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

Asked for comment, the Genesis Prize Foundation said it had no decision to report at the moment about the prize money

This image released by Focus Features shows Natalie Portman in 'A Tale of Love and Darkness.' Portman also wrote and directed the film.
Ran Mendelson/Focus Features via AP

Natalie Portman will no longer get to choose where her $2 million Genesis Prize will be donated after saying she will not travel to Israel to receive the award.

Instead, the Genesis Prize Foundation will decide where the money goes.

Portman is refusing to travel to Israel to receive the prize because “[r]ecent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,” the foundation announced Thursday. It has canceled the award ceremony in June as a result.

The prize, known as the “Jewish Nobel,” has been awarded annually for five years. Portman was announced as the 2018 laureate in November for a prize that “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.”

Every winner has pledged to donate the award money, which was doubled this year to $2 million. Portman said she would be donating her award to women’s rights groups.

The Genesis Prize Foundation will still give the money to women’s rights groups. But Portman will no longer choose the recipients, owing to her refusal to attend the award ceremony, according to a statement by Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn, who supplied half of this year’s award.

“I cannot support the decision of canceling an appearance due to ‘recent events in Israel,'” Kahn said in the statement, which first appeared in The Jerusalem Post. “Together with the Genesis Prize Foundation, we will make sure that women’s rights organizations will not be affected in any way. The prize money will be distributed by the Genesis Prize Foundation, not by Ms. Portman.”

Portman, a Jerusalem native, did not specify which recent events led to her decision. Israel has met significant international criticism for its response to protests on the Gaza border in which dozens of Palestinians have been killed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also sparked controversy by announcing and then rescinding an agreement to settle African asylum seekers living in Israel in Western countries.

Portman has previously joined efforts to support Israel. In 2015, she directed and starred in “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” a Hebrew-language film adaptation of the Amos Oz book of the same name that chronicles the author’s life surrounding Israel’s founding.

A representative for Natalie Portman said: 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.