With Left Wing Artist on Short List, Israel Cancels Top Honors for Plastic Arts

Panel hadn't reached unanimous decision, says Naftali Bennett's bureau, but a majority had decided to give the prize to left-wing darling Yair Garbuz.

Author Yair Garbuz at election rally: Accused of condescension, racism and contempt.
Moti Milrod

The award of an the Israel Prize in the category of plastic arts has been canceled by Education Minister Naftali Bennett this year, after the committee failed reach an unanimous decision on a winner.

In fact a decision had been made, to award the prize to the controversial artist Yair Garbuz, reported the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday. The decision just hadn't been unanimous.

Among his other claims to fame, Garbuz set off an uproar in 2015 with his so-called “amulet speech" at an election rally in Tel Aviv.

In the speech, Garbuz asked why “amulet-kissers, idol worshippers and people who prostrate themselves on the graves of holy men” still control the country. Largely considered to be a figurehead of the secular left, Garbuz's comment was greeted with howls of protest in right-wing circles.

According to the report, the prize committee, headed by sculptor and painter Ya’acov Dorchin, chose Garbuz, but since the decision was not unanimous, Bennett simply canceled the prize in that category this year. The other members of the committee were Israel Dahan, Dr. Aya Lurie and Prof. Haim Maor.

Bennett’s bureau stated that the minister had not been involved in the committee’s work at any stage. "When he was informed about the lack of unanimity, the minister acted in accordance with procedure,” the bureau said.

However, the only relevant thing in the Israel Prize regulations, which can be read (in Hebrew) on the Israel Prize website, is a rule saying the minister may establish a new committee if no agreement is reached on a winner.

“If a committee concludes its discussions with disagreements among the judges, the education minister shall be entitled to select and assemble a new committee for that field,” the rules state.

“We sign a confidentiality agreement concerning all of the discussions about the prize," said Lurie, a member of the committee. "All I can say is that the statement that was released speaks for itself. The committee did not reach unanimous agreement on a candidate. I cannot say who the other candidates were.”