Natalie Portman, until this past weekend, has always been someone Israel could take pride in. Born in Jerusalem but raised in the United States, she never forgot her birthplace, was a fluent Hebrew speaker and for her debut as a director, decided to take Amos Oz’s memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness and turn it into a Hollywood film.
But on Thursday night, all of that changed. Portman went from being someone Israelis spoke about with pride to someone condemned for deciding not to attend a ceremony in Jerusalem in June where she was supposed to receive the prestigious Genesis Prize. “I was sad to hear that Portman fell like a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters,” Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev 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 Portman’s 2015 film.Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told Portman that it seemed she had been fooled by Hamas.“Anakin Skywalker, a character you know well from Star Wars, went through a similar process,” Erdan wrote in a letter to Portman.“He began to believe that the Jedi knights were evil, and that the forces of the Dark Side were the defenders of democracy. I call on you not to let the Dark Side win,” the minister wrote.The initial harsh reaction by Israeli politicians stemmed from a statement the prize committee put out, saying Portman’s representative had notified it that she would not be coming to Israel to receive the prize due to “recent events in Israel [that] have been extremely distressing to her.”On Friday, Portman clarified that she does not support a boycott of Israel. “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,” she posted on social media.This might be true and Portman has the right to decline to share a stage with a politician she does not like. Nevertheless, her actions and the way her decision was made gave a huge lift to the BDS movement that works tirelessly to get actors, singers and other celebrities to refuse to come to Israel. By her actions, Portman provided the BDS movement with a clear victory and helped undermine the country she claims she loves.As a former Israeli who claims to not endorse the BDS movement, Portman should have been more sensitive to the way her decision would be interpreted.The BDS movement does not support peace and does not really seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It wants Israel to disappear. For this reason, it does not support a two-state solution, but rather a single state that would not be Jewish and would not be based on the ideals of Zionism, hailed just this past week upon the occasion of the state’s 70th Independence Day.Australian Singer singer Nick Cave got this when he was in Israel last year. He held a press conference at the time in part to rebut proponents of BDS. “I came to Israel for two reasons,” Cave said. “One is because I love Israel and Israelis. Two is to take a principled stand against anyone who attempts to shut down, censor, silence or bully musicians.”Portman should have done the same. She should have realized that her actions would turn her into a pawn in a battle to weaken her birthplace, the Jewish state.Refusing to share a stage with Netanyahu is within her right but also goes against everything this country and her current home – the United States – stand for. Both are democracies that uphold freedom of speech and pluralism. We don’t have to agree with one another but we also should not be silencing one another.In this case, Natalie Portman was simply wrong.
Natalie Portman Declines Honor and Cancels Israel Trip, April 20, 2018 (Reuters)