Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the candidacies of two professors for the committee that judges the annual Israel Prize for Literature, and of a filmmaker for the panel that awards the Israel Prize for Film, it was revealed this week.
The moves triggered political backlash and speculations as to whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who holds the Education Ministry portfolio and so is responsible for overseeing the Israel Prize, was personally responsible for the dismissals.
Prof. Avner Holtzman, of Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Ariel Hirschfeld, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were both dismissed this week from the judges panel for the Israel Prize in Literature, after they had already begun their work assessing candidates.
“Nobody told me anything other than the fact that I was fired,” Hirschfeld told Army Radio on Tuesday.
Following the dismissal of the professors, the remaining Literature panel member, author Gail Hareven, announced her resignation.
With regards to the Israel Prize in Film, renowned filmmaker Chaim Sharir was dismissed from his position on the judges panel, only to be asked to return several days later.
Sharir told Army Radio that he was initially informed that he was being dismissed so that he could be replaced by a woman, though in the end a man was appointed only to resign the next day and so he was asked to return.
“That is, the sectoral reason for which I was fired was not the real reason but it was for other reasons,” he told Army Radio.
Sharir said that when one tries to “intervene in the makeup of a committee” there can only be one reason: “Somebody wants a committee that will ensure the selection of a specific person [for the award].”
Israel Radio reported Tuesday that a source in the Prime Minister’s Office said: “After it emerged that one of the candidates to serve on the panel supports conscientious objection, a decision was made to reevaluate the composition of the panel.”
The Education Ministry released a statement to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday referring only to the Israel Prize in Film.
“The appointment of the members of the judges committee for the Israel Prize in Film was delayed by several days to ensure a gender-balanced committee. After completing an examination there was a repeated appeal to Chaim Sharir, but he chose not to take part in the committee,” the statement reads.