Education Minister: We Must Check if Israel Prize Winner's Renunciation of BDS Is 'Sincere'

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Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a school in Netanya in February.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a school in Netanya in February.Credit: Hadas Parush

Education Minister Yoav Gallant said Friday that Israel must check if Israel Prize winner's renunciation of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is 'sincere,' before he awarding him the prize.

Prof. Oded Goldreich, a scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, was awarded the prize by the committee for his work in computational complexity. Gallant refuses to award him the prize, claiming that Goldreich supports the BDS movement, despite Goldreich's insistance that he does not.

Gallant tweeted Friday that the Israel prize is "the most prestigious honor Israel can bestow. Anyone who does not hold the State of Israel and its laws close to their heart, does not deserve the Israel Prize."

He further stated that Professor Goldreich may be "a brilliant scientist," but that by supporting the BDS movement, he "spits in the face of the State of Israel and Israeli academia, and may even be breaking the law."

Gallant said that he would "complete [an] investigation into whether the professor’s renunciation of the boycott movement is sincere and if the information he gave the court and the state is correct," saying that he "will not contribute to a boycott supporter standing on a stage on Independence Day and receiving a prize from the heads of state."

The presidents of all the Israeli universities released a joint letter Friday, calling on Gallant to rescind his objection to awarding Goldreich the prize. "Denying a person a prize due to his political believes contradicts the basic principle of the Israel Prize and severely harms free speech and free thought," the letter said. "Your decision creates the difficult impression that only those who 'toe the line' will be rewarded, and anyone who dares to express a political opinion that is outside of the consensus will be punished," they concluded.

However, the presidents clarified that they do not agree with Prof. Goldreich's political stance. "Our statement is not out of political identification with Prof. Goldreich's statements. Rather, with regards to his statements, we are of a different opinion. However, we believe that it is his right, as a person who lives in a democratic nation, to express his opinion without fear and without trepidation," the letter said.

The Israeli High Court of Justice on Thursday accepted the education minister's request to reconsider awarding the Israel Prize to Goldreich over his alleged support for boycotting an Israeli university located in a West Bank settlement. Goldreich has denied that he supports the BDS movement.

Gallant challenged the decision to grant Goldreich the prize based on statements Goldreich has made, as well as a petition he had signed calling on the European Union to cease cooperating with Ariel University.

Goldreich’s attorney, Michael Sfard, said in response that he was “accused of a crime apparently with no precedent in Israel until now: being a leftist.” He noted, “The attorney general, together with the education minister, devised a clearly McCarthyist path to prevent [awarding] the Israel Prize to those with anti-occupation views.”

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