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.

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