(JTA) —The co-founder of the foundation that awards the Genesis Prize, known as the “Jewish Nobel,” denied a report that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had originally been intended as the award’s 2018 laureate and that she was given a lifetime achievement award instead as “a consolation prize.”
Stan Polovets denied the veracity of an article published Friday in the Haaretz daily. The Haaretz article quoted unnamed sources saying the 2018 $1 million award given last week to actress Natalie Portman had originally been meant for the Jewish Supreme Court justice.
The foundation then created a new prize, a lifetime achievement award, to give Ginsburg as “a consolation prize,” the article said. The awards were announced a week apart.
The unnamed sources gave Haaretz different reasons for the alleged change of plans, including that Ginsburg had been an outspoken critic of US President Donald Trump and that the Supreme Court does not allow its justices to accept such monetary awards.
Polovets, who also serves as the Genesis Prize Foundation’s chairman and CEO, told JTA on Friday that Ginsburg was never on the final shortlist for the award. She had been among a group of 15 people who were told that they were being considered for the award, so she contacted women’s rights group in Israel to which she was considering giving the money if she were to win. However, the foundation was told by a Supreme Court legal counsel that justices are barred from accepting monetary awards, so Ginsburg was not on the final shortlist, Polovets said.
He denied claims made by Haaretz that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office had been involved in the decision making. The Genesis Prize was established as a partnership between Russian-Jewish philanthropists and the Israeli government.
“The prime minister in the five years of the Genesis Prize has never interfered or injected himself. He’s not even aware of the laureate’s name until the press release is issued,” he said.
The lifetime award was created, said Polovets, to honor worthy individuals who could not accept the prize due to work or time limitations.
“This year when we began discussions with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and it turned out that she would not be able to accept the award, we thought it would be very important to honor her. We consulted with the first five laureates and came up with idea for the lifetime achievement award, which they unanimously agreed should go to Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” he said.
The foundation is considering awarding the lifetime award on a yearly basis, Polovets said.
The Genesis Prize was founded in 2012. Laureates include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman and sculptor Anish Kapoor.