Not giving Goldreich the Israel Prize was right: opinion

Yifat Sasha-Biton, the current education minister, has just reiterated the decision made by her predecessor, Yoav Gallant, that the coveted Israel Prize should not be awarded to the Weizmann Oded Goldreich Institute professor of mathematics and computer science. The main reason was that in March, Goldreich had signed a petition to the German Parliament supporting a boycott of Ariel University due to its presence on the Green Line, in Shomron.

While there has been a predictable amount of handshakes, lamentations and accusations about the decision, honestly, it seems to reflect the wisdom of Groucho Marx’s pronouncement: “Hey! Why a four-year-old could understand this report! Run and find me a four-year-old, I can’t understand him. “

In other words, a small amount of consideration should not only make these decisions self-evident, it should make one wonder why there has been controversy over them in the first place.

Let us remember that the award is awarded by the Israeli government. The government appropriately requests selection committees to nominate valuable candidates, because the government tends not to have the experience to discern professional excellence, either on its own merits or as regards the relative worth of various potential winners.

The recommendations of the selection committees refer to the professional merits of the particular candidate.

Israelis gathered in real time for Israel’s 2021 Israel Prize Ceremony, which took place on Independence Day, April 15, 2021 (credit: AMIR YAKOBY).

However, the final decision to award the award carries with it the imprimatur, the hechsher, the blessing of the Israeli government, on behalf of the Israeli people. The awarding of the award represents the government saying: “The recipient is the one who represents the best of our society, our nation. He or she stands as an example, to be honored and, if possible, to be emulated. “

Obviously, there is a broader field of view covered by the government award than that of the selection committee’s determination.

Would a brilliant scientist who happened to express racist views pass the committee meeting? Possibly yes, because the focus will be on the person’s scientific achievements.

Would the government be within its right to take personal behavior into account when making its determination? I think there would be a huge consensus that this would be the case. Indeed, it would seem foolish and inept if such a situation were ignored, thus ending up with a widely regarded award-winning racist.

Goldreich’s case is also graphic, although obviously in a different context. Should the government, knowing that the recommended recipient has taken a position consistent with those who seek to demonize and delegitimize Israel, yet say that you represent the best of our society, the best that our nation has to offer?

Let’s play for a minute with the consequences of what Goldreich wants: a boycott of Ariel University. Implicitly, there is an accusation of collective guilt and complicity that those who teach or study at Ariel are in some way part of some nefarious enterprise.

Goldreich is not only criticizing the government’s policy, but he is weaponizing his criticism for his willingness to throw thousands of people like him – academics, students, researchers – under the bus of his impeachment. It is a gesture that reveals a deep arrogance, the complete opposite of “the best that our society and our nation have to offer”.

Forget the common sense reality that, in the spirit of “democracy is not a suicide pact,” the government does not need to honor someone who despises and seeks to punish them. Look at the human dimension, because here is a deep and omnipresent human dimension.

At the recent Im Tirtzu annual conference, I was honored to present our award of excellence for our best branch (we have over 15 on campuses across the country) to the Ariel University branch. One of his amazing accomplishments (in addition to helping farmers harvest their crops and honoring our soldiers at checkpoints with treats and hugs) was collecting 1,000 student signatures on a petition to stop the government from awarding the Israel Prize to Goldreich.

This achievement was not only a declaration of political outrage, but also an existential cri de couer, a cry from the heart, as to the injustice, the cruelty that such an honor would mark. That act of our student activists says it all about what the awarding of the Israel Prize should represent: honoring someone who achieves great excellence in their chosen field, but who also “lives among my people.”

Goldreich, brilliant as he may be, fails miserably on the second part of the necessary criteria. The government would have dishonored itself, and all of us, for deciding to award it the Israel Prize.

The writer is chairman of the board of the grassroots Zionist organization Im Tirtzu and director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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