Letter to the Editor: The Genesis Prize Foundation Responds

Natalie Portman at the international film festival, Cannes, France, 2017.
Natalie Portman at the international film festival, Cannes, France, 2017. Lionel Cironneau/AP

In response to "Why was the 'Jewish Nobel' snatched from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and given to Natalie Portman?" by Yossi Verter (Haaretz, November 17, 2017), Stan Polovets, the co-Founder and chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation issued the following statement:

1. U.S. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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. 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.

6. 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.