Protesting Award to Robert Kraft Amid Prostitution Scandal, Genesis Prize Board Member Quits

Prof. Rivka Carmi tenders resignation citing frustration and disappointment to proceed with honoring the New Englands Patriot owner, recently charged with soliciting prostitution

Rivka Carmi (left) and Robert Kraft
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images/AFP, Ilan Assayag

A member of the Genesis Prize advisory board has resigned in protest at its decision to move ahead with honoring Jewish-American billionaire Robert Kraft, after he was charged last month with soliciting prostitution.

Prof. Rivka Carmi, former president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, tendered her resignation earlier this week, Haaretz has learned, citing her frustration and disappointment with the decision. She asked that her resignation take effect immediately.

It is the first act of dissent within the board against awarding Kraft the $1 million prize, after misdemeanor charges on two counts of soliciting prostitutes were filed against him by police in Florida.

According to the allegations, the owner of the New England Patriots solicited the prostitutes at a spa. Kraft has denied the allegations.

Contacted by Haaretz, Carmi, who served as president of the Be’er Sheva university for 12 years until her retirement last December, confirmed she had stepped down, but declined to issue any further comment.

She is the first and only woman to serve as president of an Israeli research university and was one of 10 members of the Genesis Prize advisory board, headed by former Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

The Genesis Prize declined to comment on Carmi’s resignation.

The prize, which often refers to itself as the “Jewish Nobel,” was launched in 2013 by a group of Russian-Jewish businessmen. Its previous recipients are former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, violinist Itzhak Perlman, sculptor Anish Kapoor and actor-producer Michael Douglas.

The foundation that runs the prize also faced controversy last year when actress Natalie Portman, who was picked as the 2018 laureate, announced her decision to boycott the awards ceremony in Israel so as not to share a stage with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Recipients of the Genesis Prize have all donated their gifts to charitable causes. According to the foundation website, the prize is meant to honor “extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values and Israel.”

The decision to award Kraft this year’s prize was announced in January, and the awards ceremony is scheduled for June.

Announcing its pick, the Genesis Prize Foundation noted that “for decades, Kraft has spoken out publicly and donated generously to organizations combating prejudices, including anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.”

Kraft, who is know to be a good friend of both U.S. President Donald Trump and Netanyahu, and has donated large sums of money to Israel, pledged to donate the $1 million prize to fighting anti-Semitism.

Haaretz spoke with several individuals involved in the Genesis Prize selection process, who expressed concerns about the decision to move ahead with honoring Kraft after he was charged. To date, Carmi is the only one to have taken decisive action.

Kraft had been a candidate in previous years as well, Haaretz has learned, but did not make the final cut. Sources close to the selection process speculated that the decision to award him the prize this year might have been prompted by a desire to make amends with Netanyahu, after the embarrassment he suffered last year.

A week after charges were filed against Kraft, the foundation’s president, Steve Rakitt, sent a letter to a group of individuals involved in the selection process, notifying them that the awards ceremony would proceed as planned, with the billionaire philanthropist receiving the honor.

The letter, obtained by Haaretz, posted a link to an interview published in The Jerusalem Post the previous day, in which Stan Polovets, the foundation chairman and co-founder, defended Kraft. Asked in the interview if the foundation intended to rescind the prize in light of the allegations against Kraft, Polovets said: “Absolutely not.”

“The incident reported last week is unfortunate,” he said. “However, as of now, it remains an unproven allegation. Through a spokesman, Robert has categorically denied that he engaged in any illegal activity. In democratic countries, everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and I have no reason to doubt Robert’s word.”

A footnote at the bottom of the interview, conducted by “Jerusalem Post Staff,” notes that it “was written in cooperation with the Genesis Prize.”