Israelis lament Natalie Portman dropping out of Genesis Prize

Likud MK Oren Hazan went a step further and called to revoke Portman's citizenship.

Natalie Portman Declines Honor and Cancels Israel Trip, April 20, 2018 (Reuters)

Israeli officials have expressed anger and frustration at the decision by Natalie Portman to cancel her participation in the upcoming Genesis Prize Ceremony.


On Friday morning, Culture Minister Miri Regev lamented the actress's announcement. 

"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. 


Early Friday morning, the Genesis Prize Foundation announced that Portman had decided to withdraw from the ceremony. 


According to the foundation, 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 added that Portman made it clear her "decision is firm and will not be changed."

Portman did not elaborate, but she is believed to have been referring to recent incidents along the border with Gaza, which include protests that have left at least 30 dead after IDF fire on the protesters. 


The Genesis Prize, known as the "Jewish Nobel Prize," was founded in 2012, and awards a $1 million grant annually to those who "inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values." Past recipients include Michael Bloomberg, Michael Douglas and 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.


The foundation said that it was left with "no choice but to cancel the Genesis Prize Ceremony" which was scheduled to be held in Jerusalem in June. 


The foundation said 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."


The organization did not respond on Friday to multiple requests for comment about the effects Portman's cancellation would have on the funding and grants, and what her role, if any, would be going forward.


In December, philanthropist Morris Kahn announced he was doubling the Genesis Prize money this year, by contributing an additional $1 million. On Friday, Kahn said he was troubled by Portman's decision. 


"I cannot support the decision of canceling an appearance due to 'recent events in Israel,'" Kahn said. "Together with the Genesis Prize Foundation, we will make sure that women’s rights organizations, for whom the $2 million matching grants fund has been established and to which I contributed along with Michael Bloomberg’s foundation, will not be affected in any way," Kahn added. "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."


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 way be too high." 


Suspended Likud MK Oren Hazan said the original decision to award Portman with the prize was wrong. 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 which includes Portman and I call on the public to do so as well." 


Meanwhile the 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," PACBI wrote on Twitter.


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." 


Last year, a Haaretz report claimed that the award was initially slated to go to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but that it was changed because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not want to be photographed with a vocal Trump critic. In response, the Genesis Prize Foundation denied the claim, and said that Ginsburg was taken out of consideration because she would not be able to legally accept the $1 million 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. Ginsburg was also slated to travel to Jerusalem for the June ceremony. Representatives for the Genesis Prize did not immediately respond to questions about her participation, or any potential rescheduled ceremony.