Natalie Portman pulls out of prestigious awards ceremony in Israel

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman has pulled out of a prestigious Jerusalem awards ceremony, citing “distress” at recent events in Israel and saying through a representative that she is uncomfortable with travel to Israel at this time.

Portman, a dual Israeli-American citizen, was born in Jerusalem and is beloved by the Israeli public. She was due this June to accept the 2018 Genesis Prize, an annual award given to a Jewish person who has achieved career excellence and international recognition. The prize, which has previously been awarded to actor Michael Douglas and violinist Itzhak Perlman, comes with $2 million this year and is presented at a flashy Jerusalem ceremony attended by dignitaries and local celebrities. Past emcees include Bar Refaeli and Jay Leno.

But the Genesis Prize announced Thursday that it was canceling this year’s ceremony following Portman’s decision to withdraw. Organizers said they had been notified by the actress’s representatives that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel.”

The announcement came on the same day that Israel celebrated its 70th year of statehood, and amid continued protests at the Israel-Gaza border, in which Israeli soldiers have used live ammunition against Palestinian protesters, killing dozens and wounding hundreds more.

On Friday, Israel’s far-right culture minister, Miri Regev, took to Twitter to criticize Portman’s decision, writing that the actress had “fallen like ripe fruit into the hands” of anti-Israeli activists and suggesting that her Israeli citizenship should be revoked.

Portman has deep connections to Israel In addition to being born in Jerusalem, she visits Tel Aviv often and chose not only to shoot her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” in Jerusalem, but to do so in Hebrew. She is also openly left-wing and has publicly criticized the current Israeli government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for its policies against Arabs and other minorities. She participated in an online campaign to support regime change during the 2015 Israeli election and said she was dismayed at Netanyahu’s re-election.

The Genesis Prize was established by a cadre of wealthy Russian-Jewish businessmen and is a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel as well as the office of the Israeli prime minister. Netanyahu routinely attends and speaks at the award ceremony. In December, the $1 million prize was doubled by Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn, meaning that Portman would have received $2 million, money she said she would donate in full to programs focused on female empowerment and equality.

The Genesis Prize Foundation has yet to indicate whether Portman will still receive the prize money despite pulling out of the ceremony.

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WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Actress Natalie Portman arrives for the premiere of Paramount Pictures' 'Annihilation' held at Regency Village Theatre on February 13, 2018 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Actress Natalie Portman attends the Los Angeles premiere of 'Annihilation' at Regency Village Theatre on February 13, 2018 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 05: Natalie Portman speaks onstage during The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for MAKERS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 05: Natalie Portman attends The 2018 MAKERS Conference at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1738 'Natalie Portman' -- Pictured: (l-) Mikey Day, Natalie Portman during 'Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards' sketch in Studio 8H on Saturday, February 3, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1738 'Natalie Portman' -- Pictured: Natalie Portman during the opening monologue in Studio 8H on Saturday, February 3, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 20: Actress Natalie Portman attends the women's march Los Angeles on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: America Ferrera and Natalie Portman attend the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 07: (L-R) Singer Mariah Carey, actors America Ferrera, Natalie Portman and Emma Stone, and former tennis player Billie Jean King attend The 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Actor Natalie Portman (R) and journalist Jada Yuan speak onstage during Vulture Festival LA presented by AT&T at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on November 19, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 10: Natalie Portman speaks onstage during the 31st Annual American Cinematheque Awards Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 10, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07: Actors Natalie Portman (L) and Rashida Jones arrive at the L.A. Dance Project's Annual Gala at L.A. Dance Project on October 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
SANTA MONICA, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Actress Natalie Portman arrives at the 27th Annual EMA Awards at Barker Hangar on September 23, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
TELLURIDE, CO - SEPTEMBER 02: Natalie Portman and Angelina Jolie attend the Telluride Film Festival 2017 on September 2, 2017 in Telluride, Colorado. (Photo by Paul Best/Getty Images)
TELLURIDE, CO - SEPTEMBER 04: Natalie Portman attends the Telluride Film Festival 2017 on September 2, 2017 in Telluride, Colorado. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 20: Natalie Portman attends the 'Planetarium' Japan Premiere at Shinjuku Wald9 on July 20, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jun Sato/WireImage)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 19: Natalie Portman attends the Dior For Love photocall at Warehouse Terrada on July 19, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Jun Sato/WireImage)
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03: Actress Natalie Portman attends the Christian Dior Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2017-2018 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on July 3, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage)
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