“Tide is turning” as Natalie Portman cancels Israel appearance

Natalie Portman (Wikimedia)

Israel is crediting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Natalie Portman’s refusal to receive an award in Jerusalem.

On Thursday, the Genesis Prize Foundation announced it was canceling its 2018 award ceremony after the Oscar-winning actor had informed 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.”

Portman’s representative told the foundation that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”

“After decades of egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, 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 Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) said in a statement welcoming the news.

Awarded by extremists

The Genesis Prize is promoted as the “Jewish Nobel” and is awarded by committees including far-right anti-Palestinian figures such as Israeli politicians Natan Sharansky and Yuli Edelstein; Eli Groner, the director of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau; and Fiamma Nirenstein, an Italian-Jewish anti-Palestinian activist and former lawmaker who Netanyahu attempted to appoint as Israel’s ambassador to Rome.

As the prize winner, Portman had been awarded $2 million to donate to philanthropic causes of her choosing.

Another extreme-right Israeli politician, culture minister Miri Regev, stated, “I was sorry to hear that Natalie Portman fell into the hands of the BDS supporters.”

“Portman, a Jewish actress born in Israel, joins those who tell the successful, wondrous founding of the State of Israel as ‘a tale of darkness and darkness,’” Regev added.

Oren Hazan, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud Party with a history of violent and racist incitement, and harassment of female and Arab lawmakers, demanded that Portman’s Israeli citizenship be revoked.

It is a considerable embarrassment that even Portman, known for roles in the Star Wars movies, is unwilling to associate her name and image with Israel.

In 2015, Portman publicly expressed her opposition to Netanyahu’s government, but said she would not use her “platform” to “you know, shit on Israel.”

Killing protesters

While Portman did not specify which “recent events” she found unpalatable, there is little doubt that this was a reference to Israel’s weeks of calculated violence directed at unarmed protesters in the besieged Gaza Strip that has killed more than 30 Palestinians, including four children and a journalist, and injured thousands.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor has warned Israeli leaders that they could face trial over the lethal crackdown.

A wounded Palestinian is evacuated near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, 20 April, as Israeli occupation forces stationed across the Gaza-Israel boundary continued to fire on unarmed protesters for the fourth Friday in a row.

Ashraf Amra APA images

But as Great March of Return rallies continued for the fourth week, Israel appears still to be ignoring such warnings.

This Friday, Israeli occupation forces killed four Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, and injured hundreds more amid protests along the Gaza-Israel boundary fence.

Boycott goes mainstream

The BNC, the steering group for the global BDS campaign, appears more than happy to take the credit that Israel is offering.

“The Palestinian-led, Nobel Peace Prize-nominated boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights has been growing in the cultural mainstream in the last few years,” the BNC noted. “Of the 26 Oscar nominees in 2016, none has accepted an all-expense-paid Israeli propaganda junket.”

The BNC also praised Portman for following the lead of Lorde, the New Zealand pop singer who generated global headlines and a fierce backlash from anti-Palestinian groups for her decision last December to cancel a performance in Tel Aviv.

“As was the case in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, the BDS movement calls on all artists and cultural figures to respect the nonviolent Palestinian picket line and stay away from apartheid Israel until the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people are fully respected,” the BNC added.

American Jewish youth pressure politicians

Growing grassroots outrage is also pushing a few more US politicians to break the near-silence on Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.

Last week Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said she was “deeply concerned about the deaths and injuries in Gaza” and urged Israeli occupation forces to “exercise restraint and respect the rights of Palestinians to peacefully protest.”

She did not go as far as the handful of her Democratic congressional colleagues who have urged Israeli soldiers to defy illegal orders to shoot at unarmed protesters.

And while hardly a full-throated condemnation, and lacking any call for accountability, Warren’s statement contrasts with how the progressive lawmaker fled from questions about Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza in 2014.

Another high-profile Democrat, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, also tweeted that the violence in Gaza is “is exceptionally destructive for both the Palestinians and the state of Israel.”

These mild statements are at least an acknowledgment of the grassroots pressure Democrats have been facing, particularly from young American Jewish activists who have been protesting – and getting arrested – at lawmakers’ offices to demand they speak out.

IfNotNow, a Jewish activist organization that has been spearheading these protests, welcomed Natalie Portman’s announcement as another sign that the “tide is turning.”

Portman joins comedian Sarah Silverman to become the second major American Jewish celebrity to speak out in recent weeks against Israel’s abuses of Palestinians, the group noted.

IfNotNow asked: “Who will be the next Jewish celebrity to reject the status quo of endless occupation and repression for Palestinians?”

This article has been updated since initial publication.

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I hope that despite expected massive attacks by Zionists she will keep her back straight and will not turn back from her fundamental and just decision. A big THANKS for Natalie and hope she will inspire ohter celebs and people of conscience.

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Ali mentions that Portman said she doesn't want to "%*^# on Israel" and lightly implies that BDS is perhaps taking undeserved credit for this but not that Portman vehemently denied that BDS prompted her. In fact she specifically stated that she doesn't support BDS. Perhaps that statement came after this went to press.
And that's fine, she's doing the right thing and that's what counts. And although the truth is BDS can't take credit and maybe shouldn't try, Portman's refusal of this soiled award is a powerful, marquee size, one woman boycott of Israel.
I think this should be a lesson for boycott purists and a good argument for finding ways to unite with others, who differ on BDS, because her big - little boycott is actually more powerful because she hasn't taken a more radical position.

Ali Abunimah's picture

John, the least surprising thing in the world is not only that she would deny BDS played a role, but that she would also denounce it. Not one company that has left Israel after major BDS campaigns (Veolia, CRH, Orange, etc..) has done anything other than denounce BDS. It doesn’t matter. BDS and other types of campaign create a context where going to Israel becomes reputationally costly. Even people/companies who oppose BDS must take into account that cost. That is how it works. It doesn’t require Portman or anyone else to say they support BDS or its demands. The point is that Miri Regev, the Israeli culture minister, correctly diagnoses that BDS has helped make it too costly reputationally even for Portman — a big supporter of Zionism — to go and get the Genesis Prize. That’s good.

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In spite of the brutal killings/murders , there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.Thank you Natalie Portman for standing up and to be counted as an Israeli stating ,not in my name.

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