Last Minute Final Decision Vetoes Israel Prize for Communist Scholar

Former Education Minister Yoav Gallant informed Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Friday, June 11, that he had finalized his decision to withhold the Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science from Prof. Oded Goldreich of the Weizmann Institute and a member of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI). According to an Haaretz editorial published on Sunday, June 13, “Yoav Gallant’s final chord as education minister is very symbolic of the rot and degeneration that spread during the years of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule.”

Former Education Minister Yoav Gallant (left) with his mentor, previous PM Benjamin Netanyahu

Former Education Minister Yoav Gallant (left) with his mentor, previous PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Galant’s Facebook page)

Prof. Goldreich, whose receipt of the Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science was rejected by the far-right Gallant, was summoned to a hearing by the Education Ministry in May to discuss petitions he had signed and political activism he’d been engaged in against the occupation of the Palestinian territories. However, Goldreich refused to show up for the McCarthyist inquest.

The letter from Gallant, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, to the Attorney General came just two days before the Knesset narrowly passed a vote of confidence in the new Bennett-Lapid government in which the New Hope party’s Yifat Shasha-Biton has replaced Gallant as education minister.

The Zo Haderech website of the CPI quoted Goldreich’s lawyer Michael Sfard in response to the Gallant’s announcement: “Just before what appears to be the end of his term, Gallant is trying to get a few more headlines at Prof. Goldreich’s expense and is again forgetting that the Israel Prize is not a prize of the Israeli government. His letter expresses his McCarthyist approach and thus reinforces his anti-democratic legacy.”

A lawyer representing the members of the Israel Prize committee said Gallant lacked the authority to make such a decision. “The decision does not respect the Israel Prize enterprise and we are confident that the incoming education minister will make a different decision,” Attorney Gilad Barnea said.

Goldreich had been due to receive his award in Israel’s last Independence Day ceremony for Israel Prize winners in April, but a High Court of Justice decision gave Gallant more time to reach a decision about granting the prize to the professor, effectively preventing the renowned computer scientist from receiving it at the ceremony. At the time of its decision, the court had said that Goldreich could be awarded the prize at a later date. However, in the past, the High Court has always rejected petitions against awarding the prize to certain candidates on politically-motivated or other grounds.

Related: Posts on Odel Goldreich and his Israel Prize