Poet and Palmach Icon Haim Gouri Turns Down 'Zionist Works of Art' Prize

'I will not say what my opinion of the prize for Zionist art is,' poet says, explains he doesn't see connection between his book and Zionism.

Haim Gouri.
Vardi Kahana

Israeli poet Haim Gouri has refused to accept a prize for “Zionist works of art” awarded by the Culture and Sports Ministry. Gouri had been named as the winner of the literature prize last week, but declined the honor.

Gouri, 92, had won the prize for his most recent book of poetry, “Though I Wished for More of More.” The collection was published in Hebrew last September.

Gouri told Haaretz that he turned down the award, worth 50,000 shekels ($12,800), because “even though I have questions about this prize, this time my refusal stemmed from the attempt to link the book to the [subject] matter.”

Gouri’s name appeared on the original list of prize winners released by the Culture Ministry last week, but was missing from the official announcement at the beginning of this week.

Also a novelist, journalist and documentary filmmaker, Gouri is considered the greatest Israeli poet of the generation from the 1948 War of Independence. He has published 12 books of poetry and 10 works of fiction and nonfiction, along with translations and journalism. Over the years, he has won the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize and the Sokolov Prize. Many of his works have been turned into well-known songs.

Last Thursday, when the award announcement was originally made, Gouri was asked to provide his bank details in order to receive the prize money. That was when he declined the honor, he told Haaretz.

In a letter he sent to the judges on the prize committee, Gouri explained he did not think his latest work was appropriate for the prize, and recommended awarding it to a young writer. “I told them immediately that I would not accept the prize,” he said.

“I will not say what my opinion of the prize for Zionist art is. I was born a Zionist and will die a Zionist, and all my life I fought for Zionism – but I do not find a connection between this book and prize,” he said. Gouri said the book was a clearly personal work of a man in his last years taking an accounting of his life and memories.

The prize for Zionist-oriented art is awarded to artists in six fields every year: literature, dance, cinema, theater, music and plastic arts. It is awarded for work that provides “an expression of Zionist values, Zionist history and the return of the [Jewish] people to its homeland,” according to the Culture Ministry. The decision to award the prizes has stirred plenty of controversy and protest in recent years.