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Forward 50 2018

Natalie Portman

Divisive Conversation Starter

When Natalie Portman, 37, belatedly declined to come to Israel for the Genesis Prize ceremony, she set off a furor. Citing the “mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities,” she said she could not travel to accept the prize. She set herself up as an embodiment of principles that were at odds with the government of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as she stated that “Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”

Generally speaking there were three responses to her action.

Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz said, “Natalie Portman has played into the hands of the worst of our haters and of the worst of the anti-Semites in the Middle East.” In this, he was a vehement spokesman for a group of Israelis and Americans who thought her actions were a grave error and a betrayal of her Israeli roots.

Michael Koplow argued that Portman was totally right to do what she did and that she represented a significant majority of young American Jews in her action. He agreed with her that the current government of Israel is morally suspect and her stance was the only principled position to take.

And Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner argued that even if Portman did believe she was taking a stance, her actions were not even close to being the most effective way of furthering her position. Instead she should have followed the example of Elie Wiesel and “spoken truth to power.”

Whichever of the positions you agree with, there were few April discussions of Israel in America that did not start from an engagement with her stance. For better or worse, Portman monopolized the American Jewish conversation for a month.

— Dan Friedman

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