Education Minister Limor Livnat has punted the nomination of Yigal Tumarkin for an Israel Prize for sculpture back to the Israel Prize Committee. The indications, however, are that the committee will affirm its earlier nomination on the grounds that the award was for art, not affability.
Defenders of the award, such as Carrol Novis writing in these pages, have pointed out that many great artists have been beasts – Richard Wagner, for example. The Wagner example, however, proves too much. Though Wagner was a far greater composer than Tumarkin a sculptor, the work of Hitler’s favorite composer and the source of many of his ideas is still not performed in Israel (except by another Israel Prize winner Daniel Barenboim.)
That refusal reflects a healthy intuition that purely aesthetic standards cannot be allowed to trump all, certainly not by members of a nation whose characteristic genius and mission has always been moral, not aesthetic.
In any event, the Israeli Supreme Court established in 1997 that professional achievement should not be the sole criterion for the Israel Prize, when it required the Israel Prize Committee to reconsider an award for lifetime achievement in journalism to Shmuel Schnitzer. On the basis of one column censured by the Press Council, in a career spanning 59 years and thousands of columns, the Court ordered the prize committee to determine whether Schnitzer was sufficiently repentant to receive the prize.
In the column for which he was censured, Schnitzer defended the public’s right to know about the high incidence of AIDS and tuberculosis among the Falashmura. The Supreme Court itself took the same position when it dismissed a petition by MK Adisu Massala seeking to bar a TV broadcast of these facts. In addition, both the Navon Commission, on the handling of blood donations by the Ethiopian community, and the 1997 State Comptroller’s report blasted the government for covering up the health crisis among the Falashmura.
Schnitzer’s real sin, in arguing against the immigration of "thousands of apostates bearing dangerous diseases," was to poke fun at political correctness itself. The government was so eager to bring the Falashmura to Israel, he said, precisely because they were black, and the government hoped to establish Israel’s progressive bona fides in European eyes.
Political correctness was written all over the Press Council’s censure on which the Supreme Court affixed its imprimatur. "Freedom of the press must retreat in the face of harm to the feelings of an ethnic group," wrote the Press Council.
The protective umbrella of political correctness upheld by the Supreme Court (and the Press Council) does not extend, however, to religious Jews and Judaism. Indeed nothing so establishes one’s progressive bona fides in the eyes of Israel’s elites as a studied contempt for all matters Jewish. Thus the Court refused to consider a petition by MK Shaul Yahalom against the award of the Israel Prize to Shulamit Aloni, on the grounds that the Court is not a "prize committee."
Yet Aloni, unlike Schnitzer, who was taking a position on a current public policy debate, has made of career of gratuitous insult and offense to her fellow Jews. She has accused religious Jews of "drinking from the same wellsprings as the Nazis." The mezuzos found on the doors of 98% of Israeli Jews are, in her eyes, a form of "idol worship;" and "Yehoshua and Chelminicki are equal," in her eyes.
Yigal Tumarkin is another all-purpose hater. His contempt extends to his fellow citizens – "a mob….[of] primitives and monkeys;" the state – "Perhaps it would have been better if the state did not exist;" even children – "One thing I’ve always hated is children." He once opined that his greatest public service would be to mow down former Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan and the late Rehavam Zeevi with a submachine gun. (A police search of his house, after his second wife filed a police complaint for assault and threats, turned up a number of unlicensed firearms, suggesting that his violent side is not only verbal.)
As with Aloni, Tumarkin’s favorite targets are the religious. His religious Moroccan neighbors, he says, "descended from a nation of primitive parasites," who "were brought to Israel out of caves." According to the January 14, 1998 Ha’aretz, he once brought a pig wearing tefillin to Rabin Square to protest the land fetish of the national religious. (Compare the case of Tatanya Susskind, who was sentenced to two years in jail for posting a picture of Mohammed as a pig in Hebron.) Judaism, Tumarkin once wrote in Al Hamishmar, "completed its historical task with the crucifixion of [Jesus]." And, of course, there is Tumarkin’s most famous bon mot: "When one sees the haredim one understands why there was a Holocaust."
Tumarkin has the right to his express his opinions, but that right does not entitle him to an Israel Prize. Had his primary offenses been against any group other than religious Jews, even the Israel Prize committee would have recognized that he is unworthy of emulation and honor by the State of Israel. It is now the Education Minister’s responsibility to make that clear.