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Mathematician Goldreich receives Israel Prize following year-long political saga

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton skips ceremony due to professor’s alleged support of anti-Israel boycotts; Goldreich says ‘oppression’ of Palestinians ‘darkens my life’

Weizmann Institute math and computer science professor Oded Goldreich (left) receives the Israel Prize at a ceremony at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem, on April 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Weizmann Institute math and computer science professor Oded Goldreich (left) receives the Israel Prize at a ceremony at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem, on April 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mathematician Prof. Oded Goldreich on Monday received the Israel Prize at the offices of the Education Ministry, despite the political opposition of two Israeli education ministers and following a near year-long political saga over his alleged support of anti-Israel boycotts.

The prize was given to Goldreich in a small ceremony in Jerusalem by David Felber, head of the National Service Division in the ministry.

Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, received the prize for his work on computational complexity theory.

After receiving the reward, Goldreich addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I would like to say something a bit political. The story is not complete without mentioning the price paid by another nation for our revival, and our moral commitment to try as best as we can to compensate and not oppress the other nation,” he said, adding, “We are, of course, doing the exact opposite.”

He said that “personally, it darkens my life.”

Though the prize is usually awarded during a public ceremony on Israel’s Independence Day, Goldreich waived that honor, receiving it instead at the offices of the Education Ministry.

Traditionally, moreover, the prestigious award is presented to the winner by the incumbent education minister. However, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton decided to skip the ceremony, following her previous attempts to deny Goldreich the award over his political views.

Responding to Shasha-Biton’s decision to skip the ceremony, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich wrote on Twitter that it was the right decision.

“A worthy and proper move by Education Minister Shasha-Biton. It helps in reinstating our national dignity and the dignity of the Knesset and government, which were trampled by the High Court,” Smotrich wrote.

Last month, the High Court of Justice ruled that Shasha-Biton must hand over the prize to Goldreich, following a petition against her refusal, filed by the members of the prize committee that had initially awarded the honor to the professor.

The court ruling was made as a majority decision, with Justices Yael Willner and Yitzhak Amit siding with the appeal and Justice Noam Sohlberg opposing it.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Responding to Shasha-Biton’s claim that an academic boycott impacts academic freedom of speech, Amit ruled that “the harm to academic freedom of speech by withholding the prize from Prof. Goldreich is much worse.”

Denying the honor to a recognized academic over comments he made is “an invitation to monitor, track, and persecute academics in Israel,” he said.

Sohlberg, who was in favor of allowing Shasha-Biton to withhold the prize, said she had the authority to do so.

The minister said at the time that she regretted the justices’ decision, but would respect it. She noted that since the court had previously said the education minister should decide the matter, it should have respected her decision.

“A person who calls for a boycott of an Israeli academic institution is not worthy of a state prize, no matter what his achievements or political views are,” she said.

Last August, the High Court unanimously overturned former education minister Yoav Gallant’s decision to block the professor from receiving the prestigious prize on the grounds that he allegedly backs boycotts against the country.

The justices said there was no legal cause for Gallant to intervene in the prize selection committee’s choice.

Goldreich denied backing boycotts, but said he objects to West Bank settlements.

Last March, Goldreich signed a petition urging the European Union to stop funding for Ariel University, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

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