Oscar-winning Natalie Portman denied all accusation of endorsing a boycott of Israel, which followed her decision to pass on a Genesis Prize ceremony, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel Prize.”
According to Portman, who posted a statement on Instagram, her decision has been mischaracterized. She chose to pull out of the ceremony, as she didn’t want to endorse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.
My decision not to attend the Genesis Prize ceremony has been mischaracterized by others. Let me speak for myself. I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it. Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power. Please do not take any words that do not come directly from me as my own. This experience has inspired me to support a number of charities in Israel. I will be announcing them soon, and I hope others will join me in supporting the great work they are doing.
Portman’s refusal earlier caused harsh reactions on social media and among Israeli officials, as the initial statement from her publicist read that she wouldn’t attend the ceremony due to her “distress over recent events.” Although it didn’t specify what exactly made Portman change her mind and skip the ceremony she earlier agreed to, the timing was suggestive. Her decision followed the latest violent clashes on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli defense forces opened fire on Palestinian protesters, killing several. The move was condemned by the UN and the EU as disproportionally violent.
The Hollywood star was blamed for sympathizing with BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) supporters. It went as far as demands from a Knesset member to strip the Israeli citizenship from the Hollywood star, who was born in Israel with the name Hershlag.
Where Money Goes
The Genesis Prize Foundation also decided to cancel the ceremony, stating that the organizers “fear that Ms. Portman’s decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicized, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid.”
The Genesis Prize is to “honor individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement along with their commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people.” It was established by Russian businessmen with Jewish roots, including the banker Mikhail Friedman. The list of recipients of the $1 million prize includes artist Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg and Hollywood star Michael Douglas.
Those who get the prize usually choose to donate it to a charity of their choice. But Portman won’t get an opportunity to direct her reward, which was doubled specifically for her this year. Due to the recent event, the foundation is to choose where the money goes. However, in her recent statement Portman claimed that she is going to support a number of charities in Israel.
Long Story of Uneasiness
It’s not the first time the actress has publically opposed the current Israeli prime minister. After Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected 2015, she lambasted the politician in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, saying she was “very, very upset and disappointed.”
“I find his racist comments horrific. However, I don’t — what I want to make sure is, I don’t want to use my platform [the wrong way]. I feel like there are some people who become prominent, and then it’s out in the foreign press. You know, shit on Israel. I do not. I don’t want to do that,” she told the media outlet then.