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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Natalie Portman forces cancellation of award ceremony in Israel

Actress cites 'distressing' recent events in deciding not to attend Genesis Prize presentation in June

Actress Natalie Portman speaks at a women's march against sexual violence and the policies of the Trump administration on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles. Jae C Hong / AP Photo
Actress Natalie Portman speaks at a women's march against sexual violence and the policies of the Trump administration on January 20, 2018 in Los Angeles. Jae C Hong / AP Photo

Hollywood star Natalie Portman has refused to travel to Israel to receive the 2018 Genesis Prize, known as the "Jewish Nobel", forcing the cancellation of the presentation ceremony this year.

The Genesis Prize Foundation said it had been informed by Portman's representative 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 did not say which events had influenced Portman's decision, but Israel most recently drew international condemnation for the deaths of more than 30 Palestinians when Israeli forces used live ammunition along with tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters on the Gaza-Israel border.

Portman, who was born in Jerusalem and has dual Israeli-American citizenship, was announced as the winner of the award in November. It comes with a $1 million (Dh3.67m) prize that the recipient can donate to a cause of their choice. Portman said she would give the money to programmes furthering women's equality, according to the foundation.

It was not clear whether she would still be eligible for the prize money, which had been doubled by a donation from the Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn.

Portman has spoken in the past about Israeli politics but made clear she had no intentions of criticising the country. In 2015, she told The Hollywood Reporter she was “very, very upset and disappointed” by the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The foundation apologised for the cancellation of the ceremony that was to be held in June, "particularly to the hundreds of international guests who made plans to fly to Jerusalem to honour Ms Portman and celebrate the contribution of Jewish women to humanity, the main theme of this year’s ceremony".

The Genesis Prize "honours individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel", according to the foundation's website.

It has previously been awarded to the billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, the actor Michael Douglas (2015), violinist Itzhak Perlman (2016), and the artist Anish Kapoor (2017).

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