The Israeli born actress has created a firestorm of resentment and extreme blow-back after pulling out of the “Jewish Nobel Prize” ceremony in Jerusalem.
By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News
It started with a representative for Natalie Portman telling the Genesis Prize Foundation she was experiencing “extreme distress” over attending its ceremony and would “not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” Israeli political figures quickly piled on with a rash of hostile reaction that included many accusations that Portman was “pro-BDS,” and led Minister Yuval Steinitz to call the Jewish, Israeli-born actress “anti-Semitic.”
Reacting to the firestorm of criticism, Portman issued a new personal statement on Instagram reading, “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. 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.”
The actress said she treasures her Israeli friends, family and culture, “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.”
After receiving notice from Portman, the Genesis Prize Foundation cancelled the June ceremony, but has not said what will become of the $2 million cash award that goes along with the prize. While Portman made clear she will not attend the ceremony, she has not declined the prize and indicated that the prize money would be divided among several of her favorite Israeli charities.
Culture Minister Miri Regev lambasted the actress’s announcement calling her “ripe fruit in the hands of BDS supporters.” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz charged that Portman’s actions “border on anti-Semitism.” Likud MK Oren Hazan called on Interior Minister Arye Deri to revoke Portman’s Israeli citizenship, and called on the public to boycott her films.
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria chose to view Portman’s decision as a “warning light.” According to Azaria, “Portman is totally one of ours, identified with her Jewishness and her Israeliness. 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.”
Political pundit Mitchell Barak told World Israel News (WIN), “We got to the point where we cannot accept constructive criticism or dissension from people who are clearly friends of Israel. The social media is filled with attacks on the messenger. We should instead be asking ourselves why is it that so many Jewish supporters have become disillusioned by government policy. Why not listen?”
Former Knesset member Dr. Einat Wilf told WIN, “Portman is clearly not a BDS supporter and certainly not an anti-Semite. Unfortunately her comments can be used by BDS. Once she accepted, and then declined the award, it became problematic. If she felt strongly, she should have never agreed to accept the award. Once she did, it’s problematWc. She was also not clear at the beginning about what is bothering her. What was she protesting? She had to be clear and specific. Instead, she left too much room for real BDS’ers to capitalize.”
According to former Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon, “Portman is not BDS, not anti-Semitic and has every right to express her opinion. Opposition should always be welcome. Having said that, Portman could have avoided giving BDS a victory by coming to Israel, showing her support for the people of Israel, and then say what she wants at the ceremony.”
Dan Diker, a leading BDS expert from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told WIN, “Portman has antipathy for Netanyahu, but certainly she is not a BDS supporter. She has fanned the flames of BDS and became an accomplice. I know that she has always expressed warm feelings for Israel. This was a misguided decision that hurts the public. A lot of Israelis were profoundly insulted and felt snubbed by Portman. She thought she was snubbing Netanyahu but her entire birthplace was upset. She laid a trap for herself.”
Political activist Yisrael Medad said that Portman made mistakes, explaining, “She called Bibi a racist in 2015 and revealed her political leanings. She should not have used the word ‘atrocities’ to describe Israeli government action. There are no atrocities here. It’s a horrible term and BDS-style terminology. She also claimed that Israel was created after the Holocaust as a safe haven for the Jewish survivors and refugees. Israel is much more than that. She was stupid, but not anti-Semitic.”
Known as the “Jewish Nobel Prize,” the Genesis Prize was founded in 2012 and is given annually to those who “inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.” Past recipients include former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas and musician Itzhak Perlman.
Last year the Genesis prize ceremony was cancelled after the honoree, famed British artist Anish Kapoor declined to attend, saying it would be “inappropriate” to hold a festive ceremony “in light of the escalating war in Syria.” Kapoor directed the prize money be given to five global NGOs who work assisting refugees around the world.