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Natalie Portman pulls out of Jerusalem ceremony over recent events in Israel

April 20, 2018 at 2:25 PM

Natalie Portman poses at the premiere for “Annihilation” in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

JERUSALEM — Natalie Portman has pulled out of a ceremony in Jerusalem honoring her as the recipient of a $2 million prize, dubbed by some as the “Jewish Nobel,” the organization said Thursday.

The Genesis Prize Foundation, which annually honors individuals for “Jewish achievement and contributions to humanity,” announced in November that Portman, known for her roles in films such “Black Swan” and the “Star Wars” prequels, was selected as its 2018 laureate.

Portman moved to the United States as a child but was born in Israel. She still has strong ties to the country; her 2015 film “A Tale of Love and Darkness” is set in Israel.

But a statement from the organization said the actress had pulled out of the June ceremony, where she would have officially received her prize from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after becoming distressed by recent events in the country.

“The Genesis Prize Foundation was notified by a representative of Ms. Portman that ‘recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,’ and that ‘she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony,’ ” said the statement.

It was not immediately clear what events Portman was referring to, but over the past three weeks, Israel has come under increasing pressure from international organizations and human rights groups for using excessive force in dealing with Palestinian civil unrest in the Gaza Strip.

More than 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s military in the weekly demonstrations held along the border fence separating the blockaded coastal enclave from Israel. The Israeli military has said the civilians are being used as a cover by the militant Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, to infiltrate Israel and carry out terrorist attacks in its border communities. Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Related: [Thousands of Palestinians demonstrate at Gaza border for a third week, hundreds injured]

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Renewed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces along the Israel-Gaza border broke out April 20, with Israel dropping leaflets warning protesters against approaching the border. (Reuters)

The organizers of the weekly protests, which have been named “March of Return,” say they  are slated to continue through May 15, when Palestinians commemorate “the Nakba,” Arabic for “catastrophe” — the term Palestinians use for the flight and expulsion of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians seven decades ago upon Israel’s creation.

This is not the first time Portman has spoken out with regard to Israel. In 2015, following the reelection of Netanyahu, she said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that she was “very much against Netanyahu.”

“I am very, very upset and disappointed that he was reelected,” she said in the article. “I find his racist comments horrific. 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, s‑‑‑ on Israel. I do not. I don’t want to do that.”

In response to the announcement that Portman would not attend the ceremony to receive her prize, Gilad Erdan, Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs, tweeted a letter that he had sent to the actress inviting her to Israel to “tour the Gaza border, and meet the families residing in Israeli communities near Gaza, whom the IDF has been bravely protecting.”

He said what she had understood about the recent tensions was the “Hamas narrative.” Erdan also blamed the media for distorting the “truth” and portraying “the recent riots on the Israel-Gaza border as peaceful demonstrations and Israel's response as disproportionate.”

In its statement, the Genesis Prize Foundation said it was “saddened” that Portman had decided not to attend the ceremony in Jerusalem for “political reasons.”

“We 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,” said the foundation. “The mission of the Genesis Prize is to create a space where we can cast politics aside and come together to appreciate Jewish accomplishments that continue to contribute so much to human civilization.”

It said hundreds of international guests had been scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem for the ceremony, set to take place June 28. The organization said Portman will still receive the prize money and was planning to “regift” the notable sum among organizations working to promote women’s rights and empowerment.

Previous recipients of the prize, which partners with the Prime Minister’s Office of Israel and the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, include former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman and sculptor Anish Kapoor. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will receive the Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award later this year.


Ruth Eglash is a correspondent for The Washington Post based in Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.

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