Israel Prize for literary scholarship nixed over lack of judges
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Israel Prize for literary scholarship nixed over lack of judges

After panel decamped en masse over Netanyahu’s intervention, prestigious award canceled for 2015

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein recieves the Israel prize in literature from then-education minister Shai Piron, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and then-president Shimon Peres look on in Jerusalem on May 06, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein recieves the Israel prize in literature from then-education minister Shai Piron, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and then-president Shimon Peres look on in Jerusalem on May 06, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

A state attorney announced Monday that the Israel Prize for Literary Scholarship will not be awarded this year, after a month-long controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intervention in the composition of the judges panel.

During proceedings at the High Court of Justice, attorney Yonathan Mozes said that technical considerations drove the decision to cancel the award for 2014.

According to the Israel Prize regulations, judges can be appointed or disqualified only by the education minister, a position temporarily held by Netanyahu since November when former minister Shai Piron left the government along with the rest of his Yesh Atid party. But the prime minister’s temporary conservatorship of the position has run out, leaving no one to re-appoint the panel before the March 20 deadline for nominations.

The Israel Prize — awarded in the categories of literature, sciences and the arts and considered the country’s most prestigious honor — is given each spring on the day of the Jewish state’s independence, this year on April 23.

Several members of Israel’s literary community petitioned the High Court of Justice to cancel this year’s award, saying it fell victim to what they called a “flawed system.”

The petitioners, who included a number of noted authors and artists, said the controversy contaminated the award and reduced it to gossip and mudslinging. They indicated that other members of Israel’s literary community distanced themselves from Monday’s proceedings to avoid additional negative attention, Channel 2 reported Monday.

In February, dozens of well known artists, authors and filmmakers publicly criticized Netayahu after it emerged that he disqualified judges Avner Holzman and Ariel Hirschfeld for their “extremist views.”

Their disqualification prompted the remaining judges, together with a number of nominees, to boycott the prize in protest.

During the hearing, Justice Esther Hayot criticized the prime minister for disqualifying the judges for their political positions and agreed with the state’s attorney that there wasn’t enough time to reappoint judges and nominees.

“Since there won’t be an education minister until after election day, it seems quite impossible to establish one [a committee],” she said according to the report.

The left-center Zionist Union party said Monday’s developments characterized the “destruction and confusion” of Netanyahu’s leadership.

“The damage he caused to the prize — a national symbol — is indicative of his nine-year term. Nine years of nothing,” a party statement said according to Channel 2.

In February, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein called on Netanyahu to retract the disqualifications and to refrain from intervening in the procedures due to its close proximity to the elections.

Netanyahu complied with Weinstein’s request shortly after; however, the judges refused to return to the panel.

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