Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone laying ceremony in Sderot..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to comply with the request of Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein not to interfere in the makeup of the judges panel for the Israel Prize during the election-campaign period.
Weinstein’s instruction came after a week-long brouhaha in which Netanyahu was severely criticized for his apparent meddling in the award process.
Last week, it was revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office rejected two professors, Avner Holtzman and Ariel Hirschfeld, for the Literature Prize panel and filmmaker Haim Sharir for the panel for the Israel Prize in Film.
The dismissals prompted the remaining members, comprised of leading authors and academics, to resign from the Literature panel, as they decried “the clear politicization of the prize,” casting doubt on whether the prize would be awarded this year.
In addition, several noted authors and cultural icons, including Ruth Dayan, Haim Be’er, Sami Michael and David Grossman withdrew their candidacies for the Literature Prize in protest.
Netanyahu holds the Education Ministry portfolio, which is responsible for overseeing the Israel Prize, and had been asked to approve the judg-es panels, usually a formality.
The prime minister’s legal adviser Shlomit Barnea-Farago responded on Friday morning to the attorney-general’s letter, saying Netanyahu respected the instruction not to be engaged with the appointments of the judges during the election period, and that if he is reelected to head the next government he will establish a committee to devise criteria for the appointment of judges for the prize according to the recommendations of the state comptroller and attorney general.
“The Prime Minister is convinced that the process of choosing some candidates for the judges [panel] for the Israel Prize, as presented to him for preliminary review, gave clear preference to those with very extreme and very controversial opinions – including support for the refusal to serve in the IDF. This process did not provide full representation for large and important segments of society, culture and Israeli experience including a lack of appropriate gender and sectoral representation,” the Likud said in a statement clarifying Netanyahu’s position on the affair.
President Reuven Rivlin appealed to all those judges and nominees who were either dismissed or resigned to return to the status quo that existed prior to the incident.
“The Israel Prize is dear to us all, on the Right and Left,” Rivlin said in a statement released on Friday. “It is a common denominator for all Israeli society, one of the last that remains, and represents a rare consensus of our spiritual, cultural, literary and scientific depth and of our values as a people. This is a sign of the recognition that the nation gives to its brightest sons and daughters, and we must safeguard it against becoming tainted.”
Several of the members, including Holtzman and Hirschfeld said they would consider returning to the judging committee if they were formally asked to do so and if the other judges and nominees also returned.
“I am glad that there is law and there is a judge. I think that there may still be an opportunity to fix the serious damage that was done. If all those who were dismissed would return – and all those who withdrew their candidacy would restore their nominations then we can get back to work,” Hirschfeld told Army Radio on Friday.
Other candidates, such as Grossman, said they would not restore their candidacy, however.
Grossman told Channel 2 news he would not be seeking the award this year as the “spirit and uniqueness” of the prize were severely harmed.
Head of Meretz Zehava Gal-On lauded the attorney general for making the request.
“The decline to fascism always begins by examining the patriotism of artists and the delegitimization of their works,” Gal-On said.
The Zionist Union released a statement praising the move, saying, “he understands what we have all understood: Netanyahu does not care about the authors, does not care about Israeli culture and does not care about the Israeli public.”
It accused the prime minister of using the Israel Prize judge disqualifications as a way to win seats from the Bayit Yehudi party, but said he should not have these fights “on the back of cultural figures who, in contrast to him, have contributed a thing or two to the citizens of Israel.”Greer Fay Cashman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.