December 9, 2020, New York – Today The Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) announced the completion of the international voting campaign for the 2021 Genesis Prize Laureate and released selected data about the campaign.
Over the course of two and a half months, Jews all over the world were invited to vote online for one of the seven finalists. Voting closed on November 30, after being extended for an extra month to accommodate extraordinary interest from the global Jewish community.
The annual $1 million Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” by TIME magazine, honors extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, and commitment to Jewish values.
“This is the first time we opened the previously highly discreet Laureate selection process to the global Jewish community,” said Co-Founder and Chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation, Stan Polovets. “While we were somewhat hesitant to change the formula that has produced seven outstanding laureates since 2014, the response has exceeded our most optimistic expectations. It is clear that the public wants to have a voice in selecting Jewish role models and modern heroes.”
Close to 200,000 Jews representing six continents cast their votes for the 2021 Genesis Prize Laureate. Millions more engaged with the Genesis Prize on its social media platforms in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, French, and German languages.
“The global Jewish community spoke, and its voice will be a key factor for the committees as they select the next Laureate in January,” said Polovets.
The list of seven finalists was revealed in September, following an open nominations process – also a first for Genesis – during which more than 40,000 people nominated over 4,000 individuals. The finalists are:
- Founder of Salesforce, owner of TIME Magazine, and mega-philanthropist Marc Benioff (US)
- Actor, producer, director and vocal critic of social media platforms Sacha Baron Cohen (UK)
- Actor, producer and advocate for the empowerment of young women Gal Gadot (Israel)
- Justice of the United States Supreme Court Elena Kagan (US)
- Theologian, author and former Chief Rabbi of the UK Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l (UK)
- Film director, producer, screenwriter, and philanthropist Steven Spielberg (US)
- Singer, actor and activist Barbra Streisand (US)
The Genesis Prize Foundation plans to announce the 2021 Genesis Prize Laureate early next year after the Selection and Prize Committees meet to review the voting results and deliberate. While the outcome of the voting campaign will be of paramount importance, the Committees will also consider other factors in selecting the honoree.
The Genesis Prize ceremony honoring the new Laureate will take place later in the year in an online format.
Data highlights: active Diaspora vote, global engagement
GPF released selected data highlights of the global voting campaign.
The online nominations and voting campaigns reached more than eight million people interested in Jewish life. More than 10% of the world’s total Jewish population engaged with the Genesis Prize, viewing, sharing, and commenting on the content.
The top five voting countries were the U.S. (106,000 votes), Israel (29,000), Canada (13,000), U.K. (10,000) and Russia (4,000).
Diaspora communities were more active, with a higher percentage of the Jewish population casting votes. While Israel accounts for 40% of global Jewish population, only 15% of the vote came from Israel. More than 60% of the votes came from North America, which accounts for slightly less than 50% of world Jewry.
Less than 1% of Israelis cast their votes, while in top-five voting Diaspora communities between 3% and 5% of the Jewish population voted. Smaller, more cohesive Diaspora communities in countries such as Mexico, South Africa and Ukraine had the highest percentage of the Jewish population voting.
According to the Foundation, the higher level of participation among non-Israeli Jews may reflect greater attention to maintaining their identity among Diaspora communities – compared to Israeli Jews, who are immersed in Jewish culture on a daily basis. Also, the fact that out of seven finalists only one represented Israel may have contributed to this lower level of participation.
Across all Diaspora communities, the majority of votes came from people older than 35. Despite a vigorous effort to engage young adults and encourage them to vote, only 10% of the votes come from the 18-34 age group – reflecting the difficulty of reaching “the online generation” amidst the intense competition for attention of millennials and Generation Z.
Online debate as an informal barometer of the Jewish world
The large-scale 10-week voting campaign also served as an informal barometer of sentiment and perception among Jewish communities all over the world.
Voting sparked a vigorous online discussion, with tens of thousands of comments posted on social media in different languages. Debates focused not only on the merits of individual nominees, but also on the meaning of Jewish values and their relevance in today’s world.
The share of anti-Semitic comments was less than 3% of total online feedback received, reflecting both precise targeting of the audience and the high quality of debate within the target groups.
Many of those who commented expressed desire to see prominent political figures, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin, among the finalists. Others focused on White House Advisor Jared Kushner, perceived by commentators to be the architect of Israel’s recent peace deals with United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
In line with the non-political nature of the Genesis Prize, active holders of political office (elected or appointed) had not been considered for the Prize and were not among the finalists.
A vast number of comments reflected the great impact of the passing of eminent theologian Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, one of the 2021 finalists, whose untimely death in October sent shock waves throughout the global Jewish community.
Many comments similarly called for celebrating the memory of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away in September. Justice Ginsburg was previously honored with the Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 in recognition of her life-long pursuit of civil rights and equality. She travelled to Israel to receive the Award in July 2018, meeting with Israeli women’s groups and all living justices of the Supreme Court of Israel.
Current cultural events left their mark on the campaign. Some negative commentary focused on Sacha Baron Cohen’s portrayal of the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, following the release of his latest film; many commentators considered it too insensitive and controversial for a Jewish role model. On the other hand, counter-commentary in his support lauded his performance as legendary Israeli intelligence officer Eli Cohen, a hero to many Israelis.
Another finalist, world-renown Israeli actress Gal Gadot, was the focus of a debate focusing on whether it is appropriate for a Jewish actress to play the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra.
“This voting campaign and the debate it spurred reflected the many faces of modern Jewry,” said Stan Polovets. “Jewish communities all over the world engaged, bridging geographic, generational, political and language gaps to express a strong interest in our common heritage, and reaffirm the vibrant diversity of viewpoints typical of the Jewish people.”
About Genesis Prize Laureates
The recipient of the 2021 Genesis Prize will follow the human rights legend Natan Sharansky, who was honored with the award in 2020. Other previous honorees include the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Douglas, Itzhak Perlman, Anish Kapoor, Natalie Portman, and Robert Kraft. All Genesis Prize laureates to date have directed their $1 million awards and millions of dollars in matching funds from additional donors to philanthropic causes of their choice.
Alison Karlin, GPF
AKarlin@genesisprize.org; +1 267-738-0677