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Israel Prize

Israel Prize
Awarded forExcellence in their field(s), or important contribution to Israeli culture and society
Presented byState of Israel
First awarded1953; 71 years ago (1953)

The Israel Prize (Hebrew: פרס ישראל; pras israél) is an award bestowed by the State of Israel, and regarded as the state's highest cultural honor.[1]


The Israel Prize is awarded annually, on Israeli Independence Day, in a state ceremony in Jerusalem, in the presence of the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Knesset (Israel's legislature), and the Supreme Court President. The prize was established in 1953 at the initiative of the Minister of Education Ben-Zion Dinor,[2] who himself went on to win the prize in 1958 and 1973.[3]

Awarding the prize

The prize is awarded in the following four areas, with the precise subfields changing from year to year in a cycle of 4 to 7 years, except for the last area, which is awarded annually:

  • the humanities, social sciences, and Jewish studies
  • life and exact sciences
  • culture, arts, communication and sports
  • lifetime achievement and exceptional contribution to the nation (since 1972)

The recipients of the prize are Israeli citizens or organizations who have displayed excellence in their field(s) or have contributed strongly to Israeli culture. The winners are selected by committees of judges, who pass on their recommendations to the Minister of Education. Prize winners are elected by ad-hoc committees, appointed by the minister of education for each category each year. The decisions of the committee must be unanimous. The prize money was NIS 75,000 as of 2008.


Prominent winners include Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Martin Buber, Abba Eban, A. B. Yehoshua, Israel Aumann, Golda Meir, Amos Oz, Ephraim Kishon, Naomi Shemer, David Benvenisti, Leah Goldberg (posthumously) and Teddy Kollek, and organizations such as Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Jewish Agency, Yad Vashem and Jewish National Fund. Though the prize is generally awarded to Israeli citizens only, in exceptional cases it can be awarded to non-Israelis who have held Israeli residency for many years. Zubin Mehta received a special award of the Israel Prize in 1991. Mehta is originally from India and was music advisor and later the music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for 50 years until his retirement in 2019.


The decision to award the prize to specific individuals has sometimes led to impassioned political debate. In 1993, the opposition of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to the nomination of Yeshayahu Leibowitz led Leibowitz to decline the prize. In 2004, Education and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, sent the decision to award the prize to the sculptor Yigal Tumarkin back to the prize committee. The decision was brought before the Supreme Court of Israel in the case of publicist Shmuel Shnitzer,[4] politician Shulamit Aloni, professor Zeev Sternhell[4] and Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club chairman Shimon Mizrahi.[4]

In February 2015, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu vetoed the appointment of two members of the selection panel for the Israel Prize in Literature, prompting the other three members, including Ziva Ben-Porat, to resign in protest.[5] Netanyahu explained that "[t]oo often, it seemed that the extreme panel members were bestowing the prizes on their friends".[6] One of the prize candidates Yigal Schwartz of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev withdrew his nomination and called on other candidates to do the same.[6] Over the next few days, members of the committees for the literary research and film prizes also resigned, leaving only two members of the original 13, and many other candidates withdrew their nominations.[7] David Grossman withdrew his candidature saying that "Netanyahu's move is a cynical and destructive ploy that violates the freedom of spirit, thought and creativity of Israel and I refuse to cooperate with it".[7]

In August 2021 the Supreme Court of Israel unanimously overturned a decision in June by former Education Minister Yoav Gallant to overrule the award of the Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science to Oded Goldreich because of Goldreich's stated views on the occupied territories. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had refused to defend in court Gallant's withholding of the prize, which Mendelblit said "deviated from the range of reasonableness and was not legal." The court's majority opinion ruled that Yifat Shasha-Biton, Gallant's successor as Education Minister, should decide whether to award the prize to Goldreich, while a minority opinion called for Goldreich to receive it without further review.[8] In November 2021, Shasha-Biton announced that she would block Goldreich from receiving the prize.[9] In an editorial, the Jerusalem Post wrote that Goldreich's "[c]alling for the boycott of professional colleagues ... is a red line that shouldn't be crossed".[10] A Haaretz editorial said that Shasha-Biton's decision meant "the most prestigious prize awarded by Israel will not be the mark of scientific excellence but of loyalty to the government".[11] The Supreme Court eventually ruled in Goldreich's favour and he received the prize.

In 2024, Education Minister, Yoav Kish announced that the traditional Israel Prize will not be awarded in 2024, and - instead - because of the Oct. 7th massacre - there will be a single category of awards, recognizing Civil Heroism and Mutual Responsibility. The decision caused a lot of resistance, especially since it was seen as a way to avoid giving the prize to Eyal Waldman, an Israeli activist whose daughter was murdered by the Hamas. Following a petition to the High Court of Israel, and the refusal of the Attorney General to defend Minister Kish in front of the Court, the decision was reversed, and the awards and the ceremony were conducted as usual.

In popular culture

  • In the film Footnote, father and son scholars compete for the Israel prize, straining their already complex relationship.



Year Hosts (s)
2016 Tamar Ish-Shalom
2017 Sara Beck
2018 Hila Korach
2019 Sharon Kidon
2020 Sharon Kidon, Corrin Gideon


  1. ^ Reich, Bernard; Goldberg, David H. (2016). Historical Dictionary of Israel. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 278. ISBN 978-1-4422-7185-2.
  2. ^ Marom, Daniel. "The Role of Jewish Studies Scholars in Early Zionist Education". Mandel Foundation. Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
  3. ^ Ben-Zion Dinur: Knesset website
  4. ^ a b c Leave the prize winners in peace The Jerusalem Post, May 1, 2011
  5. ^ Or Kashti (Feb 11, 2015). "Israel Prize for Literature faces cancellation as judges resign". Haaretz.
  6. ^ a b Jonathan Lis (Feb 11, 2015). "Netanyahu: Israel Prize judges include too many anti-Zionist extremists". Haaretz.
  7. ^ a b Nirit Anderman and Ori Kashti (Feb 12, 2015). "David Grossman withdraws from Israel Prize in protest of Netanyahu's interference". Haaretz.
  8. ^ Or Kashti (Aug 21, 2021). "Israeli Court Voids Ex-minister's Decision to Withhold Prestigious Prize From Left-wing Professor". Haaretz.
  9. ^ "Education minister withholds Israel Prize from academic accused of backing boycott". The Times of Israel. 18 November 2021. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  10. ^ "Goldreich crossed a red line by calling for boycott - editorial". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2021-12-01.
  11. ^ "The Israel Prize Is Not About Excellence, but Government Loyalty". Haaretz. Retrieved 2021-12-01 – via Haaretz.

Further reading

  • Barak, Or (2018). The Israel Prize: Politics Behind Glory. 2018 (in Hebrew).
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Israel Prize
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