Professor Zvi Schiffrin to receive Israel Prize for Far East research

Hebrew University professor to be awarded prize largely regarded as the state's highest honor.

Zvi Schiffrin (photo credit: HEBREW UNIVERSITY WEBSITE)
Zvi Schiffrin
Prof. Zvi Schiffrin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will be awarded the Israel Prize in Scientific Research of the Far East, the Education Ministry announced on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the Education Ministry portfolio, approved the recommendation of the prize committee, headed by Prof. Michal Biran.
“Prof. Zvi Schiffrin is one of the world’s leading historians of modern Chinese history and has written groundbreaking research on the Republican Revolution in China and on its leaders,” the Israel Prize committee wrote of their decision.
“Moreover, Prof. Schiffrin is the father of East Asian studies in the State of Israel. Already in 1968 he recognized the importance of the area, established the first Department of East Asian Studies at the Hebrew University, and headed it. The blooming of the field in Israel today is very much thanks to his farseeing vision and work,” they wrote.
The Israel Prize is largely regarded as the state’s highest civilian honor. It is presented annually on Independence Day in a state ceremony in Jerusalem in the presence of the president, the prime minister, the Knesset speaker and the Supreme Court president.
This year’s prize has been surrounded by controversy, after Netanyahu was accused of meddling in the makeup of the judging panels in the literature and film categories.
Netanyahu explained his decision by saying 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, he said.
Following intervention by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, Netanyahu agreed not to interfere in the makeup of the panels during the election campaign.
Earlier this month 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 film.
The dismissals prompted the remaining members, comprised of leading authors and academics, to resign from the literature panel decrying “the clear politicization of the prize,” and casting doubt on whether the prize would be awarded this year.
In addition, several noted authors and cultural icons, including Ruth Dayan, Haim Be’er, Sami Michael and David Grossman, withdrew their candidacies for the literature prize in protest, while veteran journalist Dan Margalit withdrew his candidacy for the lifetime achievement in journalism award.