Thu Jun 20 4:42pm ET
By ARON HELLER
JERUSALEM (AP) The owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, accepted Israel's prestigious Genesis Prize, known as the ''Jewish Nobel,'' at a lavish ceremony on Thursday, where he pledged $20 million to establish a foundation dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.
In his keynote address at the gala, Kraft told the audience of Israeli and international dignitaries that he was ''humbled and blessed'' to accept the award, vowing that his new foundation would seek to tackle the rising tide of anti-Semitic vitriol online.
''I believe we can use this platform of social media to make a genuine and lasting impact on the rising tide of hate,'' he said, ''especially against our people.''
The feting and ritzy ceremony in his honor in Jerusalem offered Kraft a welcome reprieve just four months after he was charged with soliciting a prostitute at a Florida massage parlor. The 78-year-old billionaire businessman has vigorously battled the charges, and the case against him appears to be crumbling. He has pleaded innocent but also issued a written apology, expressing sorrow for hurting his family, friends and fans.
Still, the embarrassing affair appeared unlikely to tarnish the celebration of Kraft, a longtime supporter of Jewish and Israeli causes.
He was awarded the 2019 Genesis Prize in recognition of his philanthropy and consistent commitment to combating anti-Semitism. Organizers said his foundation would continue his efforts against anti-Semitism, as well as the Palestinian-led movement to boycott, divest from, and place sanctions on Israel, known as BDS, and ''other efforts to delegitimize Israel.''
The $1 million award is granted each year to a person recognized as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through professional achievement and commitment to Jewish values.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: ''"Israel does not have a more loyal friend than Robert Kraft.''
He welcomed what he called Kraft's stand against ''efforts by our enemies to undermine the State of Israel.''
Many supporters of BDS push back on its conflation with anti-Semitism, describing the campaign as a nonviolent protest against Israel's violations of Palestinian rights.
In his speech, Kraft stuck to safe talking points, elaborating on his love of football, strong connection to Israel and commitment to Judaism.
''These are most disconcerting times to the country I love so much,'' he said, lamenting that anti-Semitism appears to have gone mainstream. He pointed to the New York Times, a major news outlet, which recently ran a bigoted cartoon, and members of Congress tweeting what many have called anti-Semitic remarks. ''Social media is now a platform for hateful and vile rhetoric,'' he said.
Kraft described his deep bond to Israel, saying that he has led 27 missions and visited the country ''a hundred times'' since his honeymoon with his late wife in 1962. Kraft made no mention of the scandal during the night's festivities.
Dozens of VIPs showed up to the invitation-only event, hosted by comic Martin Short, including 15 active and former Patriot players who accompanied Kraft to Israel, as well as leaders of major Jewish organizations, top business and political figures and the prime minister.
Kraft and his delegation were hosted beforehand at the prime minister's office, where they presented Netanyahu a signed Patriots helmet and posed for a joint picture along with the Vince Lombardi Trophy they won at this year's Super Bowl. Netanyahu thanked Kraft for his friendship, his longtime support and for boosting American football in Israel, where it has resonated with native-born Israelis who have taken a liking to the army-like strategy, camaraderie and collisions of the gridiron.
''Everything you need in your game, Israel needs in its game,'' Netanyahu told the players. ''You need strategy and courage and ingenuity, we have that too.''
Kraft is the sixth winner of the prestigious prize, following former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman and sculptor Anish Kapoor. Last year's winner, Natalie Portman, snubbed the event because she did not want to appear to be endorsing Netanyahu. The saga was troubling for the foundation, which says it works hard to prevent its philanthropy from being politicized.
Kraft's selection in January seemed like a safe bet to avoid repeat awkwardness, given his years of philanthropic activity and deep ties to Israel. But the following month, Florida authorities announced the misdemeanor solicitation charges as part of a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking.
Kraft has kept a low profile since then and Patriot officials have pointedly deflected any mention of the case throughout the week-long visit to Israel. The team did not make Kraft available for interviews.
Kraft is the founder, chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group, the holding company of a diversified portfolio of businesses, which includes one of the largest privately-owned paper and packaging conglomerates in the world. He is best known, however, as owner of the six-time Super Bowl champion Patriots, one of the most successful franchises in American sports.
Kraft, who grew up in an observant Jewish home, is a well-known philanthropist in Israel, with deep connections to politicians across the political spectrum - including to Netanyahu, whom he's known for decades. Though a Democrat, he is also friendly with President Donald Trump.
Kraft is also the driving force behind the growth of American football in Israel in recent years. He's sponsored the sport since it was launched in 1999, and there are now more than 2,000 active players on more than 80 teams playing at various levels.
