Mathematician Goldreich Gets Israeli Prize after Political Saga

On Monday, the Israel Prize was handed out to mathematician Oded Goldreich at the Education Ministry’s offices, even though two Israeli education ministers were opposed to it. This happened after a political saga that lasted nearly a year because of Prof. Goldreich alleged favor of anti-Israel boycotts. A small ceremony was conducted in Jerusalem to give out the prize to Goldreich. The Education Ministry’s head of National Service Division, David Felber was the one who gave out the prize. Goldreich works at the Weizmann Institute in Israel as a professor of computer science and he was given the prize because of the work he had done on computational complexity theory. 

Once he had gotten the reward, Goldreich talked about the conflict between Palestine and Israel. He said that he wanted to talk about something political, as he said that their revival had caused another nation to pay a price. He added that it was their moral duty to compensate the other nation as much as possible, rather than oppressing them. He went on to say that they appeared to be doing the opposite, which darkened his life. This prize is usually given out on Israel’s Independence Day in a public ceremony. However, Goldreich had decided to waive it and preferred to receive it at the Education Ministry’s offices.

Moreover, tradition dictates that the incumbent education minister presents the prestigious award to the winner. But, Yifat Shasha-Biton, the Education Minister, decided to skip the ceremony altogether, after she had already made attempts to deny Goldreich the award because of his political views. Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the Religious Zionist party, took to Twitter to talk about the Education Minister’s decision. He said that the decision to skip the ceremony was the right one. He said that it helped reinstate their national dignity, along with the dignity of the government and the Knesset that the High Court had trampled. 

The High Court of Justice had ruled last month that the award be handed out to Goldreich by the Education Minister. This was after a petition had been filed against her refusal to do so by the members of the prize committee, which had initially awarded the professor. The ruling from the court had come as a majority decision, as Justices Yitzhak Amit and Yael Willner were in favor of the appeal, while Justice Noam Sohlberg was against it. Shasha-Biton had claimed that academic freedom of speech is impacted because of an academic boycott. 

However, Justice Amit said that denying the award to Goldreich did more harm to the academic freedom of speech. He said that not giving the honor to a recognized academic because of comments he made would essentially mean that academics in Israel can be monitored, tracked and persecuted. According to Sohlberg, Shasha-Biton had the authority of denying the prize. The Education Minister said that she respected the decision of the court and would respect it. She added that the court should have respected her decision as well because it had previously said that the matter should be decided by the education minister.

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