Jay Leno hosts Jerusalem ceremony honoring Bloomberg


haaretz logo

Did you hear the one about the American Jewish billionaire politician who was handed an award and a million-dollar check written by a group of Russian billionaires in Jerusalem by the Prime Minister of Israel in a ceremony hosted by an Italian-American television star?

It may sound like a joke told by Jay Leno, but actually, it's an event being hosted BY Jay Leno.

On Thursday evening, elegantly dressed men and women filed into the Jerusalem Theater, to see the first-ever Genesis Prize be awarded to Michael Bloomberg, the businessman and former mayor of New York City on Thursday by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Mayor Bloomberg will use his $1 million prize to establish a new fellowship aimed at Millenials, called the Genesis Generation Challenge, to be operated under the auspices of the Genesis Philathropy Group.

Bloomberg may be the honoree, but it is Leno who has grabbed the most attention and interest in Israel. The legendary and recently retired late night talk show host touched down in Israel on Tuesday - on his first trip to the country. After stepping down from the stage of the "Tonight Show," he's been keeping busy with lucrative overseas gigs like this one, he said in an interview with the Associated Press upon his arrival in Jerusalem.

"Write joke. Tell joke. Get check. It's pretty simple. It's not a hard plan," he joked.

Unlike Bloomberg's check, no one knows the size of the check that Leno is receiving for the job - but one can assume it is impressive. The group that is funding the Genesis Prize, the Genesis Philanthropy Group, was created by a group of some of Russia's wealthiest Jews.

But presumably, it wasn't just the payout that made Leno amenable to the job, and immune to any pressure to boycott Israel over its policies. He told the AP: "I'm a huge supporter of Israel and always have been. It is a democracy in the Middle East and I don't like to see the little guy getting picked on by the big guy."

In recent weeks, Leno and his wife have been associated with a very different kind of boycott - in Hollywood, the Beverly Hills Hotel, traditionally a popular showbiz watering hole, is being abandoned by movie stars and their agents and attorneys protesting the hotels owner - the Sultan of Brunei - who has imposed harsh new Islamic Sharia law on his country. ​ As a possible jab at the Sultan, Leno quipped, "I don't see people getting stoned to death here."