Israel's High Court of Justice on Thursday ruled in favor of Education Minister Yoav Gallant who called to veto the awarding of the prestigious
Israel Prize to Weizmann Institute mathematics Prof. Oded Goldreich due to his recently uncovered support for BDS.
The right-wing watchdog group Im Tirzu published evidence this week of Goldreich's signature on a petition in which he and 522 others called to boycott academic institutions in Judea and Samaria, the most notable of which is the University of Ariel.
"After reviewing the petition and hearing the arguments of both sides," the High Court wrote, "we found at this stage to accept the position of the Attorney-General that the Education Minister should be allowed to examine new information that he received only two days ago regarding a petition that Professor Goldreich signed, which was publicized around two weeks ago."
The court continued, stating that "calling for boycotts can in certain circumstances, without setting a precedent at this stage, fall into the scope of exceptional circumstances in which non-professional considerations can be taken into account."
The ruling stated that the professor may still receive the prize next year and if the minister refuses again, Prof. Goldreich and the committee could try to come back to the court once more.
Gallant's initial demand to rescind the prize for Goldreich came following a 2019 letter that he signed along with 240 Israeli and Jewish academics, calling on the German government to reject a resolution which 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."
Im Tirzu published a statement praising the decision on Thursday, adding that Goldreich has a long history of anti-Zionist activity, which they claim includes signing a petition encouraging the United Methodist Church to divest from “companies that enable the occupation to continue”; accusing Israel of the “slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people” in Gaza; and signing a petition in “support and appreciation” of students and lecturers who illegally refused to carry out their IDF service in Judea & Samaria.
But critics of the decision called on the remaining Israel Prize winners to refuse to accept their prizes in solidarity with Prof. Goldreich.
The presidents of seven of Israel's eight universities called on Gallant to remove his objections to Goldreich, saying that not awarding him the prize due to his political beliefs is at odds with the values of the award and harms freedom of speech and thought. They sent Gallant a letter Friday explaining this position.
"In our call [to remove your objection] there is no support of Goldreich's political beliefs... but we think that his right, as a citizen who lives in a democracy, is to express his opinion without fear or concern.
"Your decision creates a difficult feeling that only those who 'toe the line' are rewarded, and those who dare express a political opinion outside of the consensus are punished."
Signed on the letter are the presidents of University of Haifa, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Tel Aviv University and the open University.
The CEO of the US-based left-wing Jewish organization J Street wrote on Twitter that the decision was "another sad, dangerous step towards disallowing critical thought regarding Israel's policy in the West Bank."
He said the decision was a "stain" on the High Court's reputation as a democratic institution, adding that it "sends a dangerous message to all lovers of Israel around the world, that the State of Israel is only interested in their support if they don't criticize Israel's policies of occupation and settlements."
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said that Goldreich was an "important voice of humanity and critical thinking," calling the decision to revoke his prize "cowardly and ignorant."
"Criticism is never pleasing to the ear, but precisely because of this it is important to insist and voice it in the face of the alarming trend of the deepening occupation and the violation of human rights," Odeh concluded.
Odeh's fellow Joint List MKs and Hadash Party comrades Ofer Cassif and Aida Touma-Suleiman backed up their party leader's statements, both calling on this year's prize winners to refuse to accept their prizes in solidarity with Goldreich.
Meretz MK Issawi Frej also criticized the move, tweeting that the "Israel Prize lost some of its prestige today, transforming from a national prize into a political prize."
He also called on prize winners to refuse to accept their prizes in solidarity, adding that the decision essentially legitimizes Israeli settlement building and a de-facto unilateral annexation.
"The Israel Prize is the most prestigious award given by the State of Israel," Gallant said in a Facebook post Friday.
"Those who do not hold Israel and its laws dear to them, are not worthy of the Israel Prize. Prof. Goldreich may be a brilliant scientist, but his support for the boycott movement and his call for a boycott of Ariel University is a spit in the face of the State of Israel and the Israeli academy and even a possible violation of the law.
"We will use the time made available to us to complete the examination of whether the professor's current renunciation of the boycott movement is sincere and whether the information he provided to the court and the state in this matter is correct."