Actress Natalie Portman has snubbed a prestigious prize known as the Genesis Prize, dubbed the ‘Jewish Nobel’, saying she did not want her attendance to be seen as an endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Portman was due to receive the award in Israel in June and said in a statement that her reasons for skipping the ceremony were solely due to Mr Netanyahu – rather than a boycott of the entire nation.
News of Portman’s decision to skip the event triggered an angry backlash on Friday from some in the country’s political establishment.
That was due to reports that Portman through a representative had told the Genesis Prize Foundation she was experiencing “extreme distress” over attending its ceremony and would “not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel”.
Portman’s statement said her decision had been mischaracterised.
“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,” she wrote.
“Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance.'”
She asked people to “not take any words that do not come directly from me as my own.”
Israel faces some international criticism over its use of lethal force in response to mass protests along the Gaza border.
One Israeli lawmaker warned that Portman’s decision is a sign of eroding support forIsrael among young American Jews.
The Jerusalem-born Portman is a dual Israeli-American citizen.
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The Oscar-winning actress moved to the United States as a young girl, evolving from a child actress into a widely acclaimed A-list star.
She received the 2011 best actress Academy Award for Black Swan, and, in 2015, she directed and starred in Tale of Love and Darkness, a Hebrew-language film set in Israel based on an Amos Oz novel.
The Genesis Prize Foundation said on Thursday that it had been informed by Portman’s representative that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing” to Portman, though it did not refer to specific events.
Since March 30, more than three dozen Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army fire, most of them in protests on the Gaza-Israeli border. Hundreds more have been wounded by Israeli troops during this time.
Israel says it is defending its border and accuses Hamas, a militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, of trying to carry out attacks under the guise of protests.
It has said that some of those protesting at the border over the past few weeks tried to damage the fence, plant explosives and hurl firebombs, or flown kites attached to burning rags to set Israeli fields on fire. Several Israeli communities are located near the Gaza border.
Israel’s right-wing Culture Minister Miri Regev said in a statement Friday that she was sorry to hear that Portman “has fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) supporters,” referring to the Palestinian-led boycott movement.
“Natalie, a Jewish actress born in Israel, is joining those who relate to the wondrous success story of Israel’s rebirth as a story of ‘darkness and darkness’,” Mr Regev said.
The Genesis foundation said it was “very saddened” by Portman’s decision and would cancel the prize ceremony, which had been set to take place on June 28.
The Genesis Prize was launched in 2013 to recognize 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.