Netanyahu Lifts Ban of Israel Prize Judges for Being “Anti-Zionist”

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Published Friday, February 13, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his ban Friday on three people to join the jury for Israel's top arts and sciences prize, a move that had prompted best-selling author David Grossman to withdraw from the competition in protest.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu vetoed the appointment of Ariel Hirschfeld and Avner Holtzman as judges for the literature prize and Chayim Sharir for film, claiming on his Facebook page that they were "extremist and anti-Zionist."

The prime minister's office said the U-turn came after intervention by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

Weinstein contacted Netanyahu Thursday and "told him that because of the election period he should not make decisions concerning the Israel Prize," justice ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said.

Netanyahu is campaigning for reelection on March 17.

“Over the years, more and more radical figures, including anti-Zionists — for example, those who support refusal to serve in the IDF [Israel Occupation Forces] — have been appointed to the panel and too few authentic representatives of other parts of the nation,” Netanyahu said on his Facebook page when trying to justify his decision to ban the three would-be judges.

"The situation in which a small and closed group, which holds extremist views, has control of the selection of the winners of the Israel Prize, must change," Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu's office said "he will honor the directive of the attorney general not to deal with the appointment of judges for the Israel Prize during this election period."

Cohen said the decision nullifies the dismissal of judges for the prize.

The Israel Prize is an annual award given out by the state to reward excellence in arts, science, and other social contributions. It is handed out on “Yom Ha'atzmaut,” an Israeli national holiday in memory of the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Grossman, the winner of a number of international awards, said Thursday he was withdrawing from contention to protest Netanyahu's purge.

Eight other judges resigned in solidarity, leaving only two remaining, both on the film panel, Haaretz newspaper reported Friday.

Public radio quoted Friday one of the banned literature judges, Hirschfeld, as saying he would be prepared to return if other judges and candidates do.

Grossman, an activist and critic of Israeli policy towards Palestinians, joined several other nominees withdrawing in protest at the right-wing leader's intervention, accusing him of declaring war on Israel’s intellectual life. Netanyahu is interim education minister and has oversight over jury selection for the prize.

"I've taken this decision in response to the campaign of intimidation by the prime minister against some of Israel's best scientific and artistic figures," the author told Channel 2 television.

Grossman’s study on the lives of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Israeli-occupied West Bank, “Yellow Wind,” sparked controversy in Israel. He is an advocate of a two-state solution which envisages a Palestinian state alongside and Israeli state. He had backed Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006 on the grounds of self defense.

Numerous Palestinians and pro-Palestine advocates support a one-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians would be treated equally, arguing that the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel would not be sustainable and that it would mean recognizing a state of Israel on territories seized forcefully by Zionists before 1967.

They also believe that the two-state solution, which is the only option considered by international actors, won't solve existing discrimination, nor erase economic and military tensions.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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