Women, non-Jews and Mizrahim Shortchanged by Israel Prize Juries

As opposed to Netanyahu's charges, the real problem isn’t that the recipients have radical left-wing views; most don’t. In fact, several prominent rightists have won the prize over the last 15 years,

Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop
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Adina Bar-Shalom, the 2014 winner of the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, in December 2014.
Adina Bar-Shalom, the 2014 winner of the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, in December 2014.Credit: Emil Salman
Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

Only about 8 percent of Israel Prize winners over the last 15 years were Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin), a Haaretz probe has found.

Women were also underrepresented, accounting for only 43 of the approximately 230 prizes awarded since 2000 (18.7 percent). And only a single winner during this period was non-Jewish – Kamal Mansour, a Druze who won the lifetime achievement award in 2010. No Muslim Arab has ever won the prize.

The investigation was conducted on the basis of publicly available computerized databases, so some inaccuracies with regard to whether a given winner was Mizrahi or Ashkenazi are possible.

Most of the 18 Mizrahi winners won the lifetime achievement award, which is the most flexible category. The prizes in various fields of research generally go to senior university professors. Prizes are also awarded in various artistic fields.

Among the most prominent Mizrahi winners were Adina Bar-Shalom and Eli Alalouf (lifetime achievement), Sasson Somekh (Middle Eastern studies), Sammy Smooha (sociology) and Pinchas Cohen Gan (art).

In the fields of literature and poetry, only three of the 11 winners since 2000 have been women. The prize for literary research has been awarded six times since 2000, each time to Ashkenazi men.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged that the prize juries often contain “people with extremist views, including anti-Zionists,” who “grant the prizes to their friends,” so that “anyone who isn’t identified with their views, who doesn’t belong to their clique, finds it very hard to get onto the prize juries or receive the prize.”

But the real problem isn’t that the recipients have radical left-wing views; most don’t. In fact, several prominent rightists have won the prize over the last 15 years, including the late Ron Nachman, a Likud member and mayor of the West Bank settlement of Ariel; former Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir; and Geula Cohen, a prominent member of the pre-state right-wing underground Lehi.

Instead, the problem is that entire population groups appear to be effectively excluded from the prize.

Netanyahu isn’t the first to criticize the lack of diversity among the prize winners. In 2010, a state comptroller’s report concluded, “The way the winners are chosen leads to the fact that there’s no correspondence between the distribution of the population and that of the prize winners over the years. For example, of some 620 winners, only about 90 were women, and only five prize winners have been non-Jewish.” Since then, however, nothing has been done to solve this problem.

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