Opinion |

A Dishonorable Prize Given on a Day That Is All Hypocrisy

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at the Israel Prize ceremony in 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at the Israel Prize ceremony in 2019. Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

There is no glory in receiving a prize that the Israeli government awards to Israelis whose accomplishments speak for themselves. There is no honor in a prize that is awarded by the education minister, a former army commander who was a party to the policy of imprisoning the Gaza Strip. There is no splendor in an official prize that is given on a day that is all hypocrisy: when they say independence and mean expulsion, wax poetic about freedom while planning the next land theft, praise our enlightenment and bolster the rule of Jewish supremacy. One cannot denounce scientists, artists and writers for needing public recognition and esteem. But one can say that it’s worth paying attention to the phony part of the ceremony, the self-righteousness and arrogance of its organizers and the pretense that everything here is fine and normal and the way it should be. And one may request: Don’t be a part of this criminal normalization.

Israel is not the last country whose national holiday rests upon continuous wrongdoing to others. It is not the only product of settler colonialism and the mentality of supremacy to which it gave rise. It is not the only place where social and economic disparities based on ethnic and religious separation are perpetuated despite a formal framework of democracy.

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But while a significant portion of civil society in countries like France, Germany, New Zealand and even the United States is conscious of the built-in, primal injustices that were part of the birth and development of these states, and seeks to remedy at least some of them, the same cannot be said of Israel.

On the contrary: Under the cover of the “peace process,” Israel increasingly denies any historical, emotional, cultural or material ties of the Palestinians to their homeland. In the past 30 years, the Jewish state has proven over and over again the correctness of the arguments made by Palestinians since the 1920s and 30s – that Zionism is a colonialist movement, and that expelling a people from its land is its purpose and its side effect.

If a majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens were opposed to government policy, one could say that the prize does not belong to Likud, Kahane Chai and the right-wing settler organizations Ad Kan, Regavim and Amana. One could say the prize belongs to the people, and that creative mathematicians and filmmakers who accurately portray the contradiction-filled reality are representatives of that people, and worthy of its esteem. But let’s not lie to ourselves. When it comes to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, on both sides of the Green Line, most Jewish Israelis support it. On this there is no difference between Kahol Lavan and Yamina, or between devotees of radical right-wing rapper The Shadow and most of the Balfour protesters.

Many are enlightened when it comes to LGBT rights, or awareness of violence against women and the need to seriously penalize the perpetrators. The principles of the welfare state still speak to the heart of most of the public. Recognition of systematic discrimination against Israelis of Middle Eastern and North African background has grown substantially.

But this enlightenment and progressiveness have clear geographic and ethnic boundaries. Doctors, social workers and researchers did not demand en masse that the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank be vaccinated against coronavirus. Lawyers, geographers, high-tech workers and historians are not rallying to halt the violent takeover of West Bank lands by the Civil Administration, the settlement councils and the hilltop thugs. Nor are they joining planners and architects to demand the immediate return of land to overcrowded Palestinian towns and villages in Israel (like Nazareth and Umm el Fahm). The expulsion of Palestinians in Jerusalem from their homes and neighborhoods with a legal stamp of approval, did not spur university and college heads and students to take to the streets in protest. Silence, ignoring the issues and a lack of interest are the equivalent of active support.

Because the Jewish people in Israel is right-wing and chauvinist, government policy is an expression of its desires, and does not contradict them. An esteemeed prize from this people and its government is a dishonorable prize.

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