High Court rebuffs minister for nixing academic appointment of critic

Science Minister Ofir Akunis told to reconsider his barring of neuroscientist Yael Amitai from grants panel because she supported soldiers refusing to serve over Green Line

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis addresses the Knesset plenum, April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis addresses the Knesset plenum, April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice on Monday told Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis to reconsider his decision to deny the appointment of a scientist to a research grant foundation because she had once signed a petition urging Israeli soldiers to refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories.

Akunis prevented the appointment of Professor Yael Amitai to the board of the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development, explaining that in 2005 she had signed a petition supporting soldiers who refused to serve beyond the Green Line.

But the court ruled unanimously that Akunis’s decision in July 2018 to bar Amitai’s appointment because he had deemed her signature of the petition illegal was “unreasonable.”

He was given until the end of the month to reconsider his position.

In barring Amitai, Akunis defied the advice of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who also said the move was unreasonable. He refused to support Akunis in court, and the minister defended himself.

“The science minister believes it is inappropriate for someone who supports refusing orders to represent the State of Israel in international forums,” an Akunis aide said in July, when the appointment was blocked.

Critics said Akunis made the move in order to gain points with his political base.

Prof. Yael Amitai (courtesy)

Amitai herself said in July that it seemed the Akunis had been “looking to make noise.”

“It’s crazy. He had a whole year to choose someone who didn’t sign the petition. He didn’t have to do it at the eleventh hour. There are ways to make such choices quietly,” she said.

The German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development was founded in 1986. According to the foundation website over the past two years it has distributed 12 million euros ($13.6 million) per year in grants.

Two of the three German members of the foundation’s advisory board resigned following Akunis’s decision and its board of governors currently has only three of six members, the Haaretz daily reported.

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