Natalie Portman, the Israeli-born American-Oscar winning actress, hit Israel below the belt last Thursday. The 36-year-old actress’s aggression was shocking to many, since she has made a big deal of her Israeli roots over the years.
For instance, in 2015 she gave an interview to the Hollywood Reporter. As a new resident of Paris, Portman was asked whether she “was shaken” by the massacre of journalists at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper. Looking her interviewer straight in the eye, she said toughly, “Listen, I’m from Israel.”
In other words, Portman, who moved with her family to the U.S. when she was 3, appropriated the toughness Israelis have been forced to cultivate in the face of their neighbors’ continuous aggression to cultivate a tough-girl image of herself.
Given the use Portman routinely makes of her Israeli pedigree, many were astounded that Portman chose the occasion of Israel’s 70th Independence Day last Thursday to pounce on Israel.
Last November, Portman agreed to receive the Genesis Prize. The prize, which Timemagazine dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” was established five years ago by Russian-Israeli philanthropists with a $100 million endowment. The declared purpose of the prize, which gives the winner a million dollars to spend on the charities of his or her choice, is “to celebrate Jewish achievement and contribution to society.”
The unstated but well-understood goal of the prize foundation, which is dominated by American Jews, is to convince Jewish celebrities identified with the left to support Israel publicly. Previous winners include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg; actor Michael Douglas,;violinist Itzhak Perlman; and British sculptor and refugee rights advocate Anish Kapoor. This year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is receiving a lifetime achievement award.
Winners of the Genesis Prize come to Jerusalem for a glamorous ceremony, jointly sponsored by the Prime Minister’s office and the Jewish Agency for Israel. The Prime Minister of Israel hands the winner the prize.
When she agreed to receive the prize last November, Portman sounded enthusiastic. She said, “I am deeply touched and humbled by this honor.
“I am proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage; they are crucial parts of who I am. It is such a privilege to be counted among the outstanding Laureates whom I admire so much. I express my heartfelt gratitude to the Genesis Prize Foundation, and look forward to using the global platform it provides to make a difference in the lives of women in Israel and beyond.”
The following month, Israeli billionaire philanthropist Morris Kahn announced that he would donate an additional million dollars to Portman’s prize money.
In the six months that passed since her selection was announced, Portman gave no indication that she was reconsidering her willingness to accept the award.
But then, last Thursday, on Israel’s Independence Day, Portman’s representative told the Genesis Prize Foundation, “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.” Portman’s representative added that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”
Since Portman did not bother mentioning which “recent events” caused her such “extreme distress,” Israeli politicians drew their own conclusions. Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Minister of Cultural Affairs Miri Regev both assumed that Portman was condemning Israel for defending its border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Regev reacted to Portman’s move by saying she “fell like a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters.” BDS, which stands for “boycott, divestment and sanctions,” is a movement spearheaded by the PLO and advanced by Muslim and leftist groups throughout the West. It is a multifaceted campaign against Israel and its supporters. It involves ostracizing Israel’s supporters and delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist while harming its economy.
Erdan wrote Portman an open letter in which he invited her to visit Israel’s border with Gaza to see what Israel is up against. Erdan noted that her statement was being used by the “anti-Semitic BDS campaign … to advance its ends.”
Portman may have been concerned that her announcement, and the Israeli and BDS reactions, could harm her image. How can she continue to claim pride in her Israeli “toughness” if she thinks that Israel is evil?
Taking to her Instagram account, Portman wrote, “I chose not to attend [the Genesis Prize Ceremony] because I did not want to appear as endorsing [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.
“By the same token, I am not part of the BDS movement and do not endorse it. Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation.”
Portman continued, “I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance.
“Israel was created exactly 70 years ago as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust. But the mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”
There are a number of problems with this statement. First, it contradicts Portman’s representative’s statement issued 24 hours earlier.
If Portman cancelled her participation in the ceremony because she hates Netanyahu, why did her representative say she was distressed by “recent events”?
Netanyahu didn’t assume power “recently.” He’s been in office for nine years.
Indeed, if her hatred for Netanyahu drove her to boycott the prize, the Genesis Prize Foundation should sue her for fraud since it means that she never intended to accept the prize and she deliberately sabotaged the foundation’s work.
Portman’s statement also bespeaks an amazing contempt for Israel itself – in two deeply distressing ways.
First, her claim that Israel was created “as a haven for refugees from the Holocaust” is a dangerous lie. It is a lie Israel’s most murderous enemies propagate as a means of denying Israel’s right to exist. The Iranians and the Palestinians say the Jews have no ties to their ancestral homeland and that Israel is no more than a sop to Europe’s guilty conscience over the Holocaust.
The truth — which Portman is supposed to know as a proud “Israeli” — is that Zionism, the millennial movement of Jewish return to the land of Israel, and Zionist Jews created Israel. By the time the Holocaust began in 1938, the Jewish pioneers in the land of Israel had already built the foundations of that state. The Holocaust’s practical impact on Israel’s establishment was that it annihilated millions of Jews who wanted to immigrate to Israel.
As if that weren’t enough, Portman went on to reject Israeli democracy. Netanyahu is not a dictator. He and his government were elected by Israel’s voters. When Portman said she thinks Netanyahu is illegitimate, she effectively said the Israeli public which elected him is illegitimate.
Portman’s behavior isn’t surprising. She has been railing against Israel for the past three years in precisely the manner that she assaulted it last week.
On the one hand, she viciously attacks the country on political grounds. On the other hand, she says she doesn’t want her political attacks to be politicized.
Which brings us to the real problem with the entire episode. Given her savage criticism of Israel, spanning years, Portman should never have received the Genesis Prize in the first place. The fact that she did, and the fact that neither the Genesis Prize foundation nor the American Jewish leadership has yet condemned her since she betrayed her word so viciously, is a testament to the political stupidity of American Jewish leadership.
And this is the real problem. The American Jewish community’s insistent embrace of people who reject its values and interests in favor of its liberal political identity is rapidly undoing it. Multi-year survey data make clear that Jewish Americans are among the most liberal groups in the U.S. Naturally, as liberals, they want to be embraced by the group with which they identify most strongly – the Left. Unfortunately for them, the Left is becoming less and less hospitable to Jews.
Recognizing the shift in her camp, for at least three years, Portman has played a transparently phony double game. To maintain her relevance on the increasingly anti-Jewish left, Portman has signaled her hatred of Israel by slandering Netanyahu, the most popular leader in Israeli history as a racist.
On the other hand, to avoid losing her pride of place in the American Jewish community, every time Portman demonizes Netanyahu – and through him, Israelis society as a whole — she adds a disclaimer that she doesn’t support BDS.
If American Jewish leaders were interested in defending their values and interests, they would have called her on this stunt when she first tried it in 2015. Instead, they gave her the “Jewish Nobel Prize.”
And now Israel is reaping what they sowed.