Natalie Portman: Israel's Nation-state Law Is 'Racist' and a 'Mistake'

In an interview marking the release of her new film, the Israeli-American actress told London-based Arabid daily that the law impacts many people's lives and that she does not agree with it

Actress Natalie Portman poses at a premiere for the movie "Vox Lux" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 5, 2018.
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman slammed Israel's nation-state law as "racist" and a "mistake," in an interview with BBC’s Arabic language channel on Sunday.

In the interview, which marked the release of her new film, "Vox Lux," Portman explained that the law is a political decision that impacts the lives of many people, adding that she hopes to be part of the change that can improve Israel's relationship with its neighbors. Portman also criticized U.S. President Donald Trump.

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Israel's controversial nation-state law, which the Knesset passed in July, states that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which has exclusive right to self-determination in the country. It defines Hebrew as the country’s sole official language, designating Arabic as a language with special status, although adding that Arabic's status would not be harmed in practice.

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Critics of the nation-state legislation, which, as a Basic Law, bears constitutional weight, object in part to the fact that it does not include a provision stating that all Israeli citizens are equal under the law.

This isn't the first time the Hollywood actress criticized Israel. Portman, who was born in Israel but moved to the United States with her family when she was young, sparked a scandal when she announced in April that she would not come to Israel to accept the Genesis Prize (a $1 million award given annually to Jewish people who have attained recognition and excellence in their fields). “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,” her representative said at the time.

Portman has said that she does not support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. In 2009, Portman joined other Hollywood stars in protesting calls for a boycott against the Toronto International Film Festival for its staging of a Tel Aviv-themed event. She also directed and starred in a Hebrew-language adaptation of Israeli novelist Amos Oz’s memoir, “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”

"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 of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation." Portman added that she treasures "Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema and dance."

She went on to say that 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." 

Correction (December 20, 2018): An earlier version of this article misattributed the original source of Portman's interview. The interview was given to BBC’s Arabic language channel and then published in Al-Quds Al-Arabi.