The Genesis Prize Foundation announced Wednesday that Robert Kraft, the US philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots football team, is the winner of its 2019 prize of $1 million, citing his “commitment to Israel, social justice, and equality.”
“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,” the foundation said in a statement.
Kraft joins actress Natalie Portman, artist Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor-director Michael Douglas as a recipient of the prize, which honors individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people.
“In keeping with the Genesis Prize tradition, Kraft has chosen to forgo the $1 million monetary award so that funds can be granted, in his honor, to initiatives combating anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice as well as attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel,” the foundation said.
“The award comes during an alarming resurgence of anti-Semitism and other forms of ethnic- and racially-motivated hate crimes,” it said.
“This award amplifies my ability to raise both awareness and additional funds to fight anti-Semitism, attempts to de-legitimize Israel and other forms of prejudices,” Kraft said, according to the statement. “It is important that we continue to support organizations that focus on combating prejudices by building bridges and uniting people of different backgrounds.”
The prime minister of Israel will present the prize to Kraft at an award ceremony in Jerusalem in June, two months after the elections on April 9.
According to the Genesis statement, Kraft and his various foundations have donated nearly $500 million to charities, with a focus on education, healthcare, interfaith understanding, and promoting cultural diversity, many of them Jewish of Israeli causes.
One of his most distinctive philanthropic interests is the support of sports, particularly American football, in Israel. The artificial turf athletic field near the main entrance to Jerusalem, the Kraft Family Stadium, is a Kraft gift that’s used for soccer, baseball and American football games.
Last year’s prize, which has been dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” was thrown into controversy when its winner, Israel-born actress Portman, refused to come to Jerusalem and receive the honor because it was to be presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
When the prize was announced in December 2017 Portman said the money would go toward advancing women’s equality in the United States and Israel. In April, the actress announced that she would not travel to Israel for the award ceremony, which was then canceled, drawing accusations that Portman was supporting the boycott Israel movement. Portman said she did not want to be seen as endorsing Netanyahu.
The Genesis Foundation later decided that the prize money and an additional $1 million matching grant by Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn would still be distributed to women’s empowerment programs, but through the foundation.
The saga was troubling for the Genesis Prize Foundation, which says it works hard to prevent its philanthropy from being politicized.
There seems to be no worry of a repeat snub from Kraft, who is close to Netanyahu.
Agencies contributed to this report.