(photo credit: BEN GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV)
The New Israel Fund will award $20,000 to NGO Breaking the Silence in lieu of a canceled award the NGO was supposed to receive from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Last month the university’s Middle East Studies Department announced it would award the NIS 20,000 (some $5,000) Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding, in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, to the organization, which provides anonymous testimonies of soldiers that describe alleged IDF transgressions.
However, shortly after the announcement, BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi intervened and overturned the decision. She reasoned that the organization was not a part of the “national consensus” and that awarding the group could be “interpreted as a political bias.”
In response to the decision, Breaking the Silence issued a statement on its Facebook page saying that, “At the cost of harming freedom of expression and academic liberty, the president of the university chose to veto the professional committee’s decision, in surrendering to the surrounding havoc.”
Prior to Carmi’s recent decision, the group accused her of “buckling before the campaign of incitement being conducted against opponents of the occupation and government critics.”
It called on the university’s administration to repeal its “cowardly decision” in order to “strengthen the democratic institutions that comprise Israeli academia – choosing not to silence critical voices, but rather to reward those who challenge political leadership, oppose the occupation, and resist violence and nationalism.”
Following the controversy, the New Israel Fund decided to raise the award money for the group, though in the end it raised nearly four times the original prize money.
“We are living in a jaded era of populism in which people and organizations inflict on themselves self-censorship to avoid public scandals,” the New Israel Fund said in a statement.
“In this era it is important that there be someone willing to stand boldly and support those who chose to follow their values without fear.
As such, the NIF decided to award Breaking the Silence a symbolic prize in the amount of the award that was stolen from it,” NIF said.