Israel Prize jury accused of favoritism toward IDI

Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, Professors for a Strong Israel tell HCJ academic think-tank should not be awarded the Israel Prize.

israel democracy institute 88 (photo credit: )
israel democracy institute 88
(photo credit: )
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel and Professors for a Strong Israel told the High Court of Justice on Thursday that an academic think-tank should not be awarded the Israel Prize because the members of the jury who picked it had links to the organization. The jury, chosen by then-education minister Yuli Tamir, awarded one of this year's prizes to the Israel Democracy Institute for its work since its establishment 18 years ago. Tamir made the announcement on March 19. The petitioners filed their petition almost one month later, on April 16. According to the petitioners, represented by attorney Yitzhak Bam, the head of the jury, former Bank of Israel governor Ya'acov Frenkel, is a close friend of the institute's director-general, Arik Carmon. The other two jury members, Prof. Ella Belfer and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yair Naveh, had participated in various IDI forums. Belfer was a member of the 130-member IDI council established to propose a constitution for Israel. Meanwhile, the adviser to the minister of education for the Israel Prize, former National Religious Party MK Nahum Langenthal, had also been active in IDI affairs up until the time he was appointed the minister's adviser, the petitioners said. Even if the petitioners were late in filing their petition, "the rule of law and public confidence in government are more important," Bam told the court. "From the public point of view, the choice of the Israel Democracy Institute looks very bad." Bam also said that the entire process of choosing Israel Prize winners, including the identities of the candidates and the reasons for choosing the winners, was kept secret. Had the petitioners known in January that the IDI had been chosen or selected as a candidate for the prize, they would have raised their objections before the education minister in January rather than before the court in April. The state's representative, Tadmor Etzion, told the court the petitioners had waited until the last minute before turning to the court. The harm that would be caused if the selection were rescinded at this late hour would be high, she said. Etzion also said that Israel Prize juries only refrain from voting regarding a candidate with whom they have family ties, are known to be close friends or have economic ties. The connections between the jury members and the IDI were not close. For example, the petitioner had made mention of an IDI conference held in Caesarea on February 12 and 13, in which Langenthal was a member of the conference steering committee while Belfer and Naveh were invited guests. However, Etzion said there were more than 1,000 participants in the conference. She added that Belfer had ties with many organizations and academic institutions which were just as close as her connections to the IDI. Presiding Justice Ayala Procaccia said the court would hand down its decision on whether to issue a show-cause order soon.