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Pfizer’s Bourla, Nazi-hunter Klarsfeld on shortlist for Genesis Prize

Sacha Baron Cohen, Scarlett Johansson, Diane von Furstenberg and Yuval Noah Harari also in the running for $1 million award, traditionally donated by winner to nonprofits

Clockwise from top left; Albert Bourla (AFP), Sacha Baron Cohen (AP), Diane von Furstenberg (AP), Serge Klarsfeld (AFP), Scarlett Johansson (AP) and Yuval Noah Harari (Courtesy)
Clockwise from top left; Albert Bourla (AFP), Sacha Baron Cohen (AP), Diane von Furstenberg (AP), Serge Klarsfeld (AFP), Scarlett Johansson (AP) and Yuval Noah Harari (Courtesy)

The Genesis Prize Foundation announced on Monday the shortlist for its prestigious award to be granted in 2022, featuring six well-known activists and names from science and the arts.

Those in the running for the prize are: Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla; actor, producer, director and activist Sacha Baron Cohen; fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg; philosopher and author Yuval Noah Harari; actress and activist Scarlett Johansson; and human rights activist and Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld.

The prize 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.

The winner traditionally donates the $1 million prize to nonprofit organizations.

The Genesis Prize has hit the headlines in recent years, and not always for positive reasons.

Three years ago, Israel-born actress Natalie Portman refused to come to Jerusalem to receive the award because it was to be presented by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Natalie Portman in Inglewood, California, April 25, 2019. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Portman announced in 2018 that she would not travel to Israel for the award ceremony, drawing accusations that she was supporting the boycott Israel movement. Portman said she did not want to be seen as endorsing Netanyahu. The ceremony was canceled.

The saga was troubling for the Genesis Prize Foundation, which says it works hard to prevent its philanthropy from being politicized. Last year, the foundation announced that the Prime Minister’s Office would no longer be involved with the prestigious prize, in an attempt to distance the award from perceptions that it is political in nature.

A year after the Portman debacle, the 2019 recipient, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, was thought to be a much safer candidate, but he later became embroiled in a prostitution scandal and faced charges that were later dropped.

Board member Prof. Rivka Carmi, a former president of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, resigned in protest over the decision to move forward with plans to honor Kraft despite his being charged with soliciting a prostitute.

Natan Sharansky on June 24, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In 2020, the foundation announced that the winner of its $1 million 2020 prize was former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, citing his “lifelong struggle for human rights.”

Previous winners also include artist Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor-director Michael Douglas. In 2018, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received a lifetime achievement award from the foundation.

JTA contributed to this report.

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