Eighteen prominent international scientists wrote Education Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday in protest of his decision to withhold the Israel Prize from Weizmann Institute mathematician Oded Goldreich over his political opinions. The scientists, outstanding figures in computer science and mathematics, are laureates of important awards such as the Turing Award and the Abel Prize, which considered as significant as the Nobel Prize.
Two weeks ago, the High Court of Justice ruled that Gallant should be allowed to investigate whether to withhold the Israel Prize from Goldreich because he signed a petition calling on the European Union to stop cooperating with Ariel University in the West Bank. Because the ruling came a few days before the Israel Prize ceremony, Goldreich was denied the prize until a final decision is made.
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The letter calls on Gallant to grant Goldreich the prize, and states that refusal to do so due to his political opinions puts at risk the academic excellence for which Israel is known, and will diminish the prize’s prestige. The writers praised Goldreich for his contributions to computer science and mathematics and their impact on technology. They noted that the Israel Prize is known worldwide as a mark of excellence and is free of political considerations.
Copies of the letter, which was initiated by two Israeli scientists teaching in the United States, professors Shafi Goldwasser and Avi Wigderson, were sent to President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
The day after the court’s ruling, Gallant wrote: “We will take advantage of the time at our disposal to complete our investigation of whether the professor’s current disavowal of the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement is sincere,” and that the outcome would decide whether to award him the prize.
Goldreich told Haaretz that the education minister’s position “is nothing more than one small step in the ongoing process of delegitimizing the left wing in Israel.” Goldreich said Gallant wants to “prevent me from receiving the prize because of my opinions, because I am left-wing. There is nothing else.”