This year’s Israel Prize for literature may be imperiled after the entire panel of judges resigned over what they said was right-wing political meddling in the makeup of the committee by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The panel members resigned last week after two new judges were removed from their post by the PMO, apparently because of their political views, sparking a backlash in the creative community. According to media reports, the Education Ministry fears that the prize may not be awarded at all this year, since other scholars and public figures are likely to avoid associating with the award, making the establishment of a replacement panel extremely difficult.
According to a report in Haaretz last Sunday, February 8, in an unprecedented move, the Prime Minister’s Office disqualified as judges Prof. Avner Holtzman of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Ariel Hischfeld from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. On Tuesday, February 10, the remaining six judges resigned to protest the “clear politicization of the prize and the vote of no confidence in the professors’ professional judgment,” Haaretz quoted panel member Prof. Nissim Calderon as saying.
In addition to Calderon, the other panel judges who resigned were Prof. Nurit Gertz, Prof. Ziva Ben-Porat, Ephraim Hazam, Uri Hollander, and author Gail Hareven. Moreover, Prof. Yigal Schwartz, who was one of the candidates for the prize in the field of literary research, announced Tuesday night that he is withdrawing his candidacy in protest. “This is an unparalleled scandal,” said Schwartz, a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and editor-in-chief of the Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir publishing house. “I’m withdrawing my candidacy and urge other candidates to do the same. This isn’t a mistake; it’s a continuation of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s deliberate policy of undermining Israel’s elites to gain votes from other groups. This is sabotage that it’s impossible not to oppose. Even this institution, the Israel Prize, which had remained untainted, they have sabotaged.”
In a statement released Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office said it reviewed the panel’s composition after learning that Prof. Ariel Hischfeld supported conscientious objectors in the IDF. The PMO did not say why Prof. Avner Holtzman was disqualified.
According to Haaretz, a source in the Prime Minister’s Office said the Netanyahu’s bureau demanded the appointment of a specific judge to a panel because it was “the prime minister’s will.” On Tuesday, the PMO also disqualified a judge on the panel of the Israel Prize for film, producer Haim Sharir. Sharir’s removal prompted another producer and member of the judging panel Ram Loevy to resign in protest. Sharir’s replacement resigned hours after accepting the bid, and then Sharir was asked to rejoin the panel, but he refused.