New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft won the 2019 Genesis Prize at the beginning of the year, receiving a million-dollar award given annually to Jewish individuals “who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields.” At the award ceremony in June, the prize was presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime friend of Kraft. In his acceptance speech, Kraft told the audience that he would use the prize money to combat antisemitism and BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. He also pledged $20 million towards the creation of a foundation that would do the same.
“When I was awarded the Genesis Prize in January, I promised to dedicate myself even more than before to fighting anti-semitism, BDS, and other efforts to delegitimize the state of Israel,” Kraft declared, “My vision is to work to end the violence against Jewish communities. To counter the normalization of anti-Semitic narratives that question Israel’s right to exist, disguised as part of legitimate debate on campuses and in the media.”
Now we know specifically how Kraft will use the prize money. He’s teaming up with the Genesis Prize Foundation to launch a competition that will award $1 million in grants to groups that fight against BDS and the delegitimization of Israel. The competition, which is titled “Speak Out Israel,” will disburse the funds (at a minimum of $50,000 per grant) to Israeli nonprofits that portray Israel in a positive manner.
“We see our role as being a catalyst in helping to bring about the change we want to see in the world,” Genesis Prize Foundation president Steven Rakitt told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “We bring together philanthropists to respond to the most critical issues in our community. Given the sharp rise in anti-Israel sentiment around the world, there is no question that we feel a responsibility to focus on combating this scourge.”
A press release on the group’s website includes a quote from Kraft detailing his personal connection to Israel. “Israel is so special to me and my family,” he said, “It’s where I took the love of my life on our honeymoon in 1963. Since then, I have sponsored dozens of missions and countless other trips for people to experience Israel for the first time. Spiritually, there is no place like it on earth. The more people learn about its history, its diverse culture and its innovation, the more we can do to change stereotypes and end antisemitism. That’s why Speak Out for Israel is so timely and important to Israel’s future.”
In the same week that the competition was announced, Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir became the first person to be expelled from Israel under the country’s BDS law. The law allows advocates for the movement to be denied entry into the country. Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry recommended that Shakir be barred because “he frequently retweets and shares material about BDS.”