Give Yitzhak Laor His Prize, Don't Surrender to Kangaroo Court

By deciding not to grant Laor the Landau Prize in poetry, the board of directors appointed itself the investigator, prosecutor and judge.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Yitzhak Laor. Credit: David Bachar
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Monday’s decision by the board of directors of the Landau Foundation, administered by the Mifal Hapayis National Lottery, not to grant the Landau Prize in poetry to poet Yitzhak Laor undermines the presumption of innocence enjoyed by every person in a democratic state. In this miserable affair, a real court was replaced by a kangaroo court, attorneys by Facebook surfers, and Mifal Hapayis itself assumed the role of the judge.

About a month ago, the prize jury decided to award Laor — who has written 10 books of poetry, three novels and frequent opinion pieces for Haaretz — the prize for his contribution to Israeli culture and art. This award, which has been given for 13 years now, bestows 100,000 shekels ($25,500) on the winner.

Immediately after the choice of Laor became known, a battle against the decision began, primarily via social networks. The complaints had nothing to do with his artistic contribution, but rather with his personal conduct in the past, which allegedly included sexual harassment and sexual assaults. But aside from one complaint filed in 2010, which alleged that a rape had been committed 20 years earlier and was closed because the statute of limitations had expired, none of the other complaints against him has ever been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

Clearly, every person has a right to argue against granting the prize to a given recipient, including by applying massive pressure to Mifal Hapayis via social networks. In a democratic country, this constitutes legitimate activity. The question is what status those allegations ought to have and who ought to decide whether they are admissible and justify revoking the prize.

Mifal Hapayis chairman Uzi Dayan provided troubling answers to these questions. First, he appealed to the public via Facebook and urged people to “write us the complaints of women who were hurt.” Then, after “more than a few testimonies were received,” he announced that “I have no intention of ignoring the need to reconsider ... We are talking about ‘matters of life and death.’” Finally, after the decision to revoke the prize was made, he said that “because the judges’ panel had disbanded, the board of directors discussed the issue and, as stated, decided not to grant the prize this year to Yitzhak Laor.”

And thus, as if there were no such thing as a legal system in Israel, Dayan appointed himself the investigator, prosecutor and judge. It’s not clear what knowledge or what tools Dayan used to determine the validity of the allegations sent to him. Are Dayan’s own impressions, or those of his colleagues on the board, sufficient to decide on “matters of life and death?”

Mifal Hapayis, led by Dayan, has presided over a public farce that seriously undermines the presumption of innocence in a democratic state. Facebook is not a substitute for a court, and a corporate board of directors – regardless of whether the company is public or private – isn’t a substitute for due process. Therefore, the prize that was taken from Laor by illegitimate means ought to be returned to him.

Comments