Israel’s Wolf Prize & the academic boycott of Israel

GRM May 11 (Muhammad Smiry on Twitter) May 12 2018

The musician Paul McCartney just announced that he was honored to receive but due to a schedule conflict will not be able to visit Israel to pick up what Haaretz calls the “prestigious” Wolf Prize. The prize is awarded by the Wolf Foundation & presented by the president of Israel in six areas–agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics & one in the arts. The ceremony is in the Knesset building in the presence of the Wolf Foundation Council comprised of high-ranking Israeli academics & the Israeli Minister of Education & Culture who acts as president of the council. Whether McCartney has a scheduling conflict or is just weaseling around BDS is not that relevant. It only matters if he has the courage to stand with Palestinians openly against apartheid, occupation, & genocide & reject the honorific.

Since the Wolf Prize was only founded in 1975, there really is nothing particularly prestigious about it other than it is one of those academic honorifics, like the Lasker & Abel Prizes & Fields Medal that serve as feeder awards to identify nominees for Nobel prizes. The Nobel Peace Prize, founded in 1901, may be prestigious but politically it has the value of chicken feed after Kissinger & Suu Kyi received it. What’s important about the Wolf Prize is its direct relationship to the academic boycott of Israel & what’s interesting about it is that it opens up the whole can of worms about Israel’s political relationship with Cuba since Ricardo Wolf who founded it is a former Cuban ambassador to Israel under Castro.

Beside handing out awards, the Wolf Foundation has given out nearly 6,000 scholarships & grants to Israeli undergraduate & graduate students in Israeli universities. Data isn’t available on whether Palestinian-Israelis are eligible for these scholarships. In 2008, David Mumford, a professor emeritus in mathematics at Brown University, was one of three recipients in math. In 2002 he had visited Birzeit Univeristy in the West Bank & witnessed the stringent restrictions Israel placed on Palestinian students & academics, not allowing them to travel outside the West Bank. Not long after he received a third of the $100,000 prize money Israel denied permission for Palestinian students in Gaza to leave the country to go to the US on Fulbright Scholarships. The US State Department then rescinded the scholarships rather than censure Israel. Mumford donated his entire money award to Birzeit University & Gisha, an Israel-based group human rights group that promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians, especially those from Gaza, to be used so Palestinian scholars could participate fully in international collaborations. The award incensed Zionists who deluged Mumford with hate mail & hostile oped pieces.

The overwhelming number of Wolf Prize recipients in all six fields are associated with American universities, seconded only by UK & Canadian recipients. It isn’t conspiracy thinking to suggest that the prize, especially after BDS was launched in 2005, is a way to strengthen academic, scientific, medical, & cultural ties between Israel & US institutions since BDS is making great headway & is under political attack on US campuses. The importance of the Wolf Prize in ingratiating itself with academics by offering honorifics with money attached becomes evident. It’s a campaign to protect that $38 billion US pledge to Israel over the next ten years & to make sure it isn’t jeopardized by BDS.

The photo shows Palestinians at the Great Return March on May 11th. There’s no way on earth Palestinians & their supporters should allow the Wolf Foundation to drown out the sound of Palestinian suffering from apartheid & genocide.

(Photo from Adel Al Hwajre)