Natalie Portman poses at the premiere for “Annihilation” in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2018. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
JERUSALEM — It didn’t take long for Natalie Portman to find herself in the crosshairs of the emotive Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Almost as soon it was announced Thursday that the Hollywood actress had canceled her participation in the upcoming Genesis Prize awards ceremony in Jerusalem because of “distress at recent events in Israel,” she was simultaneously hailed by pro-Palestinian activists for taking a stand against the Jewish state and its ongoing treatment of Palestinians, and criticized by Israelis for falling victim to the dreaded Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
But Portman, known for roles in movies such as “Black Swan” and the “Star Wars” prequels, posted a response Friday night on her Instagram account refuting both claims:
Portman, who was born in Israel but moved to the United States as a child, was named in November recipient of the $2 million Genesis prize for “Jewish achievement and contributions to humanity.” She was supposed to have been honored at an annual ceremony in June, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Thursday, the Genesis Prize Foundation, dubbed by some as the “Jewish Nobel,” published a statement saying it had been “notified by a representative of Ms. Portman that ‘recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,’ and that ‘she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.’”
The foundation said it was “saddened” that Portman had decided not to attend the ceremony in Jerusalem for “political reasons.”
[Natalie Portman pulls out of Jerusalem ceremony over recent events in Israel]
Although it was not clear what political events had caused Portman to withdraw from the event, many immediately assumed it was related to recent civil unrest in Gaza.
Israel has come under increasing pressure from international organizations and human rights groups for its lethal response to weekly protests by Palestinian civilians along its border. Some four Palestinians were killed on Friday by live fire from Israeli troops, including a 15-year-old boy, Gaza’s Health Ministry said.
Israel’s military has said the civilians are being used as a cover by the militant Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, to infiltrate Israel and carry out terrorist attacks in its border communities. Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
[Gaza border clashes resume between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces]
Within hours of the announcement from the Genesis Prize Foundation, an article appeared on the website of the official BDS movement declaring “Natalie Portman Rejects Israel Prize in Light of its Crimes in Gaza.”
“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 article said.
BDS aims to pressure Israel into complying with international law vis-a-vis its policies toward the Palestinians. It actively discourages the purchase of Israeli goods, pressures international companies not to conduct business in Israel and urges celebrities not to visit or perform in the country.
Israeli maintains that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic and actively promotes the country's demise, denying its right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who runs the counter campaign against BDS, sent a letter to the actress saying that “the anti-Semitic BDS campaign is taking advantage of your recent announcement in order to advance its ends.”
He invited her to Israel to “tour the Gaza border, and meet the families residing in Israeli communities near Gaza, whom the IDF has been bravely protecting.”
Israel's Culture Minister Miri Regev said in a statement that Portman had “fallen like ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters.” And Knesset Member Oren Hazen called on the Interior Ministry to revoke the actress’s Israeli citizenship.
[20 groups that advocate boycotting Israel will now be denied entry]
In light of her Instagram statement, however, it seems as though Portman could have been referring to another fraught issue — the debate over what Israel should do with thousands of African migrants.
Last month, Netanyahu announced, then immediately scrapped a controversial resettlement plan for the estimated 38,000 migrants who arrived in Israel via Egypt's Sinai peninsula between 2005 and 2012. Once again, the migrants, who see themselves as asylum seekers escaping human rights abuses and war in their native lands, are now left without status and in constant fear of deportation.
[Netanyahu’s reversal on migrant resettlement plan suggests elections are near]
This is not the first time Portman has spoken out with regard to Netanyahu. In 2015, following his reelection, she said in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter that she was “very much against Netanyahu.”
“I am very, very upset and disappointed that he was reelected,” she said in the article. “I find his racist comments horrific. However, I don’t — what I want to make sure is, I don’t want to use my platform [the wrong way]. I feel like there’s some people who become prominent, and then it’s out in the foreign press. You know, s‑‑‑ on Israel. I do not. I don’t want to do that.”