Actress Natalie Portman’s decision to snub a June ceremony in Israel where she was to have received a prize dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” triggered an angry backlash Friday from some Israeli politicians, including the culture minister.
The Genesis Prize Foundation said it had been informed by Portman’s representative that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing” to the Occupied Jerusalem-born Oscar winner and that she would “not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.”
The foundation did not refer to specific events.
Israel has faced international criticism over its response to recent mass marches on the Gaza border, in which 37 Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire, most of them protesters. Hundreds more Palestinians were wounded by Israeli troops since the weekly protests began March 30.
Israel says it is defending its border and accuses Gaza’s rulers, the Islamist militant Hamas group, of trying to carry out attacks under the guise of protests. Rights groups have branded open-fire rules as unlawful, saying they effectively permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.
In comments reported by Israeli media, Culture Minister Miri Regev said Friday that she was sorry Portman had “fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters,” a reference to a Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
“Natalie, a Jewish actress who was born in Israel, joins those who relate to the story of the success and the wondrous rebirth of Israel as a story of darkness,” Regev was quoted as saying.
Oren Hazan, a legislator in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, called on the government to revoke Portman’s Israeli citizenship.
The Genesis foundation said it was “very saddened” by Portman’s decision and would cancel the prize ceremony, which had been set for June 28.
“We fear that Ms. Portman’s decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicised, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid,” it said.
The prize was launched in 2013 to recognise Jewish achievement and contributions to humanity. Previous recipients include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Michael Douglas, violinist Itzhak Perlman and sculptor Anish Kapoor.
When Portman was announced late last year as the 2018 recipient, she said in a statement released by organisers at the time that she was “proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage.”
In Thursday’s statement, the Genesis foundation quoted a representative for Portman as saying that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”