Less than a day after announcing she was pulling out of an awards ceremony in Jerusalem, Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman took to Instagram to explain her decision.
“I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony,” Portman wrote late Friday of the Genesis Prize ceremony, originally slated for June. “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.”
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.
The actress said she treasures her Israeli friends, family and culture, “[b]ut 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.”
The actress added that she will soon be announcing donations to several charities in Israel.
Early on Friday morning, the Genesis Prize Foundation announced that it was canceling its June ceremony because Portman would not be attending.
The foundation said a representative for Portman said that “[r]ecent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,” and that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”
The foundation said that it was left with “no choice but to cancel the Genesis Prize Ceremony” that was scheduled to be held in Jerusalem. It added that it “remains deeply committed to this year’s philanthropic theme of advancing women’s equality” and that it intends to “start announcing our first grants to women’s rights organizations this spring.”
ON SATURDAY NIGHT, a representative for the Genesis Prize would not comment on any future relationship or role for Portman with the organization. The representative simply reiterated that the ceremony was canceled, and it was sorry to all those who were disappointed. The foundation would also not comment on any decisions about how the $2 million would be allotted moving forward.
But Morris Kahn, a prominent South African-Israeli philanthropist who donated $1m. of the $2m., asserted on Friday that Portman would not play any future role. “I cannot support the decision of canceling an appearance due to ‘recent events in Israel,’” Kahn said on Friday. “Together with the Genesis Prize Foundation, we will make sure that women’s rights organizations, for whom the $2m. matching grants fund has been established and to which I contributed along with Michael Bloomberg’s foundation, will not be affected in any way. The prize money will be distributed by the Genesis Prize Foundation, not by Ms. Portman, and I hope that other philanthropists will support the important cause of women’s equality and empowerment.”
The Genesis Prize, known as the “Jewish Nobel Prize,” was founded in 2012, and awards a $1m. grant annually to those who “inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.”
Past recipients include philanthropist Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas and musician Itzhak Perlman. The prize committee is chaired by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and the foundation operates in conjunction with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Despite the cancellation, the Genesis Prize Foundation noted that it views Portman as a “highly accomplished actress, a committed social activist and a wonderful human being.”
Several Israeli officials expressed anger and frustration at Portman’s decision.
Culture Minister Miri Regev lamented the actress’s announcement on Friday morning.
“I was sad to hear that Portman fell like a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters,” she said. “A Jewish actress, who was born in Israel, is joining those who see the story of the success and magic of the establishment of Israel as ‘a tale of darkness and darkness,’” Regev added, referencing the 2015 film A Tale of Love and Darkness
, starring Portman and based on a book by Amos Oz.
On Saturday, the Likud party called the actress a hypocrite.
“Natalie Portman speaks about democracy but she supported the V15 organization which tried – with foreign government funding – to disrupt democratic elections in Israel.” The party also accused Portman of taking part in festivals “in countries that censor films and whose human rights record is far from that of Israel.”
Asked about the news during a tour of the Gaza border on Friday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he was not interested in discussing politics.
“We’re here talking about security,” he said. “We came here to see that the nation of Israel is receiving all the security it needs, and it is.”
KULANU MK Rachel Azaria said Portman’s decision should turn on “warning lights.”
“She is totally one of ours, identified with her Jewishness and her Israeliness,” Azaria wrote on Twitter on Friday. “She represents the voice of many American Jews, particularly the younger generation. This is a community that has always been a significant anchor for the State of Israel, and the price of losing them may be too high.”
Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg also said on Saturday that Portman’s decision should “turn on a red light. It’s not Israel, it’s the government. Netanyahu has turned Israel from the state for the Jewish people to a state for a small number of its citizens.”
Suspended Likud MK Oren Hazan called on Interior Minister Arye Deri to revoke Portman’s Israeli citizenship, and said that, despite being an “avid film lover,” he would be “boycotting any film that includes Portman and I call on the public to do so as well.”
Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace thanked Portman for her decision, posting the news on social media with the caption “Change is a beautiful thing.”
Likewise, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel also praised Portman’s move.
“Decades of egregious human rights violations against Palestinians have made its brand so toxic that even well-known Israeli- American cultural figures refuse to whitewash Israeli crimes,” the NGO wrote on Twitter.
Last year, a Haaretz
report claimed that the award was initially slated to go to US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but that it was changed because Netanyahu would not want to be photographed with a vocal Trump critic. In response, the Genesis Prize Foundation denied the claim, and said Ginsburg was taken out of consideration because she would not be able to legally accept the $1m. prize.
In November, the organization said Ginsburg would be honored with the inaugural Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award – an honor selected by the five Genesis laureates, including Portman.
On Saturday night, a representative for the foundation said the ceremony honoring Ginsburg will be going ahead as scheduled in late July.