TEL AVIV – Hollywood actor Natalie Portman will receive the $2 million Genesis Prize — dubbed the Jewish Nobel — despite boycotting the awards event last month because she didn’t want to appear on the same stage as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Genesis Prize Foundation said in a statement that it would honor the award despite the snub, but criticized the Israeli-born star for not taking the opportunity to express her political views on stage. She had missed the chance to express her views espousing “women’s equality and empowerment,” which was the foundation’s “philanthropic theme” for this year.
The statement also said she had been told before the awards announcement that Netanyahu had been invited to the event — since it is in partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office — implying that she could have expressed her opposition in private and in advance instead of on social media after her nomination had already been made public.
“Ms. Portman’s decision to decline to attend the award ceremony deprived Israelis and Jews all over the world of the chance to join together in honoring her — a distinguished daughter of the Jewish people, who is now one of the leaders of the critically important movement to empower women and remove barriers to their advancement,” the statement read. “Ms. Portman’s decision deeply offended numerous women’s rights organizations whose work was going to be highlighted at the ceremony.”
The Genesis Prize Foundation said the reactions to Portman’s decision show that “some kind of a formal structure is urgently needed where leaders of the Jewish Diaspora, including representatives of the younger generation, and political elites in Israel can conduct a frank and honest conversation before the Israel-Diaspora relationship suffers irreparable damage.”
Last month the foundation announced the ceremony would be cancelled due to Portman’s decision not to attend.
Reports emerged that Portman had told the organizers that she was experiencing “extreme distress” over the decision to attend and would “not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” The next day, Portman released a statement saying the said that her reasons for not attending the ceremony had been “mischaracterized.”
“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,” she wrote in a statement released on Instagram.
“I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” she said. “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.”
The actor was slammed by many Israeli officials, including a minister from the ruling Likud party who said her refusal to come to Israel because of Netanyahu’s attendance at the same event “bordered on anti-Semitism.”
Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio that the Hollywood A-lister should apologize to Israelis for “boycotting” the country, and that she would have never behaved the same way if China or India chose to award her a prize.
“Natalie Portman’s actions border on anti-Semitism” and “played into the hands of the haters of Israel and those who aspire to destroy the State of Israel,” he said.
He added that if she had come to Israel for the ceremony and only thereafter criticized the government’s policies or the prime minister, that would have been legitimate.
“Criticizing Israel is not always anti-Semitic. Boycotting Israel has elements of anti-Semitism, because other countries that are criticized are not boycotted with such ease,” Steinitz said.
He added that her announcement that she would skip the ceremony made “haters of Israel jump for joy.” Further, her reasons for doing so would be more legitimate if the Palestinians showed any desire to establish a peaceful state, and not one that would perpetually threaten Israel with missiles and terror, he said.
The Likud party in response released a statement slamming Portman for being a “hypocrite.”
“Such hypocrisy! Natalie Portman speaks about democracy but she supported the V15 organization that tried, through foreign government funding, to disrupt democratic elections in Israel,” the Likud statement said, in reference to a US-funded group that was accused of trying to ensure Netanyahu’s defeat in the 2015 elections.
“Portman speaks about human rights but takes part in festivals in countries that censor films and whose human rights record is far beneath that of Israel,” the Likud statement added.
“No excuse can help. Portman simply refuses to accept the choice of the people of Israel,” the statement said.
Portman told the Hollywood Reporter in 2015 that she was “very, very upset and disappointed” that Netanyahu was reelected.
“I find his racist comments horrific,” she said. “However, I don’t — what I want to make sure is, I don’t want to use my platform [the wrong way]. I feel like there are some people who become prominent, and then it’s out in the foreign press. You know, s**t on Israel. I do not. I don’t want to do that.”