This year's Israel Prize in political science will be awarded to Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Education Minister Yuli Tamir announced Thursday.

The judges described Sternhell as "one of the leading scholars in the field of political thought in Israel and the world."

He is a regular contributor to the opinion pages of Haaretz. Sternhell expressed delight at his selection, saying: "This is an award for decades of scientific work."

The committee members, Professors Shlomo Avineri, Ella Balfer and Avraham Brichta, went further in citing Sternhell's contributions: "His innovative studies in political science, which have been translated into many languages, have led among other things to a significant change in the scientific community in the concept of ideological movements in general and radical movements in particular.

"Prof. Sternhell is also an intellectual who engages in the public discourse in Israel and the world, and the things he says, even when their tone is critical, are said out of a deep commitment to the country and society in Israel."

The Israel Prize ceremony will be held as usual on Independence Day. Sternhell was born in 1935 in Galicia. After World War II broke out, he was smuggled to Lwow by an uncle who was allowed to work outside the Przemysl ghetto.

"We got through the war on Aryan papers, thanks to two families of Righteous Gentiles, plenty of luck and no small amount of money. In the summer of 1944 came liberation by the Red Army," Sternhell wrote in his memoirs.

After the war he left Poland for France, where he lived with an aunt. "Those were formative years, of great importance in shaping me intellectually. A boy who experienced Nazism and Stalinism and also got to know religious fanaticism in its Catholic-Polish version, suddenly discovered freedom, human rights, freedom of speech and secularism. At that time French schooling was among the best in the world and knew how to instill in its pupils fundamental principles."

In 1951 Sternhell came to Israel with the Youth Aliya program, and was sent to the Magdiel agricultural institution.

"The War of Independence fired my imagination," he says. "The decision to immigrate was a personal one, which stemmed from both a Zionist family history and my own desire to take part in building the state of the Jews."

Thanks to a small inheritance, he was able to pay the expensive high-school tuition of those days, and completed his matriculation exams.