THE WINNERS of this year’s Israel Prize pose during the awards ceremony at the Jerusalem International Conference Center.
(photo credit: GIL YOCHANAN/POOL)
Nine distinguished Israelis were awarded this year’s Israel Prizes, the country’s highest civilian honor, in a state ceremony held Thursday night in Jerusalem. Two Lifetime Achievement Awards for special contributions to society and the State of Israel were given to Chaim Topol, renowned actor and founder of the Jordan River Village for children suffering from life-threatening diseases, and Esther Herlitz, accomplished member of Israel’s Foreign Ministry from its inception, Israel’s first female ambassador, and activist in promoting the status of women.
The ceremony was attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister and Education Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen.
This year’s Israel Prize laureates are: Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor emeritus Zvi Schiffrin for scientific research of the Far East, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor emeritus Shmuel Ahituv for biblical research, Prof. Shimon Ullman of the Weizmann Institute of Science for mathematics and computer science research, Prof. Zelig Eshhar of Weizmann for life sciences research, Prof. David Weisburd of the Hebrew University for social work and criminological Research, David Gurfinkel for film, and Erez Biton for poetry and Hebrew Literature.
Biton, speaking on behalf of all the laureates, urged Jews around the world today to move to Israel, saying this is their home.
Turning to Rivlin and Netanyahu, he said, “We must do everything we can to be worthy of the ultimate price.
Leading the state is a type of fatherhood; real concern for the individual’s fate and the hardship of the weak.”
Netanyahu, in welcoming the recipients, noted that there were eight male recipients and only one woman, adding: “I would not mind that one day it would be the opposite: there will be eight female recipients and one male recipient. This day, too, will come.”
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This year’s prizes were mired in controversy after Netanyahu, in his role as education minister, rejected three of the appointed judges on different panels. While the move was within the official purview of the education minister, it was seen by some as political intervention.
Following Netanyahu’s move, many of the judges resigned their positions and a number of candidates for withdrew. After Netanyahu agreed to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s request not to intervene in the process and following Rivlin’s appeal to all judges and nominees who had withdrawn, some of them reinstated themselves.
Among the nominees who withdrew their candidacy for the prize and did not reinstate themselves were noted authors, cultural icons, and journalists Ruth Dayan, Haim Be’er, Sami Michael, David Grossman, and Dan Margalit.
Missing from the list of prizes was the category of literary research. The High Court of Justice ruled that it could not be awarded this year, as by the time Netanyahu was set to appoint a new committee, his appointment as replacement education minister had expired, leaving the position empty.
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