Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton will rebuff the Israel Prize ceremony for Prof. Oded Goldreich, after a High Court decision two weeks ago overruled her decision to withhold the prestigious academic prize.
Prof. Goldreich will receive the Israel Prize for his work in mathematics and computer sciences on Monday at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday, after he declined to participate in the prize ceremony on Independence Day.
Although Shasha-Biton tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday, she had already decided that she will not attend the ceremony. It has not yet been decided who will award the prize in the education minister's absence.
In April 2021, then-Education Minister Yoav Gallant opted to deny Goldreich the prize over his support of a boycott of Ariel University, based in the West Bank, a decision which was upheld by Shasha-Bitton. Her refusal to grant Goldreich the prize was based on his “calls for the boycott of an academic institution in Israel,” she said.
Golreich's lawyer, Adv. Michael Sfard, responded to Shasha-Bitton's snub: "We already know the minister's anti-democratic tendencies. Now another aspect of her is revealed: that she lacks stateliness and respect for the court that ruled on the matter, and that she's disrespectful and lacks class."
Yael Willner, who wrote the majority 2-1 High Court ruling, accepted former Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s view that a cabinet minister shouldn’t intervene in the decisions of a prize jury comprised of professionals. Moreover, she noted, the government itself recently signed a scientific cooperation agreement with the EU even though it explicitly excludes institutions located in the settlements.
According to Willner: “Over the years the Israel Prize has been awarded to various people, who have voiced expressions of bitterness, disparagement and insults to portions of the public in the context of their ethnic origin, their religious views and their sexual orientation in unpleasant, harsh and hurtful ways.
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Despite these harsh comments by the candidates, successive education ministers have not found it proper to withhold the Israel Prize from them.”
Justice Amit wrote that linking the Israel Prize to the willingness of the minister at that time is a “sure recipe for politicization of the prize.” According to Amit, “the boundaries of the minister’s authority have been outlined in a ruling regarding the Israel Prize, and the education minister, in her decision in this case, has exceeded them.”
Israel, as a country that “lives on its excellence in various fields, might thus be vulnerable to real damage in academic and professional achievements and in the long run, even harm to its national strength,” Amit wrote.