Natalie Portman to Donate $2m Genesis Prize Despite Boycotting Israel Ceremony, Foundation Source Says; Portman Rep Denies

Source says Genesis Prize Foundation believes actor will donate money as planned ■ Israeli culture minister blasts Portman, says she's been manipulated by anti-Israel activists

Natalie Portman poses at the premiere for 'Annihilation' in Los Angeles, California, February 13, 2018.
\ Mario Anzuoni/ REUTERS

Update: Portman Won’t Get to Distribute Prize Money, Claims Philanthropist Who Supplied Half of the Award

Natalie Portman has not expressed any intention to the Genesis Prize Foundation that she will not be donating the $2 million prize to charities in Israel, a source at the organization said, even though the Israeli-American actor is boycotting the awards ceremony in Israel that was to be held in her honor.

“We have not received any information of the sort,” the source told Haaretz when asked whether Portman would cancel plans to donate the money. According to the source, in the actor's letter notifying the foundation of her decision to boycott the ceremony, she did not refer at all to the prize money, leading the Genesis Prize Foundation to conclude she would donate the prize as planned.

A representative for Portman told Haaretz the actor never received any money from the foundation after she was announced as its 2018 laureate.

Portman's rep told Haaretz: "Natalie Portman never received any money from the Genesis Prize Foundation. In fact, last December, she informed the foundation's president, in writing, that she did not wish to receive the monetary award attached to the prize. There have never been any funds to return. Any suggestion to the contrary is false, misleading and defamatory.

"Ms. Portman will be using her own money to contribute to a number of charities in Israel, and she will be announcing them in the near future, with the hope that others will join her in supporting them."

As of Friday, representatives of the Genesis Prize Foundation, who spoke with Haaretz, were unaware that she had forfeited the prize. All they knew was that she would not attend the ceremony.

Following Portman’s announcement, the foundation canceled the ceremony, which was to be held in Jerusalem on June 28.

In November, the foundation announced that Portman had been selected its 2018 laureate. “Natalie’s charismatic on-screen presence has touched the hearts of millions,” the organization said in its announcement.

“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.”

The award comes with a $1 million cash prize, which Portman had intended to donate to women's charities. A month after the announcement, Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn said he would pledge another $1 million in Portman’s honor, bringing the total award to $2 million.

Born in Jerusalem, Portman has always expressed pride in her Israeli roots. Her announcement thus sent shock waves through the Jewish world.

In a letter explaining her decision, a representative for Portman wrote that “recent 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.”

The statement by the Genesis Prize Foundation, which announced Portman’s decision and said it was “very saddened” by it, did not specify what events had sparked her change of mind.

Recipients of the Genesis Prize, which has been dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” have all donated their gifts to charitable causes, and Portman intended to do likewise. Typically they announce which charities will receive the prize six months after the ceremony. Portman had already notified the foundation that her intent was to donate the money to organizations that promote women’s rights, with a special focus on Israel.

The Genesis Prize Foundation was notified of Portman’s decision to boycott the ceremony more than a week ago but kept the news under wraps until late Thursday night – presumably in order not to mar Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who received the Israel Prize at an Independence Day ceremony Thursday, headed the selection committee that chose Portman as this year’s laureate.

Sharansky declined to comment about her decision not to attend the ceremony.

Israeli politicians, however, condemned Portman's decision, with the culture minister saying that the actor had been manipulated by anti-Israel activists, while a Knesset member urged people to boycott her films.

"I was sorry to hear that Natalie Portman fell into the hands of the BDS supporters," Culture Minister Miri Regev said, referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. "Portman, a Jewish actor 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, playing on the name of a film that Portman directed, wrote and starred in, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," based on the book by Amos Oz. 

MK Oren Hazan (Likud) took to Twitter to call on Israelis to refuse to attend Portman's films. "Portman has no problem using her Israeli heritage for PR purposes alongside public pride over managing to dodge military service,"  wrote Hazan, who is currently in the middle of a six-month suspension from the Knesset for sexist and other inflammatory remarks.

"And there are still respectable people who thought she was worthy of receiving the 'Jewish Nobel' in Israel . But the movie is over: Minister  Dery must revoke her Israeli citizenship, which is a tool for the haters of Israel," Hazan added, referring to Interior Minister Arye Dery.

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) also criticized Portman, saying the actor "is an Israeli citizen and she knows how to be proud of it when necessary, and today she is simply boycotting Israel.

"She wasn't supposed to get the prize from a government ministry but from a Jewish-American foundation, so it's a net boycott of Israel. It's a pity that  she refuses to accept the prize and that instead of addressing in her speech the things that hurt her and fighting for truth and justice, she just chose not to come here."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was selected this year as the inaugural recipient of the Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award. A source at the foundation said the ceremony honoring the U.S. Supreme Court justice would take place as scheduled in Tel Aviv and Ginsburg planned to attend.

The Genesis Prize was launched in 2013 by a group of Russian-Jewish businessmen. Its previous recipients are former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, violinist Itzhak Perlman, sculptor Anish Kapoor and actor and producer Michael Douglas.

In its statement Thursday night, the Genesis Prize Foundation said: “Ms. Portman is a highly accomplished actor, a committed social activist and a wonderful human being. The staff of the Foundation enjoyed getting to know her over the past six months, admires her humanity, and respects her right to publicly disagree with the policies of the government of Israel.

“However, we are very saddened that she has decided not to attend the Genesis Prize ceremony in Jerusalem for political reasons. We 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 foundation said it remained committed to making grants to advance the cause of equality for women.

* This story was updated to include a response from Natalie Portman's representative that the actor had not received the $2 million prize. Also, since the time of publication, it has been reported that the actor will no longer be given the choice to decide which charities receive her $2 million prize.