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Natalie Portman to skip Israeli award ceremony

April 23, 2018

Protesting Netanyahu's policies, the actress announced she would not attend the ceremony to pick up the prestigious Genesis Prize, known as the "Jewish Nobel Prize," causing outrage and public discussions in Israel.  

Natalie Portman receiving an Oscar
Image: Getty Images/AFP/G. Bouys

Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman announced on Friday she would not be attending the ceremony planned in June to receive the prestigious Genesis Prize, known as the "Jewish Nobel Prize." 

The Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) has cancelled the ceremony but will nevertheless still give out the $1 million (€817,400) in award money, which Portman is then to donate to philanthropic causes of her choice. However, a businessman who was to add an extra $1 million to the prize, Morris Kahn, said he would no longer contribute.

While her decision drew support from left-wing Jewish groups over the weekend, wrote the Israeli daily Haaretz, the announcement predictably drew a storm of criticism from Israeli government representatives.

Internal Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan wrote a letter to Portman referring to the "Star Wars" movies in which she appeared. "I call upon you not to let the Dark Side win," Erdan wrote.

"I was sorry to hear that Natalie Portman has fallen like ripe fruit into the hands of supporters of BDS," said Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev on Friday.

Read more: BDS: 6 questions and answers about the movement boycotting Israel

Boycotting Netanyahu and not 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," She wrote on Instagram on Saturday. "By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it."

She said she did not want to boycott the country as a whole by being critical of the leadership in Israel, but rather wanted to distance herself from "today's atrocities," noting they were not "in line with [her] Jewish values."

'A role model for millions'

The American-Israeli actress and director, who was born in Israel in 1981 and immigrated to the United States at age three, was revealed as the winner of the award last November, making her the fifth-ever and first female laureate of the award. Portman was selected for being a "role model for millions of young Jews world around the world," said the GPF at the time.

She started acting at a young age and rose to Hollywood stardom through such films such as "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," "V for Vendetta" and "Black Swan," for which she won the 2011 Academy Award for best actress. 

In 2015, she directed and starred in the Hebrew-language "Tale of Love and Darkness," based on the novel by Israeli writer Amos Oz.

Read more: Israeli writer Amos Oz: Trump did one thing that every other country should also do

The foundation had praised Portman for her social activism in areas including gender equality, the fight against poverty, micro-finance and animal rights. She has been vegan since 2009 and has contributed to various films and documentaries promoting animal rights. She has also served as the Ambassador of Hope for the FINCA International, a women's micro-financing organization.

"Her talent, her commitment to social causes and her deep connection to her Jewish and Israeli roots are greatly admired," GPF Chairman and co-Founder Stan Polovets said last November. "She exemplifies the core traits of the Jewish character and values of the Jewish people — persistence and hard work, pursuit of excellence, intellectual curiosity, and a heartfelt desire to contribute to making the world a better place."

eg/als (dpa, AFP)