The professor’s saga highlights the reach of nationalists in Israel

JERUSALEM (AP) — Oded Goldreich received the Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor, a year ago. But the computer science professor only won the prize last week after overcoming repeated public assaults by Israeli nationalists on his opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The year-long saga has shed light on attempts by nationalist forces in Israel to impose their narrative on mainstream Israeli life and stifle opposing views.

This narrative, which sees the West Bank and its Jewish settlements as part of Israel and largely ignores the occupation, has become increasingly entrenched in Israel, jeopardizing prospects for Palestinian independence. Meanwhile, anti-occupation actors are often portrayed as enemies of the state and have been targeted by legislation that hampers their activities.

“It’s McCarthyism made in Israel,” said Avner Gvaryahu, co-director of Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for Israeli soldiers. “There are a large number of organizations, journalists and politicians whose main project in recent years has been to stifle dissent.”

Goldreich, who teaches at Israel’s prominent Weizmann Institute of Science, was nominated last year for the Israel Prize in Mathematics and Computer Science by a panel of judges.

But soon after the nomination was announced, nationalist groups called for his disqualification, saying he supported boycotts against Israel.

Goldreich, 65, and hundreds of other scholars last year signed a petition calling on the European Union to cut funding for West Bank-based Ariel University, claiming it legitimized Israeli settlements. In a research partnership with the EU launched last year, Israel itself agreed not to include the university, as well as other West Bank institutions.

The outcry prompted the then-education minister to refuse to endorse the nomination, saying Goldreich may have violated a 2011 anti-boycott law, and sparked a year-long legal battle that s t ended last month when the Supreme Court ruled that the current education minister, who had also denied Goldreich the prize, should award it.

“A person who calls for a boycott of an Israeli academic institution is not worthy of an official award from the State of Israel, regardless of their achievements,” Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton tweeted. , of the nationalist New Hope party. the jugement.

The prize is awarded annually to leaders in the arts, sciences and other fields and is presented at a lavish celebration on Israel’s Independence Day. After missing last year’s ceremony, Goldreich said he opted instead to receive his award at a low-key event at the country’s education ministry, saying he dislikes official occasions . Shasha-Biton refused to attend the event, even though she ended up contracting the coronavirus and would have missed it anyway.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War and established Jewish settlements there. While it withdrew settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005, more than 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the other territories, complicating the establishment of a Palestinian state.

More than 2.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, which restricts their movement with a series of checkpoints and crossings and controls various aspects of Palestinian life. The Palestinian Authority administers parts of the West Bank. Gaza, led by the Islamist militant Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence said nationalist figures and politicians were working to normalize the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, deepen it and make it harder for people like Goldreich to challenge it.

“The right, which is becoming more fundamentalist and anti-liberal than in the past, has an interest in delegitimizing the left and scapegoating it and the current saga is only part of a process that has intensified over the of the last decade,” Goldreich wrote to The Associated Press in an email.

“What is astonishing is the denial of the facts that the inhabitants of the occupied territory are oppressed,” he said.

Goldreich’s position on the occupation is shared by most of the international community, including the United States, which overwhelmingly opposes the settlements.

But recent Israeli governments, pushed by settlers and nationalist supporters, have sought to stifle opposition to the narrative that sees the West Bank as part of Israel and ignores the occupation.

They have created legislation that prevents anti-occupation groups such as Breaking the Silence from giving lectures in schools and requires those who receive funds from foreign governments to declare that income. Many right-wing groups receive funding from private donors overseas and are therefore spared from reporting.

The current Israeli government, made up of eight ideologically different parties, has agreed to set aside the question of a Palestinian state, although it is facing the side effects of the occupation with a current wave of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence. Yet the government is largely dominated by right-wing parties that support the settlers, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina.

Influential nationalist advocacy groups like Im Tirtzu have targeted liberal artists, professors and other figures, arguing that they should not receive state funding or recognition.

“We will continue to speak out against professors who on the one hand receive state funding and on the other hand call for a boycott of Israeli institutions,” said Alon Schvartzer, policy director of Im Tirtzu. His group has a website with a searchable database of liberal professors and says it exposed Goldreich’s political leanings to the former education minister.

He said he was not opposed to Goldreich and others voicing their opinions. But he said Israel could not let its own citizens off the hook by boycotting Israeli institutions at a time when it faces a Palestinian-led international movement calling on artists, international corporations and other bodies to boycott Israel. Goldreich says he does not support the boycott movement against Israel.

In what looked like a parting shot, Goldreich announced he was donating his prize money, around $23,000, to a number of advocacy groups, including some that oppose the occupation. , like Breaking the Silence. Shasha-Biton said the move was further proof that he was unworthy of the award.

“I regret nothing,” Goldreich wrote in an essay last week in the Haaretz daily. “I will continue to do everything I can to fight the occupation.”

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