Photo Credit: Erik Vanden, siehe dort via Wikimedia
Natalie Portman

The silly endeavor known as The Genesis Prize, an annual $1 million award given to rich Jewish celebrities for, essentially, being rich Jewish celebrities — to donate to their own favorite charity, has finally hit its inherent snag when Jerusalem-born Hollywood celebrity Natalie (originally Neta-Lee) Portman announced on the occasion of Israel’s 70th birthday 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 reported by the Genesis Prize press center.

The $100 million Genesis Prize endowment was founded by Russian Jewish oligarchs who made their billions by belonging to President Vladimir Putin’s circle of special friends: Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven, German Khan, and Roman Abramovich. The prize was announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012, on the occasion of Putin’s brief, 24-hour visit to Israel. Its goal, Netanyahu announced at the time, was to honor those people who attribute their success to Jewish values, and it would be administered in partnership with the Israeli government, to highlight the strong ties between Israel and Russia.


The money has since been awarded to 3-term NYC Mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who was worth $49.7 billion, and the prize money pushed him over the $50 billion edge. Next it was awarded to actor Kirk Douglas’s non-Jewish kid Michael, who donated the money to organizations promoting the engagement of intermarried families in Jewish life.

When Portman was selected to receive her million dollars, Genesis announced that this time her prize money had been doubled, with a $1 million donation by Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn. So the stage was set for the lovely actress, known to billions of moviegoers for her role as Princess Amidala in George Lucas’ 2005 “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” to pull a Marlon Brando on the Genesis Prize and sink her pearly teeth in the hand that awards her.

Of course, had they vetted Portman, they would have discovered the rich Israeli ex-pat’s statement to Elle UK in 2010: “I’ve always tried to stay away from playing Jews.”

The Genesis Prize Foundation said in their statement that they 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.”

Would someone please file that one under “self delusion?”

Is there anything more political than the prime minister of Israel handing out awards to celebrities who are as far away from a traditional definition of Who Is an Inspirational Jew?

The only Genesis recipient so far who keeps kosher and observes Shabbat is violinist Itzhak Perlman. The rest are successful celebrities who happen to be Jews (maybe). It’s not a crime to give them more money, even money from Moscow, but to suggest the award is not political? Give me a break.

“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 foundation’s message concluded, in the tone of the parents of the bar mitzvah kid who dragged his crack-smoking buddies to shul. “The Genesis Prize Foundation remains committed to making grants to advance the cause of women’s equality.”

Portman will now likely become the darling of the Hollywood BDS movement, which has been doing a job on A-list celebrities to reject tour packages and other gifts from the Israeli Tourism Ministries – in February those good-will packages, worth a reported $55,000 each, have been rejected by 26 out of 26 A-listers.

One pro-BDS website has already celebrated Portman’s slap in the face of Genesis, stating it was “surely a reference to Israel’s killing of nearly 40 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, which have shocked Jews around the world.”

Here’s an idea: let the Genesis Prize award a million dollars each year to a community in Israel’s periphery that would pitch the best use for the money at home. Take all the kids in town to the Kinneret or attract 10 startups with $100,000 each – every idea would be considered.

Just stop giving millions of dollars to the one group that doesn’t need them: rich American Jews.


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