Israel’s National Lottery has revoked a prestigious prize after the Land of Israel Legal Forum found “irregularities” in the award process. The main complaint: Chief judge Yossi Sarid is the winning book's editor's uncle.

The Land of Israel Legal Forum last week asked the National Lottery, Mifal HaPayis, to nullify its Sapir Prize for Narrative Literature for this year. The prize had been awarded to Alon Hilu for his book The Dejani Plantation.

The reason for the complaint: The chairman of the prize-awarding committee, former Education Minister Yossi Sarid of the far-left Meretz Party, happened to be the uncle of the book’s editor, Rena Verbin. In addition, the Forum noted, Sarid and Hilu appeared together at several events sponsored by the book’s publisher Yediot Acharonot in honor of their books’ release.

In a surprise move, the Lottery announced late Wednesday that the prize had been revoked, in response to the complaints.

Side Complaints
The Forum did not mention in its objections the fact that another judge on the committee was the former life-partner of the author of one of the books being considered for the prize - and that the book had even been dedicated to him. Nor did it note that the winning book had been called “anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist” by respected journalist Ben-Dror Yemini.

“The concern regarding conflict of interest on the part of the chairman of the judges committee,” the Forum stated in its request, “raises grave questions regarding the purity of the choice. It also strikes a mortal blow at the public trust in the Prize Committee.”

The prize of 150,000 shekels (roughly $38,000), given by the Sapir Foundation – named for the late Finance Minister Pinchas Sapir – had not yet been given to Hilo. Hilo and the other authors will be eligible to compete again for the prize at a later date, with a different panel of judges.

The National Lottery announced, “We have no doubt that the mistakes were made innocently and for lack of attention. However, the results create a suspicion of apparent conflict of interest, and we must take this drastic step in order to cleanse the process of any suspicion.”

Land of Israel Legal Forum
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel was founded in September 2004 as a grassroots organization seeking fair and equitable solutions for the 9,000 Disengagement expellees from Gaza and northern Samaria in August 2005. It has since emerged as one of the most active and influential organizations monitoring Israel's government.