High Court gives Kisch, government a week to respond to Israel Prize allegations

Petitioners demand reversal of decision to pare down 2024 prize amid allegations this was done to avoid honoring a government critic whose daughter was murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Education Minister Yoav Kisch attends a hearing of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, January 30, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Yoav Kisch attends a hearing of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, January 30, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ordered Education Minister Yoav Kisch and the government on Thursday to respond within one week to petitions demanding the reversal of Kisch’s decision last month to drastically pare down the Israel Prize for 2024.

High Court Justices Isaac Amit, Ofer Grosskopf, and Alex Stein gave the education minister and the state till March 21 to submit their responses.

In the middle of February, the government announced that the categories for the Israel Prize, the country’s highest civilian honor, would be canceled for 2024, and two new categories related to the ongoing war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza would be awarded instead.

But a report by the Maariv news outlet at the end of February alleged that Kisch had done so to avoid bestowing the Entrepreneurship Award on the leading candidate, tech entrepreneur Eyal Waldman, a prominent critic of the government’s judicial overhaul agenda.

Waldman himself, whose daughter Danielle was murdered by Hamas terrorists in the Supernova massacre of October 7, alleged during a Knesset Science Committee hearing earlier this month that Kisch and close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pressured the relevant Israel Prize selection committee to change its decision to award him the honor.

At the end of February, Shahar Ben Meir filed a petition to the High Court arguing that Kisch and the government had acted without due authority and in contravention of the Israel Prize regulations in stripping down the Israel Prize to just two war-related categories.

And then in early March, a second petition was filed by the Bashaar – Academic Community for Israeli Society group representing some 2,000 academics, arguing that Kisch’s decision did “mortal damage” to the Israel Prize institution, harmed the rights of the selection committee members, and harmed the rights of the general public to obtain public recognition for their work.

Israeli businessman Eyal Waldman attends a hearing of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, March 3, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Both petitions requested that the High Court order Kisch to change his decision and restore the Israel Prize to its original format.

In the orders the High Court issued on Thursday, it said it was setting a short timeline for the case because of how close the petitions have been filed to Independence Day.

The petitioners have until March 26 to submit their substantive arguments to the court, and a hearing has been set for March 28.

In its orders, the court acceded to a request made by two Israel Prize selection committees to be added as respondents to the petitions so that they could “contribute and substantively assist” in evaluating the claims against Kisch and the government.

The court also agree to bar the publication of the names of the committee members and their reasoning regarding whom to award the prize to.

The Israel Prize has been awarded to Israelis in the fields of social sciences, humanities, life and exact sciences, art, and special contributions to the State of Israel and Israeli society since it was founded in 1953 by then-education minister Ben-Zion Dinor. It has been awarded every year since, even in years when Israel was at war.

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