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Netanyahu awards Patriots owner Kraft with Israel’s Genesis Prize

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (right) received the Genesis Prize from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Thursday, June 20, 2019.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (right) received the Genesis Prize from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Prize)

JERUSALEM — New England Patriots owner 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.

The feting and gala ceremony in his honor in Jerusalem offered Kraft a welcome reprieve 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 faces judicial headwinds. He has pleaded innocent but also issued a written apology, expressing sorrow for hurting his family, friends, and fans.

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Still, the scandal was 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 commitment to combatting anti-Semitism. Organizers said his foundation would continue to address anti-Semitism.

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 welcomed Kraft’s ‘‘stand against anti-Semitism and efforts by our enemies to undermine the State of Israel’’ on Thursday, saying, ‘‘Israel does not have a more loyal friend than Robert Kraft.’’

Kraft told the crowd he was ‘‘humbled and blessed’’ as he accepted his prize, and mentioned the 27 missions he had led to Israel over the years in his keynote speech at the ceremony hosted by comic Martin Short.

Accompanying Kraft were 15 active and former Patriot players, including kicker Stephen Gostkowski and Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, along with former greats Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Vince Wilfork, Kevin Faulk, and Andre Tippett.

Kraft and the 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 and his longtime support and for boosting American football in Israel, where it has resonated with native-born Israelis.

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‘‘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.