This is not a marginal controversy, some kind of celebrity sideshow. It is a leading indicator of the rising tensions between liberal American Jewry and the increasingly right-wing Israeli government. Portman is the canary in the coal mine, warning Israel that its policies on the Palestinians and African migrants are putting it increasingly at odds with its most natural friends abroad.
Natalie Portman, one of the most famous Jewish celebrities on the planet, just announced she was boycotting a major Israeli event.
Portman was scheduled to travel to Jerusalem to receive the Genesis Prize, a prominent award sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Nobel.” On Friday [Apr 20], she abruptly canceled her visit, writing that she “did not want to appear as endorsing [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu” in an Instagram post explaining her decision. It’s not yet clear what’s happening to the $2 million in prize money that comes with the award.
Celebrities deciding to avoid Israel on political grounds is not all that uncommon. Hollywood is left-leaning, and many celebrities are outspokenly pro-Palestinian. Netanyahu’s government is one of the furthest right in Israeli history, particularly when it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians. Tensions are to be expected.
“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. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. 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.”
— Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman said she wouldn’t attend a prize ceremony in Israel because of her feelings about its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and “atrocities” committed on his watch, but emphasized that she would not shun Israel itself.
The Jerusalem-born director and actor, posting Friday night on Instagram, explained her decision not to accept in person the $2 million Genesis Prize, which calls itself the “Jewish Nobel,” after a day of speculation in the media that she was turning down the prize because she was joining the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The prize foundation had the day before announced Portman’s decision not to attend the ceremony.
“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,” said Portman, who in 2011 won a best actress Oscar.
“By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” Portman said.
“After decades of egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, Israel’s recent massacre of peaceful protesters in Gaza has made its brand so toxic that even well-known Israeli-American cultural figures, like Natalie Portman, now refuse to blatantly whitewash, or art-wash, Israeli crimes and apartheid policies.”
— Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) statement
In an unexpected rebuke, Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman has declined to attend the June award ceremony for the Genesis Prize, sometimes nicknamed the “Jewish Nobel,” citing recent and “distressing” events in Israel. Portman, in declining to receive the prize, will still receive $2 million in prize money, which she previously announced she would be donating to programs focused on advancing gender equality. Her mention of “distressing” events in Israel is an apparent reference to the brutal crackdown and murder of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli soldiers.
Palestinians in Gaza have been participating in the “March of Great Return” since March 30. The march is aimed at securing the right of exiled Palestinians to return to historical Palestine. The protests have been widely attended — attracting thousands of participants — but have been targeted by the Israeli military, which has opened fire on the protesters numerous times, killing at least 35, including journalists, and wounding nearly 2,000 people.
Israel’s government has come under fire for its repression of the protests, but Israel has defended the actions of its soldiers, claiming that the protesters presented a threat to the border wall. However, many Jews — including Israelis — have been critical of Israel’s response and lack of concern regarding the deaths of protesters.
“Natalie Portman’s cancellation should be a warning sign. She’s totally one of us, identifies with her Jewishness and Israeliness. She’s expressing the voices of many in US Jewry, and particularly those of the younger generation.”
— Rachel Azaria, Kulanu Party member of Knesset
Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman has refused to travel for Israel to accept a $2 million award known as the “Jewish Nobel” because she is “uncomfortable with recent events” there, apparently referring to the deadly violence directed against Palestinian protesters in Gaza.
“She cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony,” a statement from the Hollywood superstar said.