A vocal critic of Israel and a member of pro-Palestinian group Jewish Voice for Peace was announced Wednesday as one of the three winners of the Nobel prize in chemistry, alongside two researchers who have cooperated with Israeli scientists and promoted academic ties with the Jewish state.
The trio was awarded the honor for “harnessing the power of evolution” to produce enzymes and antibodies that have led to new drugs and biofuels. Half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.01 million) prize went to Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology, while the other half is shared by George Smith of the University of Missouri and Gregory Winter of the MRC molecular biology lab in Cambridge, England.
Smith, a retired biology professor, has called himself a “post-Zionist” and caused outrage in 2015 when the university originally let him teach a course called “Perspectives on Zionism,” which was later canceled. He has written many columns against the Jewish state and is a member of several Jewish anti-Israel organizations, though he isn’t Jewish.
“I’m not religious or Jewish by birth. But my wife is Jewish and our sons are bar-mitzvahed, and I’m very engaged with Jewish culture and politics,” he wrote in a bio on the anti-Israel Mondoweiss website, for which he has written several columns in the last six years.
Just in! George P. Smith taking early morning calls at home, immediately after the announcement of his #NobelPrize in Chemistry.
Photographer: Marjorie R. Sable pic.twitter.com/mQNtkSpE7X
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 3, 2018
In his latest, he lambasted Israeli poet Naomi Shemer’s famous song “Jerusalem of Gold,” writing that the “taint of Jewish supremacism” was “intrinsic to Shemer’s lyrics.”
In 2012, he penned an op-ed in the Columbia Daily Tribune accusing Israel of “systematic oppression and dispossession of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” and called for the US to end arms sales to the IDF.
In 2017, he wrote about the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel, describing it as a “sordid chapter in settler-colonialist injustice.”
Arnold, of the California Institute of Technology, likely feels differently. In June, she visited Israel for a state-sponsored conference on chemistry in Jerusalem.
Gregory Winter of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, is on the UK-Israel Science Council, which brings together experts from both countries.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which announced the winners on Wednesday, said Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, whose uses include “more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances such as pharmaceuticals and the production of renewable fuels.”
Smith developed a method to evolve new proteins and Winter used the method to evolve antibodies, which are disease-fighting proteins in the blood.
The first pharmaceutical based on Winter’s work was approved for use in 2002 and is employed to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases, the academy said.
Reached by The Associated Press Wednesday, Smith credited others for the work that led to his breakthrough.
“Very few research breakthroughs are novel. Virtually all of them build on what went on before. It’s happenstance. That was certainly the case with my work,” he said. “Mine was an idea in a line of research that built very naturally on the lines of research that went before.”
Smith said he learned of the prize in a predawn phone call from Stockholm. “It’s a standard joke that someone with a Swedish accent calls and says you won! But there was so much static on the line, I knew it wasn’t any of my friends,” he said.
The medicine prize was awarded Monday to American and Japanese researchers. Scientists from the United States, Canada and France shared the physics prize Tuesday.
On Tuesday, researchers from the United States, Canada and France were awarded the physics prize for advances in laser technologies.
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is to be announced Friday. No literature prize will be awarded this year. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, honoring the man who endowed the five Nobel Prizes, will be revealed on October 8.