Jerusalem, Feb 15: Renowned Indologist Professor David Shulman has been awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for his breakthrough studies in fields like religion and philosophy.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett made the announcement at the recommendation of the prize committee, headed by Professor Shaul Shaked, leading to a bitter debate in right-wing leaning media here which disapproved of the award for Shulman's known left-wing inclinations.
The committee said that Professor Shulman of Hebrew University of Jerusalem is "a brilliant researcher who had done breakthrough studies on the religion, literature, and culture of southern India".
"He is an internationally renowned expert in this field, and his work is enhanced by his command of a wide range of languages, including Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam", it added. 67-year-old Shulman is known to be active in a left-wing organisation, Ta'ayush, a joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative active in the south Hebron Hills.
This made several media outlets to push the education ministry for a comment as it is headed by a right-wing minister who has been in news for his views against left-wing activists.
"The Israel Prize for Religious Studies is given to Professor Shulman for his breakthrough research into the literature and culture of southern India. Minister Bennett believes that one should not disqualify someone for his opinions, left or right, whatever they may be," the ministry said.
Israel Prize is considered the country's highest honour presented annually on Independence Day. It is given to those who have displayed excellence in their fields, or have contributed strongly to Israeli culture or the State.
The prize committee in its recommendation wrote that Shulman's studies "excel in their diversity, dealing with literary genres and various research topics including religion, mythology, art, folklore and imagination.
In Israel he founded the field of India studies and most India researchers in Israel are his students. Professor Shulman has made an important contribution to research management and teaching in Israeli universities.
Through his books and translations, Shulman introduced the field of India studies to Israeli academia and the general public, acting as a sort of ambassador for Indian civilisation in Israel.
US born Shulman won the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987, making him the first Israeli to be conferred with the honour.
He is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Sciences and a winner of the Emet Prize, awarded annually by the Prime Minister's Office for excellence in academic and professional achievements.