Culture minister says Natalie Portman has ‘fallen into BDS hands’

MK Azaria warns that actress’s cancellation of visit to Israel to receive award is a sign of Israel losing US Jewish community; Likud MK Hazan: Cancel her citizenship

Natalie Portman tinkers with a mutant crocodile in 'Annihilation.' (Paramount Pictures)
Natalie Portman tinkers with a mutant crocodile in 'Annihilation.' (Paramount Pictures)

Culture Mnister Miri Regev on Friday morning lambasted Jerusalem-born Hollywood star Natalie Portman for her decision to not come to Israel to receive the so-called “Jewish Nobel” awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation.

Regev said Portman had “fallen into the hands” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign that aims to isolate the Jewish state.

Portman had initially agreed to accept the $2 million award at a ceremony scheduled for June.

But on Thursday, the foundation said that it had been notified by Portman’s representative 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” and that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”

Portman did not specify which events caused her distress, although the United Nations and the European Union recently called for investigations into the use of live ammunition by Israel’s military in clashes along the border with Gaza that have left dozens of Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 11, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem)

The Israeli Army has said it faces Hamas-encouraged terror at the border under the cover of the weekly mass protests.

The Genesis Foundation did not indicate whether Portman would still receive the prize money in light of her announcement.

Regev said she was sorry that Portman had “fallen like ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters.”

She added, “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.”

Calling on Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to cancel Portman’s Israeli citizenship, Likud MK Oren Hazan labeled her “an Israeli Jewess who on the one hand makes cynical use of her origins in order to advance her career and who, on the other hand, prides herself on having avoided being drafted into the IDF.”

Portman left Israel with her parents at the age of 3.

Kulanu party MK Rachel Azaria seen during a Knesset meeting, November 6, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Kulanu lawmaker Rachel Azaria said that Portman’s decision was a reflection of changing attitudes toward Israel among US Jews.

“Natalie Portman’s cancellation should be a warning sign,” she tweeted. “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. This is a community that was always a significant anchor for the State of Israel and the price of losing it is likely to be too high.”

Much of the US Jewish community has been at odds with Israel’s right-wing government in recent years over the latter’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its support for ultra-Orthodox Jewry on issues of religious identity and practice.

Earlier, in a statement announcing the cancellation of the prize ceremony, the Genesis Prize Foundation said 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.”

In November, the Genesis Prize announced that Portman would receive its 2018 award, which comes with a cash prize that recipients may direct toward causes of their choice. She joined artist Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor-director Michael Douglas as winner of the $1 million 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.”

Philanthropist Morris Kahn, left, Genesis Prize Laureate Natalie Portman, center, and Stan Polovets, co-founder and Chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation. (Genesis Foundation)

Genesis said in December that Portman’s prize money had been doubled to $2 million by a donation by Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn.

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

In 2009, Portman joined other Hollywood stars in protesting calls for a boycott against the Toronto International Film Festival for its staging of a Tel Aviv-themed event. She also directed and starred in a Hebrew-language adaptation of Israeli novelist Amos Oz’s memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” In a statement following the Genesis Prize announcement in November, Portman said she was “proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage.”

In 2015, following the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she 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 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.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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