Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman made headlines late last week when she announced her decision to skip the ceremony for the Genesis Prize, an annual award given to notable individuals “who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values.”
The honor, known as Israel’s version of the Nobel Prize, is bestowed by the Genesis Prize Foundation at a ceremony each year. Portman was chosen as this year’s recipient back in November, but announced her decision to skip the event on Thursday. In light of her cancelation, the ceremony itself has been canceled.
Portman’s decision is thought to be in response to a recent flare-up of violence along the border separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. Fifteen Palestinian protesters were killed by the Israeli military at the end of March, which sparked several weeks of violent clashes along the border.
On Saturday, the actress explained her decision.
“Let me speak for myself,” she said. “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. 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.”
The Genesis Prize Foundation, which canceled the ceremony, has expressed its disappointment and fear that Portman’s announcement “will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicized, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid,” but added that it respects Portman’s decision.
“Ms. Portman is a highly accomplished actress, a committed social activist and a wonderful human being. The staff of the Foundation enjoyed getting to know her over the past six months, admires her humanity, and respects her right to publicly disagree with the policies of the government of Israel.”
Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, has never been shy about discussing her political opinions on Israel while also maintaining that she doesn’t support the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“I’m very much against [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Against. I am very, very upset and disappointed that he was re-elected,” Portman told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, echoing many Israelis and Jews around the globe who do not support Netanyahu’s hawkish approach to foreign diplomacy.
“I find his racist comments horrific. However, I don’t want to use my platform [the wrong way],” she added. “I feel like there’s 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.”
Several notable celebrities have voiced their support for the BDS movement, and have canceled appearances or scheduled tours in Israel as a result. New Zealand artist Lorde initially included a stop in Tel Aviv as part of her world tour to promote her latest album, but after fans voiced their displeasure, she canceled the show.
After Portman announced her decision last week, several far-right lawmakers responded by attacking the actress, suggesting she supports the larger BDS movement, even going so far as to suggest the country revoke her Israeli citizenship.