High Court rules minister can temporary block Israel Prize for leftist math prof

Ruling means Oded Goldreich, who has been accused of supporting boycotts of Israel, will not receive the award at next week’s ceremony

The High Court of Justice on Thursday ruled that Education Minister Yoav Gallant can temporarily block the awarding of the prestigious Israel Prize to a candidate accused of supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the committee for selecting a winner of the Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science over Gallant’s efforts to stop the prize from going to Oded Goldreich. The committee selected Goldreich, a professor at the Weizmann Institute, for his work on computational complexity theory.

According to a television report last month, Gallant asked the committee to reconsider its decision to grant the prize to Goldreich over his signing of a 2019 letter calling on Germany’s parliament not to pass legislation denouncing BDS as anti-Semitic. The Channel 12 news report said it was also claimed Goldreich called Israeli soldiers “war criminals.”

Goldreich has stressed the letter did not call to boycott Israel and that he does not support BDS. He has also come under fire for a letter he signed last month calling on the European Union to halt funding for Ariel University in the West Bank, saying it legitimized Israeli settlements.

In their ruling, the judges said Gallant can look into whether he can prevent the prize from going to Goldreich, giving him a month to do so. With the awards ceremony set to be filmed on April 11, the court’s decision meant Goldreich was effectively prevented from receiving the prize then.

“If it is decided to award Professor Goldreich the prize, this can be done at the Israel Prize ceremony next year or an earlier date at Professor Goldreich’s choosing,” the judges said.

The prize’s mathematics and computer science committee said Thursday it was dismayed that the award had turned into “a political playing field, and that the regulations of the prize are not being upheld by the education minister.” It called on the court to ensure that Goldreich receives the prize.

Michael Sfard, Goldreich’s attorney, said that Gallant and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit “created a clear McCarthyistic track for denying the Israel Prize to people with positions opposing occupation, expulsion and apartheid, and thus bar from it an entire political camp in Israel that is guilty of the same crime.”

The High Court has previously rejected petitions against awarding the prize to certain candidates, including last year when it was awarded to Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, who has made disparaging comments about LGBT people.