Netanyahu, Israel Prize judges clash over alleged politicization


(JTA) — Several judges from Israel’s prestigious Israel Prize resigned, accusing the Prime Minister’s Office of political meddling.

Six judges resigned from the literary panel after the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vetoed nominations for two other judges, apparently due to political objections, and attempted to name a replacement, according to reports. Netanyahu’s office also dismissed a member of the Israel Prize’s film panel and attempted to name a replacement, causing another member of the film panel to drop out in solidarity.

On the literary panel, Ariel Hirschfeld and Avner Holtzman were nominated by the staff of the Education Ministry, which administers the annual prize, in November or December. However, Netanyahu assumed the post of education minister in early December with the resignation of Shai Piron and the dissolution of the coalition government.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement Tuesday saying that it “decided to review the panel’s composition” upon learning that Hirschfeld had supported the practice of boycotting army service as a form of protest. This was confirmed obliquely by a statement posted on Netanyahu’s Facebook page that did not mention Hirschfeld by name but stated that the Israel Prize panels had come to be dominated by “extremists” who support “anti-Zionist causes,” including “refusal to serve in the IDF.”

No reason was offered for the veto on Holtzman. Netanyahu’s office also reportedly attempted to appoint another judge of the prime minister’s choosing.

The Prime Minister’s Office also reportedly ordered the dismissal of film jury member Chaim Sharir in favor of another appointee who subsequently refused upon learning of Sharir’s dismissal. Fellow jury member Ram Loevy resigned in protest of Sharir’s dismissal.

Literary prize jurors Nurith Gertz, Ziva Ben-Porat, Ephraim Hazan and Uri Hollander resigned en masse to protest the dismissal of Hirschfeld and Holtzman, and author Gail Hareven also resigned separately over the same issue.

In addition, Yigal Schwartz withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday for a prize in the field of literary research to protest Netanyahu’s involvement with the jury, which Schwartz described to Haaretz as “sabotage.”

Recommended from JTA