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
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
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
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.