the announcement of the HCJ’s ruling, that it was dismayed that the award had turned into “a political playing field, and that the regulations of the prize are not being upheld by the education minister.” It called on the court to ensure that Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Weizmann Institute, would in fact receive the prize, a call the High Court ultimately rejected. As is the case annually, the gala ceremony for the awarding of all Israel Prizes is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on Israel’s Independence Day, this year to be commemorated next Thursday, April 15.

Joint List leader, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) said that Goldreich was an “important voice of humanity and critical thinking,” calling the decision to revoke his prize “cowardly and ignorant.” Odeh concluded, “Criticism is never pleasing to the ear, but precisely because of this it is important to insist and voice it in the face of the alarming trend of the deepening occupation and the violation of human rights.” Odeh’s fellow Joint List MKs and Hadash comrades Ofer Cassif and Aida Touma-Suleiman backed up his statements, both calling on this year’s prizewinners to refuse to accept their prizes in solidarity with Goldreich.

Under the title “Give Israel Prize to Radical Mathematician,” an editorial published in Haaretz last Thursday said, “Education Minister Yoav Gallant has kept up his pathetic efforts to look for action in his ministry. Recently he twice refused to confirm an Israel Prize in mathematics and computer sciences to Professor Oded Goldreich of the Weizmann Institute, claiming he’s a BDS supporter.” Haaretz quipped that Gallant is “more deserving of the title of minister of war rather than education.” The CEO of the US-based progressive Jewish organization J Street wrote on Twitter that the High Court’s decision was “another sad, dangerous step towards disallowing critical thought regarding Israel’s policy in the West Bank.”