In 2017, he dedicated the Kraft Sports Complex in Jerusalem, which includes Israel's first full-sized football field. At the time, he brought a group of professional football Hall of Fame players with him, including well-known stars of the game Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Roger Staubach and Mike Singletary.
Tom Brady and other Patriots stars have also visited over the years. His current delegation includes kicker Stephen Gostkowski and former greats Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Vince Wilfork, Kevin Faulk and Andre Tippett.
Reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman is also in Israel for the event honoring Kraft.
The Genesis Prize was inaugurated in 2014 and is run in partnership between the Israeli prime minister's office, the private Genesis Prize Foundation and the chairman's office of the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit group with close ties to the Israeli government. It is funded by a $100 million endowment established by the foundation.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been granted the foundation's only lifetime achievement award.
Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap
July 16th: Training Camp Preview
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has no plans to opt out of the 2020 NFL season, despite negative comments he made in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. In the interview, Beckham criticized the NFL, stating, I just feel like the season shouldnt happen and Im prepared for it to not happen and I wouldnt mind not having it. Were not ready for the season, so why are we trying to push forward?" It turns out that the interview took place two weeks ago and Beckham has since backed off on those comments after he saw how safe and sanitary everything inside the Cleveland facility has been. Beckham should be treated as an upside WR2 in fantasy drafts this season.
Las Vegas Raiders DT P.J. Hall will be released Monday, Aug. 3, two years after selecting him in the second round of the NFL draft.
Updating a previous report, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson (illness) recently tested positive for coronavirus but is reportedly asymptomatic. Pederson will continue to lead the Eagles virtually 'as much as he can' while assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley will serve as the interim head coach in his absence.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson (illness) recently tested positive for coronavirus but is reportedly asymptomatic, according to sources.
New Orleans Saints DB Chris Q. Johnson, OG Adrian Magee and RB Taquan Mizzell were waived Sunday, Aug. 2.
Detroit Lions DE Romeo Okwara was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list Sunday, Aug. 2.
Free-agent WR Dontrelle Inman (Colts) visited the Washington Football Team on Sunday, Aug. 2.
New Orleans Saints WRs Maurice Harris and Tommylee Lewis were released Sunday, Aug. 2.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel (foot) was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list Sunday, Aug. 2, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Michel probably will miss some practice time during camp because of his injury but appears to be on track for the start of the regular season. He can be considered a No. 2 or No. 3 fantasy running back if he is healhy.
New England Patriots WR Mohamed Sanu (undisclosed) was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list Sunday, Aug. 2, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Sanu struggled after his trade to the Patriots and posted only 207 yards in eight games. He probably will be a top three receiver for the Patriots if he can remain healthy and should be rostered in most fantasy leagues in 2020.
New York Giants wide receiver/kick returner Da'Mari Scott has elected to opt out of the 2020 NFL season. Scott has mostly been a special teams contributor when active. He was active for five games last season and three in 2018 for the Bills. Scott has caught two passes in his career, for a total of 22 yards.
Dallas Cowboys full back Jamize Olawale has chose to opt out of the 2020 season. In two seasons with Dallas, Olawale has yet to attempt a rush and has caught just two passes. He has primarily worked on special teams, logging 539 special teams snaps as compared to just 232 offensive snaps (almost all for blocking). He's under contract for $1.3 million in 2021.
New York Giants DT Leonard Williams (hamstring) was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list Sunday, Aug. 2.
Free-agent RB Jeremy Hill (Patriots) signed with the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Aug. 2. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Free-agent DT Niles Scott (Bengals) and CB Akeem King (Seahawks) signed with the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Aug. 2. Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Pittsburgh Steelers WR James Washington was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday, Aug. 2.
Fantasy Spin: Washington will be sidelined for an undisclosed amount of time, so fantasy players can keep an eye on the situation. He had a solid 2019 season with 73 receiving yards and should be a top-three receiver for the Steelers again this season. He can be a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver in fantasy leagues.
Atlanta Falcons LB Foyesade Oluokun was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday, Aug. 2.
The Cleveland Browns placed wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip) on the active/PUP list on Sunday. The team said that Landry has not had a setback and is still on schedule in his recovery. Landry is healing up from February hip surgery. Initially given a 6-8 month timetable to return, Landry will be cutting it close if he wants to be active for Week 1. If Landry is unable to start the season on time, Kareem Hunt could see added snaps as a wide receiver. When healthy, Landry is a solid WR2 in PPR leagues.
Cleveland Browns WR Jarvis Landry (hip) was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list Sunday, Aug. 2.
Fantasy Spin: Landry will be limited during training camp but is on track for the start of the regular season. He will continue to see plenty of targets in the passing game and can be a No. 3 receiver in fantasy leagues.