The Genesis Prize, touted as a “Jewish Nobel Prize” and worth $1 million, was announced Tuesday in a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that included Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Genesis Philanthropy Group founder Mikhail Fridman.
The prize will be awarded to Jews who win global recognition for their professional achievements, including in the world of science and the arts.
In a phone interview from Israel on Tuesday, Sharansky told The Jewish Week that the prize was two years in the making and is intended to emphasize that people do not have to choose “between universal values and our tribal values.”
He said the award, to be decided in a multi-stage process by a committee of retired judges and Diaspora Jewish community leaders, as well as representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Genesis group, could go to anyone from a scientist to a human rights activist to a Hollywood actor who “creates some great film that wins the Oscar and is an active member of the Jewish community” and supports Israel.
He said that people who consider themselves Israel supporters but publicly criticize policies of the government would not be excluded. “This is not about politics,” he said.
The Genesis Philanthropy Group, which is comprised of several oligarchs from the former Soviet Union who are committed to building the Russian-speaking Jewish Diaspora, will fund the prize. Israel’s prime minister will award the prize at an annual ceremony to be held near Passover.
“The Genesis Prize emphasizes the contribution of the Jews to world history,” Fridman said in a statement. “Far-reaching achievements in science, the arts, business, medicine, diplomacy and other fields of human endeavor have been realized thanks to the Jewish people’s natural aspiration to improve the world, and to its desire to pass its moral values on to coming generations. This tradition of the Jewish People must continue.”
Stan Polovets, the CEO and co-founder of Genesis, downplayed the Russian background of the businessmen-philanthropists behind Genesis, noting that some of them now claim citizenship— and conduct their affairs — in various countries.
“We consider ourselves as global citizens and see [the need to fight assimilation] as a global issue for the Jewish People,” Polovets said.