Israel Prize

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The Israel Prize is the most prestigious award handed out by the State of Israel. It is presented annually, on the eve of the Israeli Independence Day, in a state ceremony in Jerusalem. The prize was set up in 1953 at the initiative of the Minister of Education Ben-Tzur Dinor, who himself went on to win the prize in 1958 and 1978.

Awarding the prize

The prize is awarded in the following four areas, with the precise subfields changing from year to year:

  • the humanities, social sciences, and Jewish studies
  • the natural and exact sciences
  • culture and art
  • lifetime achievement (since 1972)

The recipients of the prize are Israeli citizens (or sometimes organizations) who have displayed particular excellence in their field, or who have contributed strongly to Israeli culture. The winners are selected by committees of judges, who pass on their recommendations to the Education Minister.

As of 2004, the prize has been awarded 551 times. Prominent winners include Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Aharon Appelfeld, Abba Eban, Leah Goldberg, Michael Rabin and Saharon Shelah. Though the prize is only awarded to Israeli citizens, Zubin Mehta was presented with a special award during the 1991 prize presentation ceremony.

Criticisms of the prize

Sometimes, the decision to award the prize to specific individuals has led to impassioned political debate. In 1993, the strong reaction against the nomination of Yeshayahu Leibowitz led Leibowitz to decline the prize. In 2004, the Education and Culture Minister, Limor Livnat, twice punted the decision to award the prize to sculptor Yigal Tumarkin back to the prize committee.

On occasion, the committee is also criticised for failing to award the prize to an individual. For example, many have expressed criticism (or regret) that the poet Natan Yonatan never received the prize.

Another criticism of the prize is that the large majority of winners so far have been male and Jewish. Only 12% of the winners have been female, and only four have been non-Jewish: actor Makram Khouri, Druze leader Sheikh Amin Tarif, writer Emile Habibi and theologian Marcel-Jacques Dubois.de:Israel-Preis fr:Prix Israel he:פרס ישראל

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