Since 2014, when it was created, Israel's Genesis Prize has been awarded to those "who inspire others through their dedication to the Jewish community and Jewish values". These, to say the least, are loose, baggy and hugely debatable criteria. As per the NY Times (4/21/18), previous award winners include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sculptor Anish Kapoor, violinist Itzhak Perlman and Hollywood actor Michael Douglas.
Let me say that I am a particular fan of Anish Kapoor's work, which touches on polarities not usually explored by artists — the simple and basic one between inside and outside, for example, or, more grandiloquently, fullness and absence, presence and void. But much as I am enchanted by his work, it would take at least a tractate of the Talmud plus admonitions by Martin Buber to instruct me about its inherent "Jewish values" or its function for the "Jewish community."
Putting such questions aside for now, Natalie Portman has occasioned a furor by refusing to travel to Israel to accept a Genesis Prize, and the $2 million that comes with.
On one side of the furor, ministers in Netanyahu's government have accused her of being a dupe for rejectionist Palestinian types out to defame and isolate Israel. (Do these ministers think Hamas has offered Portman more money than the Genesis Award?) On the other side of the furor there are those on the left who condemn Portman for even thinking about going to Israel, since, let's be honest, if you're a certain kind of loyal lefty, Zionism is still racism, right? Leninist gobbledygook still applies, doesn't it? You mean, it don't!?
In the midst of this nasty but not unpredictable shit storm, Portman has opted to speak not through agents or representatives but for herself, as she does, very ably.
As per the Times:
"Let me speak for myself. . . I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony."
Portman said she did not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
"Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation," she said.
I love the way she put this:
"Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation."
I completely sympathize with her refusal to accept the Genesis Prize, but also feel bad about it, since, if there are "Jewish values" this prize recognizes and rewards, she speaks for them.