David Grossman withdraws from Israel Prize in protest of Netanyahu’s interference

Six high-profile candidates have now withdrawn their candidacies, including Ruth Dayan and writers Haim Be’er and Sami Michael.
By Nirit Anderman and Or Kashti | Feb. 13, 2015 | 3:06 AM | 1

David Grossman in 2012.
David Grossman in 2012. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

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Award-winning novelist David Grossman on Thursday withdrew his candidacy for this year’s Israel Prize in Literature. Grossman made his decision due to Benjamin Netanyahu’s “incitement” against Israel’s “senior scientists and authors,” he told Channel 2.

“Netanyahu’s move is a cynical and destructive ploy that violates the freedom of spirit, thought and creativity of Israel, and I refuse to cooperate with it,” said Grossman.

Also on Thursday, the last remaining judge on the jury for the Israel Prize in literary research resigned, leaving nobody to choose the prize winner. Prof. Ephraim Hazan’s resignation follows those submitted earlier this week by the panel’s other members: Prof. Nissim Calderon, Prof. Nurith Gertz, Prof. Ziva Ben-Porat and Dr. Uri Hollander.

The resignations were sparked by Haaretz’s report last Sunday that Netanyahu’s bureau had vetoed two people originally nominated to serve on the prize jury for literature: professors Avner Holtzman and Ariel Hirschfeld. Later in the week, Haaretz reported that the bureau also vetoed producer Chayim Sharir’s nomination to serve on the jury for the Israel Prize in film.

These reports prompted three members of other juries to resign as well: Gail Hareven from the panel for the literature prize, and Ram Loevy and Yona Elian from the film panel. Thus, out of 13 judges in three different categories – literature, literary research and film – only two remain: Yehoram Gaon, chairman of the film jury; and former Israel Broadcasting Authority director Moti Sklar, a member of that jury.

The intervention by Netanyahu’s bureau has now led six people who were contenders for the Israel Prize to withdraw their candidacies. As well as Grossman, Ruth Dayan announced on Thursday morning she was withdrawing her candidacy for the lifetime achievement prize, while authors Haim Be’er and Sami Michael withdrew their candidacies for the literature prize. Prof. Yigal Schwartz and author Yitzhak Ben Ner withdrew their candidacies earlier in the week.

Sklar told Haaretz on Thursday, “With regard to the panel I am on, I’m not aware of any politicization. In principle, the Israel Prize is bigger than all these hitches – to the degree that there were any – and therefore it doesn’t seem right to me to cancel the ceremony and the awarding of the prizes.”

But those who withdrew their candidacies disagreed.

“I think that not receiving the Israel Prize is a greater honor than receiving it,” Be’er said, in an interview with Ilana Dayan on Army Radio on Thursday. “I don’t envy the person who will stand there on Independence Day to receive the Israel Prize in literature.

“I debated, because the prize is very dear to me,” Be’er continued. “This ceremony on Independence Day seems like the ultimate in Israeliness, the moment in which Israeli society salutes those of its sons and daughters who contributed, each in his own field.”

Nevertheless, he said, the intervention by Netanyahu’s bureau had made the prize undesirable. “It’s not the prime minister who awards the prizes,” he said. “This isn’t like Soviet Russia, where Stalin awarded the Lenin Prize. He’s the man who stands there and hands over the envelope, not the person who awards it.”

Dayan, who will be 98 next month, said she withdrew her candidacy because “the Israel Prize isn’t a matter of left or right. It’s inconceivable that the prime minister should cancel the appointment of judges and intervene in the prize. I’ve never heard of such a thing, and in this situation I don’t want to be a candidate for the prize.”

Her daughter, former Labor MK Yael Dayan, added, “We never imagined the Israel Prize would become a political issue. After Netanyahu’s intervention was revealed, my mother felt obliged to withdraw her candidacy.”

Michael told Haaretz he would like all the people who nominated him for the literature prize to withdraw their nominations as a protest against the prime minister’s intervention. “I’m aware that there’s an ugly atmosphere in the clique-filled literary world,” he said. “But it’s very dangerous for a politician, however lofty his position, to take upon himself the job of cleaning the literary stables.”

Michael added that while he couldn’t remember a single case in Israel’s history of an author being suspected of or arrested for corruption, a “shocking” number of politicians are now in jail, and the number looks likely to grow. Therefore, he said, politicians are not the ones to fix what’s wrong in the literary world.

“It would be better for the politicians to do something to fix the economic situation of Israeli authors,” Michael continued. “I know many authors who fell into financial distress toward the end of their lives, despite their great contribution to Israeli literature.

“And one last word to members of [Netanyahu’s] Likud Party: What the prime minister did is characteristic of the improper policies of government leaders during the days of Mapai,” he said, referring to the Labor Party precursor that governed Israel for its first three decades. “Such injustices caused Mapai’s decline. So be careful. This improper emulation is liable to do great harm not only to literature, but also to those who set it in motion.”