Popular singer Shlomo Artzi announced on Sunday that he has turned down the Israel Prize this year, citing intense societal divisions over the government’s contentious legislation to radically revamp the judicial system.
In a statement, Artzi, 73, said that “at the current time, when our country is hurt and torn,” he felt deeply uncomfortable receiving the prize and would therefore “give up this great honor.”
The annual prize — considered Israel’s highest cultural honor — is handed out to a range of Israeli figures on Independence Day, in a ceremony attended by the prime minister, the president and the speaker of the Knesset.
The Education Ministry, which selects the prize recipients, said that it would instead honor the 78-year-old Mizrahi singer Yossi Levi, better known as Daklon, with this year’s Israel Prize for Hebrew Music.
In a statement, the ministry noted that its committee had weighed handing the prize to “another candidate in the field of Hebrew music” but that this individual “chose not to accept the prize, and the committee respects his decision.”
Artzi, one of Israel’s most celebrated musicians, said that while watching the ongoing protests across the nation, “I am shaking all over my body and my soul because I am full of fear over the division, the rift, the fracture that we have stumbled into.”
He called on Israeli political leaders to “stop, speak [to each other] and the land will fall quiet.”
The singer-songwriter said that he has “sung for 50 years for everyone,” no matter their political, religious or ethnic backgrounds. “To be part of the Israeli soundtrack — that’s the real prize I’ve won.”
Artzi summed up his statement by saying that he wishes instead of the prize to receive “the loving, embracing, democratic Israel for which I sang my entire life.”
Last year, the Israel Prize for music was awarded to songwriter Avihu Medina, who wrote many of the country’s most popular Mizrahi songs, including for singer Zohar Argov.
This year’s prizes also include three honorees for lifetime achievement: Amnon Shashua, the president and CEO of Mobileye; Rachel Haber, chair of the Matnat Chaim kidney donation organization; and Druze author and former Likud MK Amal Nasser el-Din.