Netanyahu under scrutiny for 'political interference' in Israel Prize for Literature

“Today, I feel that not to receive the Israel Prize is a greater honor than to receive it,” said Haim Be'er

February 12, 2015 21:24
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watches IDF maneuvers from an army base near Beersheba. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The imbroglio surrounding the 2015 Israel Prize for Literature reached a new peak on Thursday as Prof. Ephraim Hazan, the last remaining member of the judges committee, resigned.

Earlier this week it was revealed that the Prime Minister’s Office had rejected Professors Avner Holtzman and Ariel Hirschfeld for the Literature Prize panel and filmmaker Chaim Sharir for the judge’s panel for the Israel Prize in Film.

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This move prompted severe criticism, resulting in six authors and academics resigning from the Literature panel, as they decried “the clear politicization of the prize,” casting doubt on whether the prize would be awarded this year.

Several noted authors and cultural icons, including Ruth Dayan, Haim Be’er, Sami Michael, and David Grossman withdrew their candidacy for the Literature Prize in protest.

“Today, I feel that not to receive the Israel Prize is a greater honor than to receive it,” Be’er said in an interview with Army Radio on Thursday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the criticism in a second Facebook post on the issue on Thursday, reiterating his assertion that the Israel Prize committees have become a “private playground of the radical Left, anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian, that preaches refusal to serve in the IDF.”

The rejection of the judge candidates was spurred by the extremism of the committee members, who distribute prizes to their friends, whoever shares their leftist viewpoints, Netanyahu said.

The prime minister holds the Education Ministry portfolio, which is responsible for overseeing the Israel Prize, and had been asked to approve the judges panels, usually a formality.

The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities released a statement on Thursday evening expressing concern.

“The Israel Prize as an institution glorifies the scientific and cultural creativity of Israeli society, and academia is proud of this. The current affair casts a dark shadow on one of the most beautiful faces of the State of Israel, a prize that is highly appraised by the entire country’s population,” the statement reads.

The academy members said that though they were not affiliated with the Israel Prize, which is awarded for excellence in the sciences and humanities, they “felt it was right to respond to the current affair that harms the stature of the prize.”

They called on the government to consider placing the responsibility for the awards, which currently falls under the authority of the education minister, with an apolitical government body.

“As part of the role of the academy to advise the government on these issues, and to prevent future political influences on the Israel Prize, we hereby offer to consider putting the prize under the authority of a state party, for example – to the President’s Office,” the academy members wrote.

“Such a reputable institution in charge of the makeup of the judging committees would uphold the honor of the award and its prestige and will enhance the high regard in which it is held by all Israeli citizens,” they said.

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