Oh, the controversy.
Natalie Portman has refused to visit Israel to receive her Genesis Prize – the so-called “Jewish Nobel” – because of “recent events” in that country:
— Jane Eisner (@Jane_Eisner) April 19, 2018
The Guardian has a report which states: “Portman’s representative said: “[R]ecent 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”.
“No specific events were mentioned, but the recent military response to Palestinian demonstrations on the Gaza-Israel border has provoked worldwide condemnation.”
Her decision has, of course, provoked vilification from exactly the sort of people you would expect it to.
The Guardian again: “The move drew swift condemnation from Israel’s governing Likud party. Knesset member Oren Hazan demanded authorities revoke her citizenship while the culture minister, Miri Regev, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, claimed she had “fallen like ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters.”
“Portman was effectively joining the ranks of those “relating to the tale of Israel’s success and wonder of rebirth as one of darkness and darkness,” Regev said, a reference to her film adaptation of Israeli writer Amos Oz’s 2002 memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness.”
So now she is the “wrong kind of Jew”?
I am pleased to see it has provoked appropriate reactions from right-thinking people. Consider the sarcasm in the following tweet:
Yup, this is exactly how any normal democracy would respond to the tiniest act of dissent. https://t.co/G9TLP5esbm
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) April 20, 2018
If Ms Portman really was the kind of person these career politicians have suggested, she would not have won the prize in the first place.
From the Genesis Prize website: “The annual $1 million award* honors extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement, commitment to Jewish values and to the Jewish people.
“Portman is a globally-acclaimed actress and director. She began her acting career at the age of 12 and has since achieved recognition and praise from audiences around the world. She is a winner of multiple prestigious awards, including an Academy Award (Oscar), two Golden Globe Awards, the British Academy of Film and Television Award, as well as other industry honors.
“Portman was born in Israel and, after moving to the US as a child, retained a close connection to her Jewish and Israeli roots. In 2015, she directed Tale of Love and Darkness, a Hebrew-language film made in Israel and based on the novel by an Israeli writer Amos Oz. Portman also played a leading role in this picture.
“Natalie Portman is noted for her social activism in such areas as gender equality, combatting poverty, microfinance, and animal rights. She is a graduate of Harvard University, where she returned to deliver a commencement speech in May 2015.
““We are delighted to celebrate Natalie Portman as the 2018 Genesis Prize Laureate,” said Stan Polovets, co-founder and Chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation. “Natalie’s charismatic on-screen presence has touched the hearts of millions. Her talent, her commitment to social causes and her deep connection to her Jewish and Israeli roots are greatly admired. She exemplifies the core traits of the Jewish character and values of the Jewish people – persistence and hard work, pursuit of excellence, intellectual curiosity, and a heartfelt desire to contribute to making the world a better place. Without a doubt, she is a role model for millions of young Jews around the world.””
“She exemplifies the core traits of the Jewish character and values of the Jewish people”. That is a claim that cannot be voided because Ms Portman has differences with the political leadership of Israel. It is also a claim that makes nonsense of any suggestion that her citizenship of that country should be revoked.
As for the suggestion that she has joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, initial media speculation focused on Ms Portman’s disapproval of current Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu. Consider this, from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
“In 2015, following the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she said she was “very, very upset and disappointed.”
““I find his racist comments horrific,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “However, I don’t — what I want to make sure is, I don’t want to use my platform [the wrong way].””
Ms Portman has since provided a statement: “”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.””
I'm glad Natalie Portman's decision wasn't based on BDS principals. Not because I oppose them, but because her refusal is revealing of chasms inside the American Jewish community. It makes it much harder for American Jews to simply write her off as anti-Israel/self-hating Jew.
— Edo Konrad (@edokonrad) April 21, 2018
I certainly hope Edo Konrad is correct and that those who want to write her off in that way are foiled.
But some are determined to link her with BDS in any case. She is, after all, boycotting an event in Israel because it would also be attended by a politician whose policies she abhors.
It’s a fine line to walk – and that is precisely why those who support the Israeli government, and all its atrocities, want to discredit her. Even the Genesis Prize organizers “fear that Ms. Portman’s decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicized, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid”.
Didn’t these organisers do that themselves, by inviting Mr Netanyahu to speak at the prize ceremony in June? They must know Ms Portman’s opinion of him – she expressed it in 2015!
It occurs to me that this lady may have been set up. As a critic of the Israeli government, its politicians would have loved to put her in a situation where she either had to tacitly endorse them and their policies or could be vilified as a traitor to Israel.
If so, I don’t think it will work: “She exemplifies the core traits of the Jewish character and values of the Jewish people,” remember? There no way to take back those words.
Ms Portman won her award because she represents the best of her people. She is not to be censured because she is horrified by their worst.
*The prize has been generously doubled to $2 million with a donation by Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn.
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