A communal coalition created to address sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the Jewish community confirmed yesterday that the Genesis Prize Foundation resigned from the group following its decision to stand behind Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and the Foundation’s 2019 honoree, who was charged last month with soliciting prostitution.
In an email sent to coalition leadership last evening and obtained by The Jewish Week, the Safety, Respect and Equity (SRE) Coalition confirmed that the group had accepted the Genesis Prize Foundation’s resignation.
“In light of recent events, we recognize there are a number of open questions about membership in the Coalition … we did not have the appropriate internal membership and governing policies in place,” Kari Saratovsky, a coalition leader, wrote. The group is “still in start-up mode and is doing its best,” dedicating time now to improve membership standards going forward, the email said.
The move comes shortly after professor Rivka Carmi, former president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, resigned from her position on the Genesis Prize advisory board earlier this week to protest the organization’s stance on Kraft, according to reports.
Kraft was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution amid a wide-ranging investigation into suspected human trafficking in South Florida. Through a spokesperson, Kraft has categorically denied that he engaged in any illegal activity and entered a plea of not guilty.
In an email sent on Feb. 28 titled “The Genesis Prize Foundation Stands with 2019 Laureate Robert Kraft,” Steve Rakitt, president of the foundation, praised Kraft for being at the “forefront of fighting antisemitism” and remaining “a close friend and major supporter of Israel.” It made no mention of the charges against Kraft.
A formal ceremony honoring the businessman and philanthropist is scheduled for June 20 in Jerusalem.
The SRE Coalition was created last year in the wake of the Jewish communities reckoning with the #MeToo movement. To be part of the coalition, organizations must commit to “adhering to high ethical and legal standards for prevention and response to sexual harassment and gender discrimination,” according to the group’s website.
The coalition also calls on member organizations to “reevaluate their relationships to affiliated individuals who have been found to have engaged in discrimination, harassment, or assault.” That “reevaluation” should include “reconsidering the usage of the funds or services” provided by compromised individuals, according to the group’s website.
As of Jan. 29, more than 50 individuals representing independent Jewish organizations committed to joining the coalition. The Genesis Prize Foundation is the first organization to resign, sources within the coalition say.
Complicating the situation, the Genesis Prize Foundation, in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), an umbrella organization committed to Jewish philanthropy, recently selected winners to the North American Women’s Empowerment Challenge; the challenge is a matching grants competition aimed at supporting organizations that promote female leadership and address sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination in the Jewish community.
The Jewish Week has learned that the SRE Coalition was initially selected as a grant recipient of the Genesis Prize Foundation Women’s Empowerment grant, but will not be “receiving any grant from them,” according to Saratovsky, the coalition spokesperson.
“I can confirm … the Coalition is not receiving any grant from them,” she wrote to The Jewish Week in an email.
In an interview with The Jewish Week last year promoting the competition, the Genesis Prize Foundation’s Rakitt said the Jewish community “is required to address gender harassment, abuse and economic discrimination. As victims of assault and harassment in the Jewish community join others in the general #MeToo movement to speak out and share their stories, it is important for the Jewish community — in its workplaces and communal spaces — to address the challenges honestly and directly.”
Rakitt declined to comment about the foundation’s decision to continue honoring Kraft.
A spokesperson from JFN confirmed this week that the North American winners have been selected and that a total of about $2.67 million will be distributed to grantees.
JFN declined to announce the grant winners, saying only the Genesis Foundation has the authority to do so; the Genesis Foundation has not yet responded to an inquiry about the grant recipients.
The money for the matching grant competition came from the $1 million prize awarded last year to actress Natalie Portman, who cancelled her appearance at last year’s June award ceremony because she did not want to appear as endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to reports. The grant competition was bolstered by an additional $1 million from Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn.
The year before the Portman’s cancellation, the Jerusalem ceremony was also canceled after Indian-Jewish sculptor Kapoor declared it “inappropriate to hold a festive ceremony” with the horrors of the Syrian civil war taking place so nearby.