TEL AVIV – A minister from the ruling Likud party on Sunday said Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman’s refusal to arrive in person to accept an award at an event in Jerusalem because of Prime Minister Benjamin 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 she would not behave the same way if China or India awarded 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 Portman’s announcement 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 Black Swan star was slated to receive the Genesis Award, the country’s most prestigious prize often dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” that this year is worth $2 million. On Thursday, 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 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.”
Without being specific, Portman further claimed that she took the decision because she must “stand up against violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power.”
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 an attempt by a US-funded group that was accused of trying to ensure Netanyahu wasn’t reelected 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, shit on Israel. I do not. I don’t want to do that.”
In his comments Sunday, Steinitz claimed that “to boycott a ceremony in the State of Israel because the prime minister is supposed to take part — is boycotting Israel.”
“Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel, whether you agree with him or not,” he said.
“If Natalie Portman had come to Israel and not boycotted the state or the ceremony, and had given an interview in which she criticized the government, the state, the prime minister, [that would have been] legitimate,” he said.
“If she had come and said she is in favor of peace, and a Palestinian state would be the most friendly and would never threaten us with missiles or terror, that’s her right. I would argue with her. Then, Barghouti would not exploit it. But the fact that the greatest haters of Israel jumped for joy over her announcement that she’s not coming — and it’s something that could have been foreseen — the fact that either she doesn’t care or she didn’t take it into account deserves full condemnation.”
Steinitz was referring to Omar Barghouti, the founder of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, who following the news that Portman was skipping the ceremony told The New York Times: “This latest rebuff to Israeli cultural events and accolades, coming from an Israeli-American superstar, is arguably one of the strongest indicators yet of how toxic the Israel Brand has become, even in some liberal circles in Hollywood.
“I can sense our South Africa moment coming closer.”