The Jerusalem Post
The Israel Prize is a privilege, not a right
The brouhaha surrounding this year’s Israel Prize serves as a prime example of the way in which the Left falsely decries being denied free speech.
The controversy began last month, when Education Minister Yoav Gallant asked the committee that selected Prof. Oded Goldreich, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, to win the country’s highest civilian honor in the category of math and computer science to reconsider its choice. Gallant pointed to a May 2019 letter that Goldreich had signed – along with many other “Jewish and Israeli scholars” – calling on the German Bundestag not to pass legislation equating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement with antisemitism.
The missive reads, in part, “The opinions about BDS among the signatories of this statement differ significantly: Some may support BDS, while others reject it for different reasons. However, we all reject the deceitful allegation that BDS as such is antisemitic .... We also call on all German parties not to exclude NGOs that endorse BDS from German funding. As also confirmed by the European Union, statements and actions in the context of BDS are protected by freedom of expression and freedom of association, as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU .... The equation of BDS with antisemitism has been promoted by Israel’s most right-wing government in history. It is part of persistent efforts to delegitimize any discourse about Palestinian rights and any international solidarity with the Palestinians suffering from military occupation and severe discrimination.”
Gallant said that it would be “absurd and unacceptable” to award the Israel Prize to someone who promotes the BDS movement that undermines the very existence of the state. The selection committee disagreed. They argued that Goldreich was chosen for his work on computational complexity theory, which has nothing to do with politics, and that he has the right to voice his views.
To hinder Gallant’s efforts to disqualify their recommended candidate for the prize, committee members filed a petition against him on March 30 with the High Court of Justice. The court’s ruling on April 9 – providing Gallant a month to reach a final decision on whether to rescind the prize – caused an expected uproar in chattering-class circles.
In the first place, it meant that Goldreich would not be able to receive the award at the official ceremony on April 12, a mere three days later; in other words, he missed the boat this year. Second, and more importantly, the ruling gave a grain of legitimacy to Gallant’s concerns, which the Zionist NGO Im Tirtzu had raised.
Among these was the revelation that as recently as March 23, Goldreich signed a petition with more than 500 fellow academics from home and abroad that called for a boycott of Israeli universities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). This was by no means the first time that he publicly opposed academic institutions in Israel’s biblical heartland.
A decade ago, he was among 150 Israeli professors who called for a boycott of Ariel University. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the radical anti-Israel activism in which he’s been involved throughout his career.
This didn’t stop the heads of most of the country’s illustrious institutions of higher learning – with the predictable exception of Ariel and Bar-Ilan universities – from coming out on his side, however.
IN A JOINT letter to Gallant last Friday, the presidents of the University of Haifa, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Tel Aviv University and the Open University wrote, “Denying a person a prize due to his political beliefs contradicts the basic principle of the Israel Prize and severely harms free speech and free thought. Your decision creates the difficult impression that only those who ‘toe the line’ will be rewarded, and anyone who dares express a political opinion outside of the consensus will be punished.”
The same sentiment was echoed by five of the eight winners of this year’s Israel Prize. In their own written appeal to Gallant, Hebrew literature scholar Nitza Ben-Dov, filmmaker Michal Bat-Adam, Bible scholar Yair Zakowitz, poet Nurit Zarchi and biochemist Eli Keshet spoke of the “deep sorrow” they felt about Goldreich’s
exclusion from the “festive ceremony.”
They even reportedly considered staging a protest at the event, but thought better of it when the other three recipients – Asia scholar Ben-Ami Shillony, sociologist/criminologist Ariela Lowenstein and lifetime achievement laureate Joseph Ciechanover – didn’t go along with the plan.
Nevertheless, Bat-Adam made her objections known at the event. Upon receipt of the award from Gallant, she said, “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.”
She then exited the stage in a dramatic huff.
As the above was taking place on Sunday in Jerusalem, Goldreich was being honored at an “alternative ceremony” at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. There, computer scientist David Harel, who won the Israel Prize in 2004, gave his award statue to Goldreich.
In his speech to participants, Goldreich said that the issue “is bigger than me and concerns us all. The position taken by the education minister is just another small step in an ongoing process of delegitimizing the Left in Israel.”
Maybe he should have that engraved on Harel’s statue, which hopefully is the closest he’ll get to the high annual honor granted ahead of the anniversary of the establishment of the Jewish state that he devotes so much time to bashing.
Of course, he denies hating Israel in its entirety. What he has no problem acknowledging is his loathing for the “evil” pair – Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – whose hands he would have been forced to shake had he actually been given the Israel Prize. But this would be nothing, he said, in comparison to the overall anguish caused by the Israeli government’s “criminal and stupid policies.”
This attitude is in keeping with Goldreich’s history of extremism, which far predates any Netanyahu-led government. His 2003 manifesto, “My political views,” is noteworthy in this regard.
In the rant that poses as an outline for action – replete with spelling and grammatical errors – he asserts that “Israeli society has been degenerating morally and intellectually for several decades and reached a disgusting low point.”
Israel’s sorry condition, he says, is due partly to “global degeneration” led by the United States, but “dominated by... the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thus, the single most important change that should take place is the immediate ending of this occupation.”
He goes on to state that “Israel’s rule of the occupied territories is marked by an increasing number of war crimes ranging from murder (i.e., intentional killing of people without due process and/or sound justification), to causing death and severe injury of civilians in hundreds of cases (by criminal negligence), massive intentional destruction of private and public property (i.e., houses, plants, vehicles, equipment, etc.), and the emprisonment [sic] and starvation of the entire population.”
Goldreich has never hidden his extremism. Nor has he ever been penalized, professionally or otherwise, for it. Quite the contrary is the case.
The idea that withholding the privilege of the Israel Prize from him constitutes a violation of his right to free speech is therefore not only laughable, it’s downright disingenuous. Indeed, only Ivory Tower denizens could be so obtuse as to buy the lie, and perverse enough to peddle it.