Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Nissan 5760 - May 3, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Court Fulfilled the Expectations for It

Anyone familiar with the recent history of the Israel Prize, you might have formed some reasonable expectations about the chances of this year's nominee. However, if his knowledge was tempered by some familiarity with the trend of Israeli High Court decisions, he might have been much less surprised by the eventual outcome.

The Israel Prize is the highest honor bestowed by the government of the State of Israel. Two years ago, when Likud was in power, the selection committee proposed to award the prize to Shmuel Schnitzer, a newspaper columnist and former editor of Ma'ariv, a major daily newspaper. Although Schnitzer shares the general leftist orientation of most of the Israeli press and can hardly be called religious or right wing, he always tries to rise above partisan interest and has argued for positions identified with the right and even the religious from time to time, when he saw merit in their stands. More than some of the younger writers, he does have a deep sympathy for Jewish tradition in general.

After Schnitzer's nomination was announced, those unhappy with the choice reviewed his entire literary output, millions of words over many years. They found one column written about the Ethiopian immigrants which argued against allowing them entry because of the diseases they are said to carry. Accusing him of racism, a suit was filed with the High Court against awarding him the Israel Prize.

The only accusation made in the suit was that single column. Yet the High Court, on that basis, ordered that the Selection Committee review their choice of Schnitzer since it had not known of that single column. It was no secret what the Court expected the result of that review to be, and Schnitzer was not awarded the prize.

This year, Education Minister Yossi Sarid, for reasons of his own, convinced the Selection Committee to choose former leader of his party Shulamit Aloni for the honoree this year.

Even those who agree with her basic positions were never comfortable with her choice of words and images. Only recently she said that the Chief Rabbinate is involved with "witchcraft, not Judaism." She often compared rabbonim with extremist Moslems, and generally criticized religious laws and Jewish tradition in very coarse terms. Though she started in the Rabin government as Education Minister, she was switched to the Communications Ministry since her divisiveness was proving too difficult even for the decidedly anti-religious Rabin government.

The petition to deny Aloni the Israel Prize filed by the National Religious Party did not have to rely on a single article out of thousands, but could cite extensive distasteful remarks she made over decades. Even many who agree with her basic positions are revolted by the way she expresses them.

Given this background, many would have expected to Court of Justice to respond in the case of Aloni in a way reminiscent of the way they responded to the petition against Schnitzer.

Instead the Court let the award stand, conforming to the perceived pattern of its general anti-religious approach and violating the common notions of justice.

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