Israel National Lottery Revokes Poetry Prize to Yitzhak Laor

Unproven allegations of sexual harassment and complaints about the writer's political views prompted Mifal Haypayis to reverse its decision.

Maya Sela
Maya Sela
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Yitzhak Laor.Credit: Kobi Kalmanovitz
Maya Sela
Maya Sela

The board of the Landau Foundation, which is administered by the Mifal Hapayis national lottery, decided on Monday to withdraw the Landau Prize for poetry that had been awarded to poet and writer Yitzhak Laor, following public protests.

The protests had related to allegations, never proven, that he had sexually assaulted women, as well as to his political views.

The board of directors had to make the decision itself after the prize committee disbanded with the resignation of a panel member, poet Gilit Chomski, who had objected to the choice of Laor.

Mifal Hapayis said that the board would discuss the 2014 poetry prize at its next meeting, and decide whether to simply cancel the prize for this year, or award it to someone else.

Since the award was announced late last month, women’s organizations had protested, pointing to allegations that Laor had sexually harassed and assaulted women in the past. Starting in 2010, several women came forward and alleged that Laor had harassed or assaulted them many years prior, but because of the statute of limitations the claims were never investigated. Laor denied them.

The director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, Vered Sweid, welcomed the decision to withdraw the prize, saying, “A prize is meant to be given to someone who serves as a role model.”

"Left-wing views"

The award was also challenged by the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which said the prize committee had ignored what it called Laor’s radical left-wing views. Laor is a regular contributor of opinion pieces at Haaretz.

The committee that chose Laor for the prize had comprised Aminadav Dykman, Yehoshua Simon and Chomski. Dykman said Monday, “As far as I’m concerned Yitzhak Laor got the Landau Prize for poetry. That the board of directors decided to cancel it is the board’s problem. From my perspective the resignation of a committee member doesn’t disband the committee, but the board decided otherwise.”

Simon agreed to reveal the letter that he wrote to the committee, in which he explained why he had not changed his mind. “The committee regulations obligate [its members] to weigh only literary considerations – the contributions of the candidate to the field of poetry – and that’s what the committee did.”

Several days ago, when it emerged that the prize was being reconsidered, Chomski wrote on her Facebook page, “I feel no joy. There is no joy in a prize given and withdrawn.”