Last updated: 13 February, 2015

Netanyahu in U-turn on ban of Israel Prize judges

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed a ban Friday on three judges for Israel’s top arts and sciences prize that had prompted best-selling author David Grossman to withdraw from the competition in protest.

The premier’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.

Earlier this week, the premier vetoed the appointment of two judges for the literature prize and one for film, claiming on his Facebook page that they were “extremist and anti-Zionist”.

“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,” wrote Netanyahu, who is interim education minister and has oversight over jury selection.

The premier’s office said “he will honour the directive of the attorney general not to deal with the appointing of judges for the Israel Prize during this election period.”

Cohen said that nullified the dismissal of judges for the prize, which is awarded for literature, sciences and the arts each spring on the anniversary of Israeli independence.

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, professor Ariel Hirschfeld, as saying he would be prepared to return if other judges and candidates do.

Grossman, an activist and critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, joined several other nominees in withdrawing in protest at the right-wing leader’s intervention.

“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, whose works have been translated into more than 30 languages, told Channel 2 television.