AG tells court BDS accusation not enough to withhold Israel Prize from professor

Mandelblit says in opinion to High Court that Oded Goldreich should receive award despite education minister’s decision to deny him over alleged boycott support

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Tel Aviv, on June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Tel Aviv, on June 29, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Monday the Israel Prize should be granted to Prof. Oded Goldreich, after Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton ordered it withheld over the mathematician’s supposed support for anti-Israel boycotts.

Mandelblit wrote in an opinion submitted to the High Court of Justice that the evidence presented by Shasha-Biton to back her decision does not reach the burden of proof that would justify stripping him of the honor.

“The education minister’s decision,” he wrote, “is not shored up by sufficient evidence. Therefore, this decision cannot stand legally.”

Mandelblit’s opinion was sent in response to a petition submitted by the prize committee against the minister’s decision. Mandelblit submitted a similar opinion earlier this year when Goldreich was first denied the prize.

In response to the opinion, Shasha-Biton on Monday reiterated her position that Goldreich should not receive the prize.

“I have clearly stated my position: Anyone who calls for a boycott of an academic institution in Israel does not deserve the Israel Prize for academic achievement,” the minister said in a statement.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks at a press conference at the Education Ministry in Tel Aviv, in preparation for the opening of the school year nationwide, on August 31, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The High Court has previous ruled against ministerial interference in the prize committee’s choice of recipient.

Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, was supposed to receive the prize earlier this year for his work on computational complexity theory.

However, then-education minister Yoav Gallant alleged that Goldreich backed the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Goldreich has denied backing BDS, but said he objects to West Bank settlements.

In March, Goldreich signed a petition urging the European Union to stop funding for Ariel University, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Oded Goldreich (CC BY-SA 3.0)/Wikipedia)

In August the High Court of Justice unanimously overturned Gallant’s decision, saying there was no legal cause for him to have intervened in the prize selection committee’s choice.

But the judges also ruled that the decision on awarding the prize now lay with his successor, Shasha-Biton.

Shasha-Biton announced last month that she would block Goldreich from receiving the prize.

“The main purpose of the Israel Prize is to encourage Israeli art, excellence and research,” the minister said at the time. “Calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions undermines that goal, as it seeks to curtail creativity, diversity, and freedom of opinion.”

The announcement caused a rift in the coalition, with members of the left-wing Meretz party turning on Shasha-Biton, who is a member of the right-wing New Hope party.

The High Court has previously rejected petitions against awarding the prize to certain candidates, including last year when it was awarded to Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who had made disparaging comments about LGBT people.

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