In first, Israel Prize to be awarded for promoting settlements — report

Education Ministry denies TV report that prize will go to settler leader, but says new awards will be unveiled for 70th Independence Day

An illustrative photo of the construction of new houses in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, on September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of the construction of new houses in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, on September 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

For the first time, Israel will reportedly award its most prestigious prize to an individual who works to promote the settlement enterprise.

Earlier this month, the Education Ministry released a list of categories for the Israel Prize, including for “special accomplishments by influential figures,” Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported Tuesday.

Among the fields within the category are agriculture, industry, society, absorption of immigrants, technology and innovation, as well as settlement.

The winners are announced each year on Independence Day.

Amana CEO Ze’ev ‘Zambish’ Hever addresses his settlement group’s annual conference in Jerusalem on November 14, 2017. (Courtesy: Yesha Council)

The report speculated the Israel Prize for settlement is being introduced in order to honor Ze’ev (“Zambish”) Hever, a prominent settler leader and head of Amana, which promotes the development of new communities in the West Bank, as well as strengthening existing ones.

Hever is a legendary mover and shaker in the movement, having long wielded considerable influence both within the Yesha settlement umbrella council and in broader right-wing politics.

In response to the report, the Peace Now anti-settlement watchdog slammed Education Minister Naftali Bennett and accused him of politicizing the award.

“Bennett turned the Israel Prize into the Greater Israel prize,” a spokesperson for Peace Now said. “This is the true legacy Bennett is leaving behind at the Education Ministry — the whoring out of the most respected and official institution in Israel and its transformation into a voice of propaganda for the settlement enterprise.”

Bennett is the head of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett meets with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (not pictured) at the Knesset on October 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While rejecting the specifics of the report, the Education Ministry acknowledged the introduction of new categories for Israel’s 70th Independence Day.

“On a one-time basis, additional prizes will be given for life work, special accomplishments and inspiring achievements,” it said. “This is being done in accordance with the Israel Prize’s regulations: In special years, prizes can be added, as will be done this year.”

In March, David Be’eri, a controversial right-wing activist who has led the movement to renovate the City of David and increase the Jewish presence in largely Arab East Jerusalem, was named as one of two recipients of the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.

Be’eri founded the Ir David (City of David) Foundation, known in Hebrew as Elad, whose central project is the renovated City of David archaeological park, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

Elad also purchases homes in the surrounding Arab village of Silwan — sometimes via Muslim middle men — and rents them to Jews, a move that has led to charges that he is fueling tensions in the city.

Jacob Magid and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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