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29 June 2012

Some language problems with the Jewish Nobel Prize

Yakov Sverdlov: the Jewish Bolshevik who allegedly gave the order
 to murder the Russian Royal Family and who was later honoured
by having the town where the deed was done, Ekaterinburg,
renamed Sverdlovsk. That honour was withdrawn in 1991.
Somebody called Mikhail Fridman, who runs something called the Alfa Group, was recently reported as having offered to help finance what has been called “the Jewish Nobel Prize”. Officially this will be called The Genesis Prize and will be administered by something called the Genesis Philanthropy Group, of which Mr Fridman is a co-founder, in co-operation with the State of Israel.
     Prizes of $1 million will be awarded in recognition of “outstanding Jewish achievements” and, if I understood correctly the slightly tortured grammar of the report, the awards will be made every year at the time of the Feast of the Passover.
     I can see nothing wrong with Jewish financiers like Fridman giving money to other Jews. It is of the essence of the principle of private property that one may dispose of one’s billions in any lawful way one sees fit. But I do foresee problems of definition, which, in this context, is a language issue.
     The first problem is the word “Jewish”. What will happen to people who are only half-Jewish? Will awards be made to people who are, as the Germans used to say in the 1930s, “a quarter Jew” or an eighth Jew (what used to be called an octoroon)? And if it is to be only pure Jews who are honoured, how far back will they have to trace their ancestry to demonstrate their racial purity?
     The second problem relates to the word “achievement”. By what standard will the actions of Jews be assessed for the purposes of deciding whether they are worth honouring? I mention one example, that of Yakov Yurovsky, simply because it springs to mind due to the recent opening of an exhibition at the Russian State Archives in which he features prominently. Yurovsky was the man who organized the murder of the Russian Royal Family in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on 17 July 1918. He shot the Tsar himself. For seventy years, he was regarded by some people as a hero for this “achievement”. When he died, in 1938, Yurovsky was honoured by the gift of a burial plot in the Novodevichi Cemetery, despite his Jewish origins. A final point is that Yurovsky, like many others of his sort, had rejected Judaism. Would he therefore have disqualified himself from receipt of a prize like one Mr Fridman is helping to establish?
     These are not easy questions to answer. I hope Mr Fridman will apply his enormous brain to them with the same skill and concern for detail that he has brought to the building up of the Alfa empire. 

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