The Israel Prize Is Meant to Unify. More Often, It’s Mired in Controversy

Isabel Kershner in The New York Times:

JERUSALEM — The annual Israel Prize ceremony is supposed to be an august and unifying event, a beloved highlight of the Independence Day celebrations that fall on Thursday this year. This being Israel, it is rarely without controversy. The latest ruckus goes to the heart of the political divides and culture wars rocking the country’s liberal democratic foundations even as it remains lodged in a two-year leadership crisis. The prize is the state’s most prestigious honor, traditionally awarded to 10 or more citizens or organizations for outstanding contributions to the sciences, culture and society. The scandal began about a month ago, when Education Minister Yoav Gallant, whose ministry oversees the prize, refused to honor one winner, Oded Goldreich, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Mr. Gallant, from the conservative Likud party, asserts that Professor Goldreich supports the international, pro-Palestinian campaign to boycott Israel, even though the professor has said he is neutral on the issue — now a touchstone of the dominant right-wing camp’s test of loyalty and patriotism. Over the years, the Supreme Court has fielded requests from outside critics to disqualify several laureates from across the political spectrum. This year, unusually, the selection committee that chose Professor Goldreich itself turned to the Supreme Court to complain that Mr. Gallant had overstepped his authority: The education minister grants the prize but has no say over the committee’s choices.

“Once again, we are required, in what has turned into a repetitive ritual, to engage in the Israel Prize,” the panel of three judges lamented in a ruling issued last week. “Indeed,” they added, “it is regrettable that such a prestigious and renowned award and such a unifying and uplifting event as the Israel Prize ceremony has turned into an almost constant source of disagreement and division.”

More here.