Opinion: Time to shut down the ‘Jewish Nobel’

This isn’t the first time Genesis Prize organizers have been embarrassed, or at least should be embarrassed.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

It’s time to shut down the Genesis Prize, what Time Magazine dubbed the “Jewish Nobel.”

The prize started out as silly, giving $1 million to people who don’t need it (the first recipient was multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg). It has become downright counter-productive by its own lights, as the prize purports to foster Jewish identity, inspire Jewish pride and strengthen “the bond between Israel and the Diaspora.”

This year’s winner, Steven Spielberg, is the last straw.

It’s not that Spielberg isn’t worthy of a specifically Jewish prize. His contribution to the collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies is reason enough.

The problem comes with the charities to which he’ll donate his prize money.

Can someone tell us how groups like Black Voters Matter, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Native American Rights Fund and One Fair Wage strengthen the Israel-Diaspora bond? What do they have to do with Jews at all?

The few purportedly Jewish groups on the list aren’t any better. One of them, the Collaborative for Jewish Organizing, is intent on strengthening the alliance of Jews and “non-Jewish allies,” in their jargon, to work “in solidarity with communities of color.”

The group counts among its achievements “decarceration in numerous states and localities, reversing water shut-offs in Detroit, eviction and foreclosure moratoria, and expansion of healthcare and unemployment insurance benefits across the US.”

We’re delighted the water hasn’t been shut off in Detroit. But what does it have to do with building up Israel-Diaspora ties?

Another group, Avodah, proclaims a strong connection to Judaism, but its activities belie that assertion. Under “Stories” of its Corps Members, one learns what concerns them: incarceration, global labor practices, women’s issues, immigrant populations, etc. If you’re awarded an Avodah Justice Fellowship, you can “sharpen your anti-oppression frameworks,” whatever that means.

You’ll find all the latest left-wing fashions getting Spielberg’s Genesis money. Other groups include the Jews of Color Initiative and Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action.

Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, Dayenu’s founder and CEO, said: “This grant is a timely recognition that climate justice is a Jewish issue, and that confronting the climate crisis requires addressing racial and economic injustice.”

Unfortunately the tie that binds all these groups goes deeper than left-wing trendiness. It’s Judaism emptied of its contents and replaced with an obligation to engage in Tikkun Olam. According to legions of its adherents, Tikkun Olam is Judaism’s most fundamental message.

As Jonathan Neumann writes in To Heal the World? How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel, Tikkun Olam means “the Torah teaches that the greatest service a Jew can do before God and for humanity is to heal the world — to pursue social justice.”

The only trouble is it’s not true. Tikkun Olam isn’t in the Bible, “and it appears overall comparatively rarely in the enormous Jewish canon,” Neumann writes. “Most fatally, it has no legal status in traditional Judaism — which is a profoundly legalistic religion.”

Far from being central to Judaism, Tikkun Olam corrodes Judaism. Its universalism undermines Jewish peoplehood, gives sanction to anti-Zionism, and promotes assimilation out of Judaism altogether.

This isn’t the first time Genesis Prize organizers have been embarrassed, or at least should be embarrassed.

Actress Natalie Portman was awarded the prize in 2018. She skipped the ceremony because she didn’t want to be seen as endorsing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be in attendance. Portman didn’t have the class to accept that someone in Israel might have political views that differed from her own, in this case the leader of the country no less.

By treating Netanyahu as pariah, she ended up giving ammunition to Israel-haters as BDS supporters celebrated her decision. We doubt this is what the Genesis Prize had been aiming for.

Genesis said it was “very saddened” by Portman’s decision, but instead of finding someone more worthy, they cancelled the ceremony and gave Portman the $1 million prize anyway, which she donated to women’s rights organizations.

Not all the awardees are bad. We’d be remiss not to note last year’s recipient was Natan Sharansky.

But most of those on the list are a weak bunch when it comes to long-term dedicated support for Israel, like actor Michael Douglas who won the prize in 2015. And the Genesis Prize seems dogged by bad luck. Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft won in 2019. Unfortunately, the award came right on the heels of his massage parlor fiasco.

Ordinarily we’d tell organizers to go back to the drawing board, revamp the award, find some people who’ve worked their tails off for Israel and could really use $1 million.

Only we think the organizers are inept, star-struck and clueless and the Genesis Prize was a hare-brained idea to begin with, whose point we’re still trying to figure out. So our advice to them is to get out of the award business altogether.

We don’t believe in Tikkun Olam but we do believe in the first rule of holes: If you’re in one, stop digging.

David Isaac is managing editor of World Israel News.