What Amitabh Bachchan and others must learn from Oscar-winning Jewish actor Natalie Portman


Popular Hollywood star Natalie Portman has taken an extraordinary decision to pull out of a prestigious award ceremony reportedly in protest against the recent act of Israeli aggression, that left many including a Palestinian journalist killed in Gaza.

Natalie Portman

The Oscar-winning actor’s representatives said that she pulled out of the Genesis Prize ceremony, scheduled to be held in June in Jerusalem, because was distubred by the recent events. They added, “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,”

Although Portman’s aides did not mention which recent events had upset the Black Swan star, they said that the Black Swan actor could not “in good conscience” move forward with it.

(Reads the full statement issued by Genesis Prize Committee below)

As expected, the Israeli government criticised the Jewish actor for her decision accusing her of falling for ‘the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement against Israel. Israel’s minister of culture and sport Miri Regev said that he was “saddened to hear that Natalie Portman has fallen as a ripe fruit in the hands of BDS supporters”, reported London’s Independent. 

Rachel Azaria, a member of the centrist Kulanu party that is part of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said Portman’s cancellation should serve as a “warning light” to Israel.

“She’s speaking for many in US Jewry, especially the young generation. Losing them might be too high a price,” Azaria tweeted. Portman’s decision also coincides the Israel marking 70 years of its existence.

Meanwhile, the Genesis Prize Foundation has said it will cancel its prize ceremony in June in the wake of her refusal to attend. The organisers said they feared that “Ms Portman’s decision will cause our philanthropic initiative to be politicised, something we have worked hard for the past five years to avoid.”

The chilling murder of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja and dozens others including children had evoked international condemnation for Israel.

Portman’s decision should serve as a lesson to Indian actors and prominent names from Bollywood including Amitabh Bachchan, Karan Johar, Madhur Bhandarkar, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Imtiaz Ali, who were awestruck by being in Netanyahu’s company. when the latter arrived in India few months ago. The photo of a mesmerised Bachchan clicking selfie with a man, widely accused of leading a terror factory in Israel, had gone viral.

Bachchan is being widely condemned for his silence on the brutal gang-rape and murder of an 8-year-old child in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua district. When asked to comment on the growing rape cases in recent months, Bachchan, who, ironically, is also the brand ambassador of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Beto Bachao campaign, had chided the reporter for asking such questions.

The actor, whose name surfaced in Panama Papers leak, faced huge social media roasting with many calling him spineless while others likened his silence to falling-off-the-pedestal moment for the Bollywood actor.

Statement by Genesis Prize organisers:

Natalie Portman will not travel to Israel in June to receive the Genesis Prize, dubbed by Time Magazine as “The Jewish Nobel.”  The Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF) was notified by a representative of Ms. Portman 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.”  

As a result of Ms. Portman’s decision, the Foundation had no choice but to cancel the Genesis Prize Ceremony, originally scheduled for June 28, 2018. 

In November, Ms. Portman was announced as the 2018 Genesis Prize Laureate and committed to “re-gift” the $1 million in prize money to philanthropic programs focused on advancing women’s equality in all aspects of human endeavor. In addition to honoring Ms. Portman, the ceremony in Jerusalem was intended to highlight the work of women’s rights NGOs working on women’s equality and empowerment issues. 

The Genesis Prize Foundation said: “Ms. Portman is a highly accomplished actress, 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 mission of the Genesis Prize is to create a space where we can cast politics aside and come together to appreciate Jewish accomplishments that continue to contribute so much to human civilization; to contemplate Jewish identity and values and what they mean in the 21st century; to strengthen the bond between the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora; and to celebrate pride in being Jewish, and – especially in this 70th anniversary year – in the State of Israel. We are disappointed that this year we will not be able to fulfill this mission in full.”

“We extend our apologies to everyone who has been affected by this decision, particularly to the hundreds of international guests who made plans to fly to Jerusalem to honor Ms. Portman and celebrate the contribution of Jewish women to humanity, the main theme of this year’s ceremony. The Genesis Prize Foundation remains committed to making grants to advance the cause of women’s equality.”

The Genesis Prize honors extraordinary individuals who serve as an inspiration to the next generation of Jews through their outstanding professional achievement and commitment to the Jewish people and Jewish values, such as social justice, tolerance and charity. Laureates of the Genesis Prize include Michael R. Bloomberg (2014), Michael Douglas (2015), Itzhak Perlman (2016), and Anish Kapoor (2017). In November 2017, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award.

Over the past four years, in honor of its Laureates, GPF and its partners have contributed over $10 million to important philanthropic initiatives, including a competition to encourage social entrepreneurship, matching grants programs to welcome intermarried families and those with disabilities into the Jewish community, and most recently, lend a helping hand to thousands of refugees. GPF remains committed to this most important work and is enthusiastic about launching this year’s “re-gifting” program to advance the cause of women’s equality. GPF plans to announce initial grants related to this theme this spring.




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