An Israeli minister wrote to Natalie Portman on Friday after she decided not to come to Israel to receive the so-called “Jewish Nobel” awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation, telling her she had been hoodwinked by Hamas propaganda and inviting the Jerusalem-born Hollywood star to come and see the truth.
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.”
“It appears that the events to which you are referring are those that took place on our border with Gaza,” Strategic Affairs and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote to Portman.
“Sadly, it seems that you have been influenced by the campaign of media misinformation and lies regarding Gaza orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group,” he said inviting her to come and tour the border, its communities and the IDF soldiers guarding it.
His invitation came on a day of further clashes when some 3,000 Palestinians protested along the Gaza border with Israel, burning tires and flying flaming kites across the frontier to set Israeli fields ablaze, witnesses and the army said. Soldiers responded with tear gas and live fire, killing four Palestinians, including a 15-year-old, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
“It is not surprising that you have seen the media reports which have distorted the truth and portrayed the recent riots on the Israel-Gaza border as peaceful demonstrations, and Israel’s response as disproportionate,” Erdan wrote. “It is in fact precisely this narrative which Hamas hoped to portray when it organized the riots. Unfortunately it appears that this Hamas-designed narrative has impacted your decision.”
Erdan said the truth was that Hamas was using the “riots as a cover to carry out armed terror attacks.”
Erdan urged Portman to come and see the situation for herself, warning that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign was “taking advantage” of her stand.
Erdan even referred to Portman’s role in the Star Wars series.
“The goal of Hamas and other murderous terrorist organizations is to convince the world that they are the real fighters for justice and freedom. Please don’t make that mistake,” Erdan said.
“Anakin Skywalker, a character you know well from Star Wars, went through a similar process. He began to believe that the Jedi knights were evil, and that the forces of the Dark Side were the defenders of democracy. I call on you not to let the Dark Side win.”
Earlier, Culture Minister Miri Regev lambasted Portman, saying she had “fallen into the hands” of the BDS campaign that aims to isolate the Jewish state.
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 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.
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 winners 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.”
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.