I am writing to draw your attention to the November 17 Haaretz article, titled, “Why was the ‘Jewish Nobel’ snatched from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and given to Natalie Portman?”
The article contains significant factual errors and statements attributed to anonymous sources that are patently false and, as the author himself points out, contradictory. In particular, the statement that the Genesis Prize “was taken from Ginsburg and transferred to Portman” is a total fabrication.
Let me start by saying that Haaretz never contacted the Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) for comment or clarification, as commonly accepted journalistic practice would mandate. GPF did not receive any requests for information — neither in Israel, nor in the United States, where Haaretz also has reporters and the Genesis Prize Foundation has an office.
It is disappointing to see such conduct from a newspaper as long established and widely distributed as Haaretz, especially when it covers what the article itself describes as the “most important Jewish prize in the world.” The public has a right to the facts, and GPF has the right to present the correct version of events on the pages of your newspaper. The editorial staff of Haaretz did not afford us this opportunity while writing the article.
Therefore, the Genesis Prize Foundation is issuing the following statement, which we ask you to print in its entirety:
- The US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was indeed considered for the 2018 Genesis Prize. Justice Ginsburg was included in the long list of 15 candidates for the Genesis Prize this year, a group that consisted of highly distinguished individuals selected from over 150 nominations.
- Part of the regular vetting process for the Genesis Prize involves confirming with the candidates on the long list whether they are able and willing to accept the Genesis Prize. Unlike other prominent prizes, which notify laureates only after they are selected, the Genesis Prize is given only to those individuals who confirm in advance that they are legally permitted to accept this $1 million award and are prepared to actively engage with the Genesis Prize Foundation on a mutually agreed philanthropic initiative over the course of 12 months after being selected. This requires a significant investment of time, which some potential laureates are not prepared to commit to.
- During this complex vetting process, Justice Ginsburg informed our foundation that she would not be able to accept the Genesis Prize. Consequently, her name was not submitted for consideration by the Genesis Prize Committee, chaired by Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein. That Committee considered four other candidates and unanimously chose Natalie Portman. The minutes of the Prize Committee are enclosed with this letter, with unrelated information redacted.
- The Prime Minister of Israel is not involved in any way in selecting Genesis Prize Laureates. This applies to Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as to his eventual successors.
- When the Prime Minister’s Office was invited by our foundation to participate in this initiative at the time of the establishment of the Genesis Prize in 2013, it was agreed and understood by all parties that the Genesis Prize is not a political project. Instead, it is a project focused on strengthening the bond between the State of Israel and the Diaspora, championing and funding important philanthropic initiatives that benefit Israel and the global Jewish community, and instilling a sense of pride in the next generation of Jews by highlighting contributions of prominent and proud Jews to humanity.
- The Prime Minister’s Office has no representatives on the 5-member Genesis Prize Committee that chooses laureates. The Prize Committee, chaired by the Speaker of the Knesset, includes Israel Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar (ret), Israel Supreme Court Justice Tova Strasburg Cohen (ret) and one representative of our foundation. Until his passing last summer, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel was a member of this distinguished committee. According to the legally binding agreement governing the laureate selection process, the tie-breaking vote on the Genesis Prize Committee belongs to the senior judge on that Committee, currently President of the Supreme Court Meir Shamgar (ret). It is inconceivable that the Prime Minister could exert pressure and cause this committee to reverse its decision.
- To the best of my knowledge, the Prime Minister learns about the results of the selection process only after our foundation publicly announces the name of the Genesis Prize recipient. To assert that the Committee selected Justice Ginsburg, then rescinded its decision and selected Natalie Portman as a result of politically motivated pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu is defamatory to our foundation and to the integrity of a very complex and legally binding nomination and selection processes.
- The decision to create a special award to honor Justice Ginsburg was made by our foundation in consultation with the first five laureates of the Genesis Prize. This decision was made after we learned that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would not be able to receive the $1 million Genesis Prize and before the meeting of the Prize Committee at which candidates for the Genesis Prize were considered. As Michael Bloomberg, Michael Douglas, Yitzhak Perlman, Anish Kapoor and Natalie Portman said in a joint statement, “Justice Ginsburg [is] an outstanding daughter of the Jewish people who has made an enduring contribution to human civilization, who is an example of talent and achievement, and who is committed to bettering the world. She is a source of inspiration not just for Jews but for people of all faiths and ethnicities around the world.” The Lifetime Achievement Award given to Justice Ginsburg does not involve a monetary prize.
- While more thought must be given to this idea, I believe that presenting Genesis Lifetime Achievement Awards on a regular basis in the future is a sensible approach that would contribute to our foundation’s main goal of strengthening the Jewish people by instilling a sense of pride and belonging in young Jews. Such awards would be given to individuals who either are not able to accept the $1 million Genesis Prize due to legal considerations (as is the case with many public servants) or who are not able to dedicate a large portion of their time to engaging with GPF on philanthropic initiatives such as funding technology required to help quadriplegics remain in contact with the world (Michael Bloomberg), making the Jewish world more welcoming for Jews from intermarried families (Michael Douglas), supporting individuals with disabilities (Itzhak Perlman), helping Syrian and other refugees (Anish Kapoor), and promoting equal opportunities for women (Natalie Portman). Knowing Haaretz’ reputation, I am sure your newspaper wholeheartedly supports all of these initiatives.
In today’s fast-paced and politically fractured world where media outlets compete for speed and attention-grabbing headlines, it is understandable that occasionally journalistic errors will be made in good faith and without malicious intent. I trust that such was the case with the Haaretz story about the Genesis Prize.
It is in this spirit that I request the opportunity to present your readers with a full set of facts and hope that your newspaper will join us in celebrating two outstanding Jewish women, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Natalie Portman, in Israel next summer.
Co-Founder and Chairman
Genesis Prize Foundation