Renowned Israeli film director and actress Michal Bat-Adam, a recipient of one of this year’s prestigious Israel Prizes, denounced on Sunday, April 11, far-right Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s move to withhold the prize from another nominee, Professor Oded Goldreich, due to that latter’s political views.
During the recording of the awards ceremony on Sunday, Bat-Adam received the award from Gallant and made a brief acceptance speech saying, “I’m very happy to receive the prize, but I’m very sad that we’re only four women and four men tonight because we’re missing one winner.” Bat-Adam immediately left the stage after making the statement. The screening of the ceremony will be held today, Thursday, April 15, Israel’s Independence Day.
All told, five of the eight winners of this year’s Israel Prize have formerly condemned Gallant’s decision to deny the prize to Goldreich. In a letter they jointly sent to the education minister they wrote, “We express our deep sorrow that Prof. Goldreich will be absent from the festive ceremony.” The prize winning signers of the protest letter included literature scholar Nitza Ben-Dov, filmmaker Bat-Adam, biblical scholar Yair Zakowitz, poet Nurit Zarchi and the biochemist Eli Keshet.
On Thursday, April 8, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) upheld Gallant’s move to temporarily block Goldreich from receiving this year’s Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science over claims that he supports the Palestinian-led international boycott movement targeting Israel, allegations the professor denies. Among other petitions Goldreich has signed in the past, most recently is one calling on the EU to halt funding to researchers working at Ariel University located in the occupied West Bank.
Because of Goldreich’s political views and activism, Gallant, a member of the ruling Likud party, a former head of the Israel military’s Southern Command, and a supporter of the settlements, refused to sign off on Goldreich’s award, usually just a formality. In reaction, the Israel Prize nominating judges appealed to the High Court of Justice, saying Gallant had no authority to block their choice. Michael Sfard, Goldreich’s attorney, told the court that Gallant and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, “Created a clear McCarthyist track for denying the Israel Prize to people with positions opposing occupation, expulsion and apartheid, and thus bar from it an entire political camp in Israel that is guilty of the same crime.” Nevertheless, the court rejected the petitioners’ appeal.
However, the heads of seven of Israel’s research universities have also formally protested the government’s decision to withhold Israel’s most prestigious prize from a scholar over his political views, writing to Galant on Sunday, April 11, that they believe he doesn’t have the authority to permanently prevent the granting of the prize to Goldreich. The signatories to this letter include the rectors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion, the University of Haifa, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and the Open University.
On Sunday, April 11, Israel Prize laureate Professor David Harel, a computer scientist who was awarded the prize in 2004, presented his award statue to Goldreich in an “alternative ceremony” at the Weizmann Institute of Science. About a hundred scientists and activists took part in the protest ceremony among them MKs Ofer Cassif (Hadash – Joint List) and Mossi Raz (Meretz). Speaking at the event, Goldreich noted that the decision by Gallant had wider repercussions for freedom of speech. “This is bigger than me and it concerns us all,” he said. “The position taken by the education minister is just another small step in an ongoing process of de-legitimizing the left in Israel.”