Top Court Allows Minister to Withhold Israel Prize Over BDS Accusations

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Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a conference in Jerusalem, last month.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a conference in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Israeli High Court of Justice on Thursday accepted the education minister’s request to reconsider yet again a decision to award the Israel Prize to Prof. Oded Goldreich over his support for boycotting an Israeli university located in a West Bank settlement.

The decision means that Goldreich, recommended for the award by the prize committee, will not receive the prize in mathematics and computer sciences during the annual ceremony held on Independence Day, which falls this year on April 15.

Education Minister Yoav 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, 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 boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, even though Goldreich insists he doesn't support it.

Prof. Oded Goldreich.Credit: Dana Ron

Justices Yitzhak Amit, Noam Solberg and Yael Vilner said that the education minister and the attorney general should be allowed to investigate whether the petition signed by Goldreich is covered by anti-boycott law legislation passed in 2011 known as the Law for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott.

The Israel Prize judges’ committee for math and science petitioned the High Court of Justice late last month against Gallant’s decision.

The committee said in a Thursday statement it was "unfortunate that the Israel Prize has become a political playground," accusing Gallant of going against the protocol. The committee stressed that Goldreich should receive the award "due to his unique and significant scientific work."

Gallant asked the committee twice in recent weeks to reconsider giving Goldreich the prize because of comments he has made, but the committee responded that the statements were irrelevant. Gallant is officially required to approve the committee’s decision, but his authority on the matter is limited. The rules governing the Israel Prize do permit the education minister to ask the committee to reconsider but also specify that “the committee’s second decision is final.”

'Accused of being leftist'

Goldreich’s attorney, Michael Sfard, said in response that he was “accused of a crime apparently with no precedent in Israel until now: being 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.”

“The notion that the minister will continue to look into Goldreich’s political statements… is despicable,” Sfard added.

Two lawmakers from the Arab-majority Joint List, Ofer Cassif and Aida Touma-Sliman, condemned the court's decision and called on all Israel Prize laureates to refuse the award and boycott the formal ceremony.

Cassif on Twitter blasted a "witch-hunt on those who dare fight for the country's soul," and said: "Dark regimes always invent enemies from within to tighten their grip on power." Touma-Sliman called the decision "another risky step in the political persecution of leftists who support human rights."

Jack Khoury contributed to this report.

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