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April 20, 2018  RSS feed
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Portman won’t go pick up prize due to beef with Bibi

Natalie Portman at the Jan. 20 Women’s March in LA 
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images Natalie Portman at the Jan. 20 Women’s March in LA Emma McIntyre/Getty Images (JTA) — 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 Jerusalemborn director and actor, posting comments 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, known as BDS. 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 for Black Swan.

“By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” Portman 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,” she said. “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.”

She did not explain what she was referring to by “atrocities.”

Israel has drawn sharp criticism in recent months for confrontations with Palestinian protesters on its Gaza border. Israeli troops have killed more than 30 Palestinians and wounded hundreds. Israel says the protesters are not peaceful and have tossed rocks and explosive devices at troops.

Netanyahu last month also drew sharp rebukes for reversing his decision to work with the United Nations to resettle some 38,000 African asylum seekers in the country, and reverting to an earlier plan to summarily deport them to Uganda or another African nation. Among the critics were Jewish groups and figures who rarely criticize Israeli government policies.

In the wake of Portman’s decision, the Genesis Prize Foundation said it would cancel the prize presentation ceremony scheduled for June and would distribute the $2 million to women’s rights groups, but not those of Portman’s choosing. Winners of the prize, which “honors individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement along with their commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people,” conventionally donate the prize money to charitable causes of their choosing.

The Genesis Prize Foundation said it was “very saddened” that the Israeli-American actress would not take part in the ceremony. And in canceling the ceremony, it issued a statement that its organizers “fear that Ms. Portman’s decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicized, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid.”

The Genesis Prize was established by Mikhail Fridman and other wealthy Russian-Jewish businessmen and operates in a partnership with Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

In November, the Genesis Prize announced that Portman would receive its 2018 award. She joins artist Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor-director Michael Douglas as winners of the $1 million prize.

In December, Portman’s prize money was doubled to $2 million by a donation by Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn. But after announcing her refusal to attend the ceremony, Kahn released a statement saying Portman would no longer get to choose where her $2 million prize will be donated. The Genesis Foundation will distribute the money to women’s rights groups as she wished, but not allow her to choose the recipients.

“I cannot support the decision of canceling an appearance due to ‘recent events in Israel,’” Kahn said, referring to the original statement put out on Portman’s behalf. That statement did not mention Netanyahu, saying only that “[r]ecent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.”

Portman’s decision also brought a strong rebuke from Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev who asserted she had “fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement supporters.” Her comment came before Portman said she did not endorse BDS.

One member of the Knessett, Oren Hazzan, went further, suggesting that Portman’s citizenship should be revoked.

Portman said in her Instagram post she would soon announce charities she would support in Israel.

“This experience has inspired me to support a number of charities in Israel,” she said. “I will be announcing them soon, and I hope others will join me in supporting the great work they are doing.”

Portman has previously joined efforts to support Israel. She directed and starred in the 2015 A Tale of Love and Darkness, a Hebrew-language film adaptation of the Amos Oz book of the same name that chronicles the author’s life surrounding Israel’s founding.

In 2015, following the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Portman said she was “very, very upset and disappointed.”

“I find his racist comments horrific,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “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’s 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.

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