A Different View on Israel

The Israel Prize as a Tool to Destroy Israel Democracy

Until a couple of weeks ago, Professor Oded Goldreich was unknown to the general public in Israel even though he is an acclaimed mathematician and a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. That anonymity was suddenly broken when it became known that he was nominated to receive the Israel Prize, the most prestigious prize the State of Israel awards for outstanding achievements in a variety of fields such as culture and science. But the fact that he was nominated to receive the prize was not the reason for his newly acquired fame. The Minister of Education, Yoav Gallant, refused to endorse the nomination (as is officially required by law but in most cases a formality) based on information that Professor Goldreich is a supporter of the BDS movement, which is illegal in Israel. However, despite extreme efforts by Gallant and his collaborators, the fascist-like organization called Im-Tirtzu, no information indicating the support or endorsement of BDS by professor Goldreich could be unearthed (most likely because there is no such information), and all that they did come up with is a signature of Goldreich on a manifest urging the EU to stop the funding of the Ariel University, which situated in the Occupied Territories.

In a petition to the High Court of Justice, meant to stop Gallant from excluding Goldreich, the judges argued that the Education Minister has the right to check if the renunciation of the BDS by Goldreich is “sincere”!!! And Gallant was given thirty days to do so. However, the consequence of this ruling, and the judges were very well aware of this, is the denial of the Prize to professor Goldreich, because the Prize is awarded on Independence Day which is this Wednesday! Moreover, the ceremony, which is usually broadcast live in Israel television was recorded in advance this time because of the Corona restrictions. The recording took place yesterday without professor Goldreich. A little more courage by Israel’s judges would definitely have been appropriate in the case!

The Israel Prize has until now, been shielded from political intrigue even though a number of events in the past have tainted the Prize through personal intrigue, opposition to the opinions of candidates, as well as blunt interference by politicians, but the events surrounding professor Goldreich have pulled the Prize into the political realm and it the effects of this precedent will reverberate through the nomination procedures as well as the award ceremonies.

Professor Goldreich was denied the scientific honor of the Prize because of his political opinions. Goldreich is just one of many who believe that the Occupation of Arab Lands is wrong and should stop. But in his case, his believes are being punished by the Minister of Education, and apparently, with the endorsement of the Supreme Court.

While the Council of University Heads came out with a statement disapproving of the move by the Minister, (while adding that they do not agree with Goldreich’s opinions but respect his right to have an opinion), it is rather clear that nothing beyond this rather bland statement, nothing can be expected of them. The risk that their University will suffer if they are too outspoken is too real and with higher education already being desperately underfunded, it appears to be better to swallow and shut up. (in particular though the universities are under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Higher Education, Zeev Elkin, an even more extreme politician than Gallant).

During the recording of the ceremony, apparently one of the recipients, Michal Adam, managed to say she “is sad” that Goldreich is not with them on the podium, but that will hardly put a dent in the views of Gallant and the segment will probably be edited out anyway. Again, the recipients did not launch a serious protest action (collective refusal of the Prize would have been appropriate) most likely out of fear how it would affect their careers. In cultural events it has long been clear (in particular during the disastrous reign of Miri Regev as Minister), that political expressions that go against the views of the decision makers will result in cutting of funding, denial of performances and probably even more. In the science arena, things are not as much in the open but appointments to University positions, allotment of grants, etc. is surely to be connected to how politically verbal you intend to be.

This trend also reverberates in committees that are to make decisions on Prizes, funding and opportunities, and committee members will realize quickly it is not in their best interest to nominate or support people who had the guts to utter political expressions (against those in power) and thus an effective “self-censorship” is being instituted.

The fact that the nomination of professor Goldreich was effectively squashed is a violation of one of the most basic pillars of democracy: the right to express your opinions. The most important goal of a dictatorial regime is to shut up dissent and to silence opposition. Israel has taken another big step towards the destruction of Democracy and with each step forward, it will be twice as hard to go back or even halt it.

The time to decide if we want a Democracy at all, is now. And maybe even now is already too late.

I hope you found this article interesting and I welcome any comments you may have.

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