Jerusalem: Hollywood actress Natalie Portman said she was backing out of a Jerusalem ceremony where she was to receive a $2 million prize to protest against the policies of Israel’s prime minister. “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,” Portman said in a statement posted late Friday on Instagram.
She also denied accusations by Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev who on Friday said Portman subscribed to the ideology of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it,” the Oscar-winning US-Israeli actress said. “Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation,” she said.
Netanyahu’s Likud party hit back on Saturday, accusing Portman of “hypocrisy”. It blasted Portman for “talking about human rights but participating in festivals in countries that censor films and whose respect for human rights is much worse than that of Israel”. On Friday the Genesis Prize Foundation said that Portman had cancelled her participation in a Jerusalem ceremony slated for the end of June.
One of Portman’s representatives informed the foundation that she was troubled by “recent events” in Israel and “does not feel comfortable participating in any public event in Israel,” the foundation said. The foundation did not say which events distressed Portman.
Portman said her decision to stay away from the award ceremony had been “mischaracterised”, insisting that she wanted to set the record straight and “speak for myself”. “Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values,” she said.
“Because I care about Israel, I must stand against violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power,” Portman added. Portman did not go into details, but her decision came amid a series of controversies for Netanyahu and his government. The army has come under scrutiny over its use of live fire over the past three weeks during protests and clashes along the blockaded Gaza Strip’s border with the Jewish state.
In a fourth straight Friday of mass demonstrations, four Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces, bringing the total death toll since March 30 to 38. Netanyahu also recently reversed a controversial deal with the UN refugee agency aimed at avoiding the forced deportations of thousands of African migrants.
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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. 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. Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power. Please do not take any words that do not come directly from me as my own. This experience has inspired me to support a number of charities in Israel. I will be announcing them soon, and I hope others will join me in supporting the great work they are doing.
The Israeli premier is also the subject of a series of corruption investigations. Police in February recommended he be indicted in two of the cases and a third is ongoing. The Genesis prize, launched in 2013, is awarded to “extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews,” according to foundation’s website.
Recipients contribute their winnings to causes of their choice, and Portman has said she intended to dedicate the money to programmes advancing women’s equality. Born in Jerusalem to a doctor father and an artist mother, 36-year-old Portman won a best actress Oscar for 2010’s psychological ballet thriller “Black Swan”.