“After decades of egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, Israel’s recent massacre of peaceful protesters in Gaza has made its brand so toxic that even well-known Israeli-American cultural figures, like Natalie Portman, now refuse to blatantly whitewash, or art-wash, Israeli crimes and apartheid policies.” — BDS statement
JERUSALEM – In an unexpected rebuke, Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman has declined to attend the June award ceremony for the Genesis Prize, sometimes nicknamed the “Jewish Nobel,” citing recent and “distressing” events in Israel. Portman, in declining to receive the prize, will still receive $2 million in prize money, which she previously announced she would be donating to programs focused on advancing gender equality. Her mention of “distressing” events in Israel is an apparent reference to the brutal crackdown and murder of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli soldiers.
Palestinians in Gaza have been participating in the “March of Great Return” since March 30. The march is aimed at securing the right of exiled Palestinians to return to historical Palestine. The protests have been widely attended — attracting thousands of participants — but have been targeted by the Israeli military, which has opened fire on the protesters numerous times, killing at least 35, including journalists, and wounding nearly 2,000 people.
Israel’s government has come under fire for its repression of the protests, but Israel has defended the actions of its soldiers, claiming that the protesters presented a threat to the border wall. However, many Jews — including Israelis — have been critical of Israel’s response and lack of concern regarding the deaths of protesters.
Portman was named the fifth winner of the Genesis Prize, which honors “professional achievement in service of Jewish values and the Jewish people,” last November, but her recent announcement has led to the ceremony’s cancellation. Portman, who is a dual Israeli-American citizen, has also declined to attend any public events in Israel, essentially boycotting the nation in which she was born as a result of its policies.
The actress’ representative contacted the Genesis Foundation, stating that “[r]ecent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her [Portman] and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,” adding that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.” The foundation stated that it was “saddened” to learn of Portman’s decision.
A story of darkness and darkness
Reaction from within Israel has been highly critical of Portman. Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev stated that Portman had “fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of the BDS [Boycott, Divest, Sanctions] movement supporters,” adding that the actress “joins those who see the story of the wondrous success of the rebirth of Israel as a ‘story of darkness and darkness,’” referencing the Hebrew-language movie “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” which Portman performed in, directed and co-wrote. Oren Hazan — Israeli politician of the conservative Likud Party, known for harassing the families of Palestinian prisoners and hard drug use — also slammed Portman and has called for her Israeli citizenship to be revoked.
Meanwhile, Israeli politician Rachel Azaria, a member of the centrist Kulanu Party, cautioned that Portman’s decision is a “warning light” to the Israeli government and that Portman was “speaking for many in U.S. Jewry, especially the young generation. Losing them might be too high a price.”
Members of the Palestinian-led, Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestinian Rights praised Portman’s decision. PACBI, the academic and cultural arm of the BDS movement, wrote in a statement that:
After decades of egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, Israel’s recent massacre of peaceful protesters in Gaza has made its brand so toxic that even well-known Israeli-American cultural figures, like Natalie Portman, now refuse to blatantly whitewash, or art-wash, Israeli crimes and apartheid policies.”
The BDS movement, launched in 2005, seeks to promote peaceful and nonviolent action around the world that targets the Israeli government’s abuses of Palestinians, by encouraging other governments and groups to sever cultural, academic, and economic ties with the state. BDS has gained steam in recent years, leading to concern among Israeli politicians — particularly as some of the group’s core positions regarding products manufactured in illegal West Bank settlements have begun to be embraced by European governments. Israel’s response has been aimed at black-listing BDS activists and groups from entering Israel and denying benefits to pro-BDS Israeli citizens.
While Israeli politicians and BDS activists alike have suggested that Portman had aligned herself with the movement, Portman issued a statement on Friday, stating that her decision had been “mischaracterized” and that she did not endorse BDS and was instead seeking to protest the policies of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
“My decision not to attend the Genesis Prize ceremony has been mischaracterized by others. Let me speak for myself. 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. By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” read Portman’s statement.
However, given that BDS also protests Netanyahu and Israeli government policy through non-violent means such as boycotts, Portman’s decision to distance herself from the group seems largely semantic and related to the fierce backlash from Israeli officials following her decision to not attend public events in Israel.
Despite Portman’s recent statement distancing herself from the movement, BDS has been gaining momentum, as well-known celebrities like Portman have spoken out against Israel’s actions and violations of international law. Indeed, Portman’s decision came a few months after New Zealand pop singer Lorde also decided to boycott events in Israel after being contacted by BDS activists, leading her to cancel a planned concert in the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv. Lorde was subsequently targeted by a smear campaign run by the Israel lobby, but received wide support from other artists and celebrities.
Top Photo | Natalie Portman at the 2018 Kingdom Day Parade in honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, California on January 15, 2018. (Faye Sadou/MediaPunch/IPX)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.