Minister appoints prof once barred for supporting conscientious objection

Yael Amitai is confirmed for R&D panel that previous science minister excluded her from because she had signed a petition about IDF soldiers in the West Bank

Professor Yael Amitai speaks on Channel 13 news, undated video (Screen grab/Channel 13)
Professor Yael Amitai speaks on Channel 13 news, undated video (Screen grab/Channel 13)

Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay on Sunday approved the appointment of Professor Yael Amitai as a member of a research grant foundation, despite his predecessor blocking her from the role because she had once signed a petition urging Israeli soldiers to refuse to serve in the West Bank.

“As hard as it is for me with the opinion expressed [in the petition], I decided not to involve outside considerations in the professional role for which Prof. Amitai was selected,” Shay said in a statement.

“In democracy we also fight for the right of others to express opinions different to our own. Sometimes these are irritating and outrageous,” said the Blue and White party’s Shay.

According to Channel 13 news, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, during his visit to Israel last week, raised the matter of Amitai’s appointment to the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development.

Izhar Shay at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenzai has reportedly updated his counterpart that the appointment has now been confirmed.

Likud MK Ofir Akunis, who blocked Amitai’s appointment while serving as science and technology minister, said: “It’s an unfortunate and erroneous decision that legitimizes the refusal [to obey military orders] and harms the basic values underpinning Israeli society,” he said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (right) greets his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, with an ‘elbow bump,’ due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, at the ministry in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Amitai, who last year said that it seemed Akunis was “looking to make noise” over the appointment, said Sunday that she hoped his successor will see scientific success on his watch.

“I wish the new minister good luck and hope he will make his headlines from scientific achievements and not from media spin,” she told the Haaretz daily.

The High Court of Justice last year told Akunis to reconsider his 2018 decision to deny the appointment of Amitai to the board of the foundation, ruling unanimously that doing so because he had deemed her signature of the 2005 petition illegal was “unreasonable.”

Science Minister Ofir Akunis arrives for a Likud party meeting in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

The German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development was founded in 1986, and two of the three German members of the foundation’s advisory board resigned following Akunis’s decision.

According to the Haaretz daily, amid all the controversy, the foundation made no grants last year and has not yet issued a call for submissions this year.

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