One of the winners of this year’s Dan David Prize plans to give the prize money to three Israeli human rights organizations.
Prof. Evelyn Fox Keller, one of nine people who received the award at Tel Aviv University Sunday night, will give the money to B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights.
The scientist and feminist thinker told Haaretz that the moment she found out she had won the prize, she decided she could accept it only if she gave the money to organizations combating Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
In a written statement to Haaretz on Sunday, the 82-year-old, who last taught at MIT wrote, “I am deeply grateful to the Dan David Foundation both for the honor conferred by the prize, and for the opportunity it provides me to support those elements of Israeli society committed to peaceful coexistence and to the protection of human rights for all.”
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Asked why she didn’t just refuse the prize, since it is granted by an Israeli university which is part of the system and doesn’t criticize it, she replied, “I didn’t see it that way. I am accepting the prize in support of people who resist the system. I didn’t see what would be served by turning it down. As a political statement, it is stronger if I take the prize and give it away.”
The interview with Fox Keller took place last Thursday, less than 24 hours after she landed in Israel. She said she decided to announce her plans for the prize money through this interview rather than during the ceremony because “I didn’t want it to be a ‘fuck you’ statement. I don’t want to be the focus of the night.”
On Saturday, she revealed her plans to her two co-winners in the “Past – History of Science” category, Prof. Lorraine Daston of Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Prof. Simon Schaffer of Cambridge University. The other six winners were in the categories of “Present – Bioethics” and “Future – Personalized Medicine.” The $3 million purse will be evenly divided among the nine of them.
The prize, named for the international entrepreneur and philanthropist who established it, is granted annually “for achievements having an outstanding scientific, technological, cultural or social impact on our world,” according to its website. Fox Keller won for “pioneering work on language, gender, and science” which “has been hugely influential on shaping our views of the history of science.” Her research specialties are theoretical physics, mathematical biology, feminist thought and history of science.
The website’s reference to her “pioneering work” refers to her discovery of the degree to which modern scientific thought and its depiction of natural phenomena were shaped by patriarchal ideology and language. For instance, biologists searched for a “master” molecule – a dominant molecule that would operate an entire system – rather than recognizing the cooperation and self-organization of the various component parts.
Christina Agapakis, a biologist and founding editor of “Method Quarterly,” wrote in her introduction to an interview with Fox Keller in 2014, “Throughout her career she has pushed the boundaries of science, confidently crossing the borders that separate disciplines and breaking down the barriers keeping women out of the highest reaches of scientific achievement.”
Asked whether she thought Israeli universities should speak out against infringements on Palestinians’ academic freedom — such as Israel’s refusal to let students from the Gaza Strip study in the West Bank and obstacles it places before foreign academics and students who wish to teach or study in the occupied territories — Fox Keller responded, “Of course I think they should, but they don’t. And they don’t want to and don’t have a voice.”
It’s not just Tel Aviv University that “doesn’t have a will,” she added. “None of the universities in Israel have a will.”
Her last visit here was 10 years ago, when she was hosted by the Weizmann Institute of Science. She said she was shocked by the changes in her friends, who used to consider themselves liberals and socialists, yet had no idea what was happening in the Palestinian territories under Israeli rule.
“The biggest change is probably the children, the effect the army had,” she said.
“I said [then that] Israel makes me ashamed of being a Jew,” she added. “Yes, I feel the same today.”
Asked why she should feel that way, since she’s an American Jew rather than an Israeli, she replied, “It was just a gut response. I cannot defend it ... [except to say that] my political commitments are whatever remains of my Jewish leftist heritage.”