NEW YORK (JTA) — The Genesis Prize Foundation, whose award is nicknamed the “Jewish Nobel,” said it will not rescind its honor to Natalie Portman even though she will not attend the award ceremony in Israel.
In a statement released on Thursday, the foundation criticized Portman’s decision and said it had informed her before the award announcement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would present the prize. They also claim that they offered her the opportunity to share her political views during her address, and that she missed out on promoting “women’s equality and empowerment” — the foundation’s “philanthropic theme” for this year.
“Ms. Portman’s decision to decline to attend the award ceremony deprived Israelis and Jews all over the world of the chance to join together in honoring her — a distinguished daughter of the Jewish people, who is now one of the leaders of the critically important movement to empower women and remove barriers to their advancement,” the statement reads. “Ms. Portman’s decision deeply offended numerous women’s rights organizations whose work was going to be highlighted at the ceremony.”
The prize money — which this year totaled $2 million — will be distributed by the foundation, not Portman.
A day after the foundation announced last month that the ceremony would be cancelled because of Portman’s decision to skip the ceremony, she issued a statement on Instagram saying she did not want “to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.” She also clarified that she does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The Israeli-born actress’ words fueled a debate about the future of liberal Zionism.
“The statements made by Ms. Portman and her representatives explaining the reasons behind the cancelation of her visit to Jerusalem inadvertently have given ammunition to a variety of groups that promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel,” the foundation wrote in their statement Thursday.
On Friday, the Jewish Insider, citing “sources involved in the exchange,” reported that Portman had originally asked Genesis “to cite a scheduling conflict, allowing her to back out of the Jerusalem ceremony quietly.”
In the Thursday statement, the Genesis Prize Foundation said the public and media reactions to Portman’s decision show that “some kind of a formal structure is urgently needed where leaders of the Jewish Diaspora, including representatives of the younger generation, and political elites in Israel can conduct a frank and honest conversation before the Israel-Diaspora relationship suffers irreparable damage.”
The Genesis Prize was established in 2012 by Mikhail Fridman and other wealthy Russian-Jewish businessmen and operates in a partnership with Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency for Israel. The foundation says the prize “honors individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement along with their commitment to Jewish values and the Jewish people.”
Previous recipients of the prize include artist Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actor Michael Douglas.
Natalie Portman speaking at the Environmental Media Association’s 27th Annual EMA Awards in Santa Monica, Calif., Sept. 23, 2017. (Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Environmental Media Association)