US actress Natalie Portman, this year’s recipient of a prize dubbed the “Jewish Nobel”, has pulled out of the June awards ceremony in Israel because of extreme distress over recent events in the country, the Genesis Prize Foundation said.
The foundation said it was informed by Portman’s representative that the Jerusalem-born Oscar winner “does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel”.
Thursday’s statement did not refer to specific events that would have prompted Portman’s decision.
Israel has been criticised for its response to mass protests on the Gaza-Israel border, in which 28 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli fire since March 30.
Israel says it is defending its border and accuses Gaza’s rulers, the Islamic militant Hamas group, of trying to carry out attacks under the guise of protests.
The Genesis foundation said it was “very saddened” by Portman’s decision.
“We fear that Ms Portman’s decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicised, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid,” it said.
The prize was launched in 2013 to recognise 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.
When Portman was announced late last year as the 2018 recipient, she said in a statement released by organisers at the time that she was “proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage”.
In Thursday’s statement, the Genesis foundation quoted a representative for Portman as saying that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her” and that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony”.
Israel’s right-wing Culture Minister Miri Regev said that she was sorry to hear that Portman “has fallen like a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters”, referring to a Palestinian-led global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
“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’,” Ms Regev said.
Rachel Azaria, a lawmaker from the centrist Kulanu party, warned that Portman’s decision to stay away is a sign of eroding support for Israel among young American Jews.
“The cancellation by Natalie Portman needs to light warning signs,” Ms Azaria said.
“She is totally one of us. She identifies with her Jewishness and Israeli-ness. She is expressing now the voices of many in US Jewry, mainly those of the young generation.
“This is a community that was always a significant anchor for the state of Israel. The price of losing them could be too high.”