Attorney General Says No Basis for Withholding Israel Prize From Left-wing Professor

Mendelblit tells High Court that education minister's decision not to award Israel Prize to professor over his views is unfounded

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Professor Oded Goldreich.
Professor Oded Goldreich.Credit: Moti Milrod
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The attorney general told the High Court of Justice Monday that there is no legal justification for denying the Israel Prize to a professor of computer science over his political views.

Avichai Mendelblit said that Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s decision not to award the Israel Prize in math and computer science to Oded Goldreich is unfounded.

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The court may now override the education minister.

In August, the High Court voided the decision by Shasha-Biton’s predecessor, Yoav Gallant, to withhold the prize from Goldreich, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, due to his opposition to academic cooperation with the University of Ariel, because it is located in a West Bank settlement. A majority of justices on the panel ruled that any statements that are not in a prize recipient’s field of expertise could only be taken into consideration in extenuating and extreme circumstances.

The court sent the decision back to Shasha-Biton to reexamine the issue. Last month, she confirmed Gallant’s decision, saying that, “I cannot award the Israel Prize for academic achievements, impressive as they are, [to someone] who calls for boycotting an Israeli academic institution.”

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at a legal conference in Haifa, last month.Credit: Fadi Amun

But in his filing with the court, Mendelblit stated that Shasha-Biton’s decision “does not meet the strict standards set by the court on the matter of taking outside considerations into account.”

Three specific allegations cited against Goldreich were that he signed onto a letter condemning Bar-Ilan University’s cooperation with the University of Ariel in 2005; that in 2008, he signed a petition in opposition to companies that purportedly perpetuated the occupation; and that this year he signed another petition against the University of Ariel.

Following Monday’s announcement by Mendelblit, Shasha-Biton noted that the court had referred the case to her for a decision and said she hopes the court will now honor her decision.

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