End of a year-long political saga: the mathematician Goldreich receives the Israel Prize

Mathematician Oded Goldreich received the Israel Prize at the Education Ministry’s office on Monday, despite opposition from two successive education ministers and after nearly a year of political saga centered around his alleged support of anti-Israel boycotts.

The award was presented to him at a small ceremony in Jerusalem presided over by David Felber, head of the ministry’s National Service Division.

Goldreich, Professor of Computer Science at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, was honored for his work on Computational Complexity Theory.

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After the award ceremony, he spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I want to say something a little political. The story wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the price another nation paid for our rebirth, that and our necessary moral commitment to try to compensate for it and not oppress it,” he said, adding adds: “We do the complete opposite of all that. He added, “Personally, it has veiled his joy.”

Although the award is usually presented in a public ceremony on Israel’s Independence Day, Goldreich declined the honor and accepted it at the offices of the Ministry of Education.

Traditionally, the prestigious award is presented to the winner by the incumbent Minister of Education. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton decided not to preside over the ceremony as she had tried in the past to prevent Goldreich from receiving the award due to her political views.

Responding to Shasha-Biton’s decision, far-right Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich tweeted that she made the right decision.

“This is a dignified and appropriate decision by Minister of Education Shasha-Biton, which helps restore our national dignity, like that of the Knesset and the government, which has been trampled upon by the Supreme Court,” Smotrich wrote.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that Shasha-Biton should bestow the award on Goldreich after an appeal by the Awards Commission, which decided to honor the professor.

The decision of the Supreme Court was taken by a majority. Judges Yael Willner and Yitzhak Amit supported the appeal and Judge Noam Sohlberg opposed it.

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

Responding to Shasha-Biton’s claim that a scientist’s participation in the boycott interfered with his freedom of expression, Amit replied that ‘refusing to give the award to Professor Goldreich harmed a much wider academic freedom of expression.

Denying a respected scholar an award for his remarks “opens the floodgates to surveillance and persecution of scholars in Israel,” he added.

Sohlberg, who reportedly wished Shasha-Biton could prevent the award from being presented to Shasha-Biton, said she had the authority to do so.

The minister indicated at the time that she regretted the judges’ decision, but had pledged to respect them. However, she noted that she should have respected his decision as the court had previously ruled that the Minister of Education had jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

“A person who calls for a boycott of an Israeli academic institution is not worthy of being honored by the country’s authorities, regardless of their achievements or their political views,” she stressed.

Last August, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned former Education Secretary Yoav Gallant’s decision to deny the professor the prestigious award on the grounds that he supported boycott actions against the country.

The judges said Gallant had no legal basis to interfere with the selection committee’s decision.

Goldreich has consistently denied supporting boycotts while saying he opposes settlements in the West Bank.

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

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