Israel Prize restructured to avoid honoring Netanyahu critic – report

The decision by Education Minister Yoav Kisch last week to scrap all of the Israel Prize’s traditional categories this year, and instead to award the honor to six recipients in only one category, of ‘civic heroism,’ may have been an attempt to avoid awarding the prize to an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, according to new reports.

Eyal Waldman, the Israeli tech giant who co-founded Mellanox Technologies, an Israel-based supplier of computer networking technology, was a leader of the hi-tech industry’s opposition to the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform policies in the turbulent months preceding the outbreak of war on October 7.

Then, when thousands of Hamas terrorists attacked Israel’s south, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and raping and kidnapping others, Waldman’s daughter Danielle and her partner Noam were among those murdered at the Nova music festival in Re’im. 

The tech giant held Netanyahu partially responsible for the failures of the day, telling an interviewer from the German outlet DW that “there is responsibility on the government, on the prime minister, they should definitely resign, shamefully.”

Mellanox founder and CEO Eyal Waldman (left) with Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang in March 2019 (credit: OMER TAL)

Kisch reportedly asked committee to give the award to someone else

According to a report in The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv, the three-person committee tasked with awarding the 2024 Israel Prize in entrepreneurship decided in December to honor Waldman. 

When Kisch found out about the decision, however, he asked the committee— led by Dr. Ami Appelbaum, Chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority and Chief Scientist at the Economy and Industry Ministry— to reconsider, reportedly suggesting that the committee instead award the prize to Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, a pioneer of lab-grown meat technology

The committee, which had agreed prior to making their decision that they would not allow politics to enter into their deliberative process, rejected Kisch’s proposal outright. 

The education minister denied that his decision to suspend the usual Israel Prize categories this year— the first time such a thing has been done in the history of the award, which was first given in 1953— had anything to do with political considerations, saying the decision “stemmed solely from the country’s state of war,” and that he had “decided to exercise a values-based position, choosing to focus this year on honoring the acts of revival, heroism, and mutual responsibility of the citizens of Israel.”

Ben Caspit contributed to this report.