A-G asks High Court to override Shasha-Biton, grant Israel Prize to math prof.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton decided to deny Prof. Oded Goldreich the Israel Prize because of allegations that he supports boycotts of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin and Education Minister Yoav Galant attend the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem, prior to Israel's 73 Independence Day, on April 05, 2021.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin and Education Minister Yoav Galant attend the Israel Prize ceremony in Jerusalem, prior to Israel's 73 Independence Day, on April 05, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday told the High Court of Justice that it should override Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton's decision to deny Prof. Oded Goldreich the Israel Prize because of allegations that he supports boycotts of Israel.

In August, the High Court had ordered Shasha-Biton to reconsider her decision including more fully studying the most updated evidence, but had still left her discretion on the issue in theory.

Subsequently, Shasha-Biton stood her ground on disqualifying Goldreich.

At this point, Mandelblit needed to weigh in before the High Court made a final ruling.

Mandelblit said that the education minister had failed to prove that the evidence against Goldreich met the High Court's standard for disqualification.

Professor Oded Goldreich (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Professor Oded Goldreich (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

According to all three justices on the panel from August, the evidence suggested that Goldreich publicly declared he currently rejects the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and that any statements that could be construed differently he signed on to in the past and were not one-sided.

Based on that, Justices Noam Sohlberg, Yael Wilner and Yitzhak Amit had suggested Sasha-Biton reconsider her decision.

Justice Amit added he would have vetoed Shasha-Biton’s old decision and granted Goldreich the prize since he was approved by the non-political Israel Prize committee and the award should remain non-political other than in much more extreme cases.

Amit agreed with Mandelblit, especially since Goldreich is a math professor who does not teach political issues to students.

However, Sohlberg and Wilner said they wanted to avoid forcing Shasha-Biton to grant the prize and preferred to give her a chance to reconsider in light of their factual findings.

In July, Shasha-Biton informed the High Court that she was upholding the earlier decision of her predecessor, Yoav Gallant, who had vetoed awarding the prize to Goldreich due to his alleged support for BDS.

The initial decision by Gallant in June to deny Goldreich the award came after right-wing group Im Tirzu published a report which found Goldreich’s signature on a petition in which he and 522 others called for a  boycott on academic institutions in Judea and Samaria, the most notable of which is Ariel University.

The report also focused on a 2019 letter that he signed, along with 240 Israeli and Jewish academics, calling on the German government to reject a resolution that equates the BDS movement with antisemitism.

The letter also urged Germany to continue funding organizations, including pro-BDS NGOs, that “peacefully challenge the Israeli occupation” and “expose severe violations of international law.”

“Prof. Goldreich does not currently meet the conditions for contributing to the State of Israel, as his contribution to the state through his research is offset by his vigorous activity to boycott Israeli research institutions – an activity that is constantly and deliberately done and continues to cause real harm to Israeli academia,” Gallant wrote to Mandelblit.

He addressed Goldreich’s stance on Ariel University, saying that “Ariel University is not a political institution: its activities are not aimed at achieving a political goal but at advancing research and science,” and that “its geographical location does not exclude it or delegitimize it from the ranks of academic institutions in Israel.”

“Anyone who calls for the boycott of Ariel and even works on the issue does not take a political position, but acts deliberately and consciously to weaken Israeli academia,” Gallant added.

In contrast, others have viewed Goldreich’s views as mere opposition to Ariel University and support for human rights NGOs in Israel, and not an endorsement of the broader BDS campaign.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.