Netanyahu Purges the Bias out of the Israel Prize Committees

By Steven Plaut

The big headline in pre-election Israel this week has been the uncharacteristic decision by the Netanyahu government to exercise its powers to govern. Specifically, much too little and much too late, Netanyahu has decided to challenge the leftist hegemony over the awards of the “Israel Prize.” The leftist media in Israel are aghast. Labor and Meretz politicians are filing official complaints with the State Comptroller.

The largest problem of Likud governments ever since the first time the Likud won an election has always been the unwillingness of the Likud to govern. Likud leaders have always been afraid to exercise their right to rule. Simply winning an election was not deemed sufficient. Instead, they have generally tried to co-opt the Left, perhaps hoping that this will make them popular with the media, largely the occupied territory of the Left. Likud governments have always financed the institutions of the Left while in office, including the kibbutzim, the leftist colleges and universities, and the Histadrut. Likud governments have appointed a long series of Attorney Generals who are more leftist than those appointed by Labor governments. And for decades the Likud turned hegemony over the award of national prizes to academic representatives of the Far Left sitting in prize commissions. The Likud seems to have feared being accused of being philistine or unsophisticated if it exercises its right to govern with regard to these prizes and prevent their being awarded to anti-Israel far Leftists.

The Israel Prize is supposed to be the most prestigious national prize in Israel, awarded in a wide number of areas for various disciplines. While in Israel’s early decades the prizes were awarded for merit, in recent years the prize is very often granted to far-leftist anti-Israel radicals from various fields, especially in the areas of political science, literature and film. In technical areas, like physical sciences, in Judaism or Bible research, and in a few other esoteric fields, the politicization has been minimal.

The prizes are nominally under the power of the Ministry of Education, but in reality there are unelected public committees of “judges” who decide upon the awards, and these committees are generally dominated by the academic Left. Ultra-leftists have been more likely to be granted the prize under Likud governments than under Labor governments. Sometimes this is because the Ministry of Education under Likud governments is controlled by non-Likud coalition partners, such as was the case recently, where the minister was from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. But things were no better back when Likudnik Limor Livnat was the Minister. Once in a blue moon, right-wingers have gotten the prize, mainly just in two exceptional instances, one for a rightwing rabbi and one for the one-time Knesset Member Geula Cohen.

A fast review of some of the more outrageous Israel Prize awards in recent years will illustrate the point:

The leftist advocacy group “Israel Democracy Institute” was granted the Israel Prize for “lifetime achievement.” Zev Sternhell, the hardcore Marxist anti-Zionist pseudo-academic best known for calling on terrorists to murder settlers, was granted the prize in “political science.” The malicious Israel-hating propagandist Judd Neeman (from Tel Aviv University) was granted the prize in film. Far leftist professor Avishai Margalit (Hebrew University) got the prize in philosophy. The vile vulgar ultra-leftist politician Shulamit Aloni was granted the prize for “lifetime achievement,” and her achievement largely included malicious bigotry and slander against Orthodox Jews. The far-leftist education professor Gavriel Salomon was granted the prize for developing in-classroom propaganda centers in “peace education.” The anti-Israel Arab writer Emile Habibi was given the prize soon after he also accepted the Yassir Arafat Prize. Far leftist Yehuda Bauer was granted the prize, as was Shlomo Avineri, a recovering Marxist now moved to the moderate Left. Amos Oz was given the prize and you all know where he is politically. The junkyard “artist” Yigal Tumarkin, who built a pig wearing tefillin and who says he really understands why the Nazis would want to murder Orthodox Jews, won the prize for “sculpture” in 2004. Leftist Yediot columnist Nahum Barnea won the prize in “communications.” Marxist sociologist Sami Samoocha won the prize in sociology, for his pseudo-research on ethnic inequality in Israel. Ultra-leftist feminist Alice Shalvi won the prize for lifetime achievement, which I guess means mainly implementing quotas and dumbed-down affirmative action standards. And we could go on. My guess is it is only a matter of time until anti-Semite Shlomo Sand gets a prize.

Suddenly this past week, Netanyahu decided to disqualify some of the more openly political ideologues sitting as judges in the committees that award the prizes. One of those disqualified (Ariel Hirshfeld) is a radical professor who has long promoted insurrection and “refusal” by soldiers to serve in the military. Unlike those “judges,” Netanyahu has been elected to office by the people of Israel.

The Left is throwing conniptions. The Left never had any problems with “politicizing” the prizes, just as long as the committees of judges were controlled by leftists and the prizes were going to ultra-leftist extremists. The Left never raised any objections when a Maariv journalist (Shmuel Schnitzer) was denied award of the Prize by a petition to the Supreme Court motivated by the man’s non-leftist ideological opinions. The basis for the Court’s Borking him? He had written a column about the incidence of AIDS infections among Ethiopian immigrants and the public’s right to know about this. (For more, see this: ) It is unnecessary to point out how many Supreme Court justices are leftists. All of them are unelected.

Some of the “judges” have resigned from the prize award committees in protest. None ever resigned when the prize was granted to Sternhell, Aloni, or the IDI. The leftist media are denouncing Netanyahu for his “philistinism” and his “politicizing” the prizes. Haaretz, the monolithic anti-Israel propaganda machine now advocating for the anti-Israel Arab United List party, is leading the bellyaching about supposed “politicization.” This from a newspaper about as pluralistic as was Pravda under Brezhnev. ( see and ).

But now, how dare Netanyahu and the Likud exercise their power to govern simply on the basis of the fact that they were elected to power!!? That, you see, is undemocratic.

And after all, why should Israel Prizes be restricted to recipients who do not hate Israel?

February 11, 2015 | 1 Comment »

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  1. Professor Plaut is one of my most respected true patriots. His articles I have eagerly read and in the vast majority of the cases, applauded.
    This one is particularly focused into a so far ignored bastion of the renegade camp.
    Kol Hakavod to Mr. Netanyhau and to Professor Plaut.
    Let the people also deal with the self elected Judicial.
    The Radio and TV virulent centers of anti-Jewish activities.
    The deleterious reach of the formerly self appointed “peace camp” now melded into “Zionist” camp that represents mostly the extreme internal and external enemies of ZIONISM and of the Jewish people, must be finally rebuffed and kept outside controlling any function of State.