Netanyahu, Israel Prize judges clash over alleged politicization

Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Israel’s prestigious Israel Prize has been engulfed by controversy after judges resigned from both the literary and film panels, accusing the Prime Minister’s office of political meddling.

Six judges resigned from the literary panel after the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vetoed nominations for two other judges, apparently due to political objections, and attempted to name a replacement, according to reports. Netanyahu’s office also dismissed a member of the Israel Prize’s film panel and attempted to name a replacement, causing another member of the film panel to drop out in solidarity.


The two literary judges who were dismissed are professors Ariel Hirschfeld and Avner Holtzman, who were nominated to the panel by the staff of the Education Ministry, which administers the prestigious annual prize, along with the other judges, in November or December. However, Netanyahu assumed the post of Education Minister in early December with the resignation of predecessor Shai Piron, from Yesh Atid, and the dissolution of the coalition government.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement Tuesday saying that it “decided to review the panel’s composition” upon learning that Hirschfeld had supported the practice of boycotting army service as a form of protest. This was obliquely confirmed by a statement posted on Netanyahu’s Facebook page which did not mention Hirschfeld by name but which stated that the Israel Prize panels had come to be dominated by “extremists” who support “anti-Zionist causes” including “refusal to serve in the IDF.”

No reason was offered for Holtzman’s dismissal. Netanyahu’s office also reportedly attempted to appoint another judge of the prime minister’s choosing.

The Prime Minister’s Office also reportedly ordered the dismissal of film jury member Chaim Sharir in favor of another appointee, who subsequently refused the appointment upon learning of Sharir’s dismissal. Fellow jury member Ram Loevy resigned in protest of Sharir’s dismissal.

Literary prize jurors Nurith Gertz, Ziva Ben-Porat, Ephraim Hazan and Uri Hollander resigned en masse to protest the dismissal of Hirschfeld and Holtzman, and author Gail Hareven also resigned separately over the same issue.

In addition, Yigal Schwartz withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday for a prize in the field of literary research to protest Netanyahu’s involvement with the jury, which Schwartz described to Haaretz as “sabotage.”