Ha’aretz is reporting that the Israel Prize for Literature may not be granted in 2015, ‘after the entire judges panel resigned this week to protest efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in its composition’ following Netanyahu’s veto of two candidates for being insufficiently Zionist.

It is the Education Ministry that puts together the judges’ panels, and the appointments are formally signed by the education minister: a post Netanyahu has held since December 2014, when former minister Shay Piron resigned. An Education Ministry source told Ha’aretz ‘nobody dreamed there could be any substantive reason to disqualify two of Israel’s leading literature scholars.’

It should be understood that the Israel Prize – awarded in four areas, including literature – has always been political, and frequently controversial: it is presented annually, on Israeli Independence Day (or the Nakba for Palestinians), in a state ceremony in Jerusalem (note the symbolism; the capital is Tel Aviv), in the presence of the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Knesset (Israeli parliament), and the Supreme Court President.

Netanyahu defended his purge of candidates, writing on Facebook, ‘Over the years, more and more radical figures, including anti-Zionists … have been appointed to the panel along with too few authentic representatives of other parts of the nation.’

Embedded in the story of Israeli government interference in – and manipulation of – the cultural scene for ideological purposes, is one of the clearest statements by its prime minister that Israel is not a state for all its citizens.

The Israel Prize belongs to all of Israel. It is our national asset, and it must represent the entire nation: men and women, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, religious and secular, veteran citizens and new immigrants, Israelis of all stripes irrespective of political leanings one way or the other.

Correction: Ha’aretz‘s English translation (above) of his Facebook statement was more like an interpretation, shall we say. Netanyahu actually includes ‘non-Jews’ – having established in his opening paragraph that the nation-State of Israel is a ‘Jewish country’ founded ‘after 2,000 years of exile.’ There is no mistaking the implications of that sentiment. (h/t Ofer)

This ethnocentric attitude is reflected in the list of recipients itself: according to the Israel Prize’s Wiki. page,

criticism of the prize is that the large majority of winners have been male, Jewish, and secular. Although around 25% of Israel’s population is non-Jewish, as of 2010 fewer than 2% of winners have been non-Jewish. These include one Arab Muslim (diplomat Ali Yahya), two Arab [Palestinian] Christians (writer Emile Habibi and actor Makram Khoury), one Circassian (industrialist Eldin Khatukai), two Druze (judge Amin Tarif and government official Kamal Mansour), and one French Catholic (theologian Marcel-Jacques Dubois). Awarding the prize to Habibi resulted in physicist and politician Yuval Ne’eman relinquishing his own prize.

Could it be argued that the horror at the Prime Minister’s actions expressed in the liberal press is rather manufactured, given this was always a prize that principally recognised Zionist achievements?

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