Final: Communist Professor Denied Israel Prize over Political Positions

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton announced on Thursday, November 18, affirmation of her far-right predecessor’s decision to withhold the prestigious Israel Prize from communist Professor Oded Goldreich following the latter’s support for the Palestinian struggle, and specifically his call to boycott Ariel University in the occupied West Bank.

Goldreich’s lawyer, Atty. Michael Sfard, called the decision “a death blow for the prestige of the Israel Prize.” He said that Shash-Biton’s decision shows that the award, which is ostensibly given solely for professional achievement, is in fact also “an award for avoiding criticism of government policy.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton at the Trump settlement in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights
(Photo: Shasha-Biton Facebook page)

Hadash Lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) defended Prof. Goldreich saying “The boycott of Ariel University is an important and just political action against the injustices of the occupation.” Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, responded similarly, calling the decision “embarrassing and dark.”

Shasha-Biton’s predecessor Yoav Gallant informed Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in June that he had finalized the decision to withhold the Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science from Prof. Goldreich, in one of his final acts in his ministerial role. The High Court of Justice voided Gallant’s decision in August and gave Shasha-Biton the option of deciding whether to affirm Gallant’s decision. Goldreich himself had said at the time that Gallant’s position was “just another small step in an ongoing process of delegitimizing the Left in Israel.” The renowned computer scientist claimed that “The Minister of Education wants to prevent me from receiving the award just because of my opinions, because of my leftism.”

The Weizmann Institute of Science, where Goldreich teaches, criticized the decision, saying on Thursday, “We are saddened and strongly protest the decision of the Minister of Education, Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton, not to award the Israel Prize to Professor Oded Goldreich. Prof. Goldreich is a leading and respected scientist in his field whose research makes a significant contribution to the advancement of science and the expansion of knowledge for the benefit of all mankind. These arguments formed the basis of the committee’s recommendation to award him the Israel Prize, which is awarded to citizens who have shown special excellence, distinguished achievements and a breakthrough in their field.”

“In a democratic society, the principle of freedom of expression must be preserved as a supreme principle, and political statements should not be a consideration in the decision regarding the recipients of the Israel Prize. The State of Israel extolls the excellence of its science and research, and thanks to the work of its scientists, it stands at the forefront of global innovation. In order to maintain the status of the Israel Prize as the highest honor the state bestows on its scientists, the only consideration for its award should have been research excellence.”

Related: Other posts on the denial of the Israel Prize to Professor Oded Goldreich