(JTA) — The co-founder of the foundation that awards the Genesis Prize, known as the “Jewish Nobel,” denied a report that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was intended to be the award’s 2018 laureate but instead was given a lifetime achievement award as “a consolation prize.”
Stan Polovets denied the veracity of an article published Friday in Haaretz, which quoted unnamed sources saying that the $1 million award given last week to actress Natalie Portman was originally going to 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 varying reasons for the alleged change of plans, including that Ginsburg had been an outspoken critic of 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 a 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,” Polovets said. “He’s not even aware of the laureate’s name until the press release is issued.”
Polovets said the lifetime award was created 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,” he said. “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.”
The foundation is considering awarding the lifetime award on a regular basis, Polovets said.
The Genesis Prize was founded in 2012. Along with Portman, the other laureates are former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman and sculptor Anish Kapoor.