The Genesis Prize Foundation announced Thursday it was canceling its ceremony in Israel after awardee Natalie Portman said she would not attend, citing her “distress” over recent events in the country.
Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, was named the recipient of the 2018 Genesis Prize, or what the Genesis Foundation calls the “Jewish Nobel,” last November.
According to the Foundation, Portman’s representative notified it that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.”
The decision to cancel the ceremony was justified in a statement by organizers saying they “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.”
The prize “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.”
Although recent events were not specified, they likely refer to the more than 36 unarmed Palestinians killed by Israeli snipers in Gaza during three Friday protests in the context of the Great March of Return, organized by Palestinian civil society to demand their right as refugees to return to the lands they were expelled from in 1948.
Portman’s decision has garnered praise and disdain. Peace activists, including the United States-based Jewish Voices for Peace thanked the actress for taking a stance. Conservative politicians condemned her actions. Knesset member Oren Hazan even demanded authorities to revoke her Israeli citizenship.
Rachel Azaria, of the Kulanu party, part of the governing coalition said Portman’s cancellation should be seen as a warning. “She’s speaking for many in US Jewry, especially the young generation… Losing them might be too high a price.”
Portman joins comedian Sarah Silverman, who has publicly condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza and the arrest of young activist Ahed Tamimi.