‘Netanyahu meddling in Israel Prize: rightists’ revenge to intellectual leftists’
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has removed three judges from the country’s Israel Prize, equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Netanyahu accused them of holding “extremist views” and not reflecting “Israeli society.” It is the first time an Israeli government minister has intervened in the country’s intellectual life.
RT:It's the first time a senior Israeli government minister has intervened to remove prize judges for political reasons. Do you think politics should have the right to interfere in the life of the intellectual community in such a way?
Gideon Levy: It is a very typical Netanyahu decision with all the autobiographic background and all his way of thinking. The way of thinking of the right-wingers in Israel is that they were discriminated against for many, many years in this country and now it’s time for revenge. They [have been] in power for two decades and still they feel that they didn’t reach all the power positions in the country. Now it’s about conquering one of the last outposts - and this is the intellectual lead which unfortunately are mainly lefties, not right-wing, not all of it but part of it. Therefore, Netanyahu …decided that he is going to interfere also in the intellectual scene, mainly to decide who will get the Israeli Prize especially in literature and in cinema. He did so and the backfire was so strong that he had to retreat.
RT:What do you think about the timing of Netanyahu's decision? Do you think he might have done this to gain points ahead of the elections?
GL: No, it shouldn’t be representative. I mean prizes are not about to represent or to be representative. Prizes are about quality- the best writers, the best authors; the best directors should get the prize. No matter if present or represent anyone or not. That is not the question. Half of Israelis, half of the people in the world don’t read literature at all. So how can they be represented in a literature award?
RT:Ariel Hirschfeld from the literature committee has been removed without any explanation. It is supposed this ban is a result of his decision to support students and lecturers who had refused to serve in the occupied territories. Do you agree?
GL: What does this have to do with literature? Ariel Hirschfeld is a famous quality literature analyst, an expert in literature. His political views have nothing to do with this prize and this polarization of the prize by the Prime Minister practically ruined another beautiful thing in this country. And whatever will be the damages is almost irreversible.
RT:Some judges withdrew from the panel in protest. Do you think it could make Netanyahu change his mind?
GL: Absolutely. It is not [some] individual, it is the Prime Minister of Israel in the recent six years, but in any case I don’t think that this will be healed this year. Maybe if things get back to order and calm down and politicians will prevent themselves from intervening in the cultural life of Israel in the coming year the Israel Prize will get back its prestige. But for this year, part of the candidates and the leading ones it’s clear, they have no intention to accept the prize this year. This year there is no way for the damage to be repaired.
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