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Attorney general to High Court: Denial of Israel Prize to academic was wrong

Mandelblit says Oded Goldreich’s actions didn’t ‘meet the high standard necessary’ for disqualification, while adding boycott calls can be a factor in granting awards

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 told the High Court of Justice on Thursday that former education minister Yoav Gallant’s decision to block a professor from receiving the prestigious Israel Prize for his supposed backing of boycotts against Israel was wrong.

In his response to a petition against Gallant’s decision, Mandelblit said the selection committee should be permitted to grant the prize in mathematics and computer science to Oded Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, for his work on computational complexity theory.

“The decision of the then-education minister exceeds the range of reasonableness and accordingly cannot stand legally,” Mandelblit wrote.

The attorney general stressed that calls to boycott Israel or state institutions could generally be used as a consideration in granting the Israel Prize. But he said Goldeic’s actions did not “meet the high standard necessary to disqualify a candidate from receiving an award.”

He called the professor’s alleged actions “isolated” and noted they were not recent.

Goldreich’s lawyer hailed the railing.

“The stance of the attorney general should not surprise anyone, and it’s too bad it took so long to say the obvious. The proceedings that Professor Goldreich has undergone and is still undergoing are McCarthyite proceedings that shame the State of Israel,” Michael Sfard told the Haaretz daily.

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

Mandelblit’s statement to the court came several weeks after new Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton reportedly decided to uphold the decision against awarding the prize to Goldreich, who Gallant alleged backs the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

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

Shortly before he was replaced by Shasha-Biton last month, Gallant sent Mandelblit a letter arguing the prize is meant to reflect a candidate’s contribution to the State of Israel and not only as a recognition of excellence in a given field. He also denied his decision was rooted in opposition to Goldreich’s political views.

Gallant objected to Goldreich’s signing of a 2019 letter calling on Germany’s parliament not to pass legislation denouncing BDS as anti-Semitic.

In his letter to Mandelblit, Gallant also noted Goldreich signed a petition with hundreds of academics in March urging the European Union to stop funding for Ariel University, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The academics claimed such funding legitimizes settlement activity, which the Palestinians and much of the international community contend is an obstacle to peace.

Goldreich had been set to receive the award at April’s ceremony for Israel Prize winners, but a High Court decision giving Gallant time to reach a decision about granting the prize to the professor effectively prevented him from getting it. The court said at the time that Goldreich could be awarded the prize at a later date.

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 has made disparaging comments about LGBT people.

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