For better or for worse, Natalie Portman got thousands of Israeli and American Jews all riled up earlier this year. The famous actress, who was born in Jerusalem, fired up a controversy in April when she reversed course on her decision to publicly accept the $1 million Genesis Prize.
Portman was slated to receive the prize – awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation in conjunction with the Israeli government – in a ceremony in Jerusalem in June. But the actress pulled out of the event, saying she “did not want to appear as endorsing [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu.” Portman added, “Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation.”
The decision reverberated across the media, and polarized much of the American Jewish community.
Despite Portman’s deep ties to Israel – she spent a semester studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – many viewed her decision as a betrayal of the Jewish state. Others saw her stance as brave, and as a nuanced, unapologetic view from a defender of the state.
Portman is a Hollywood mainstay who got her first big break playing Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars franchise. She went on to roles in Garden State, V for Vendetta and The Other Boleyn Girl, and won the best actress Oscar in 2010 for Black Swan.
In 2015, Portman made her directorial debut with A Tale of Love and Darkness, an adaptation of Amos Oz’s novel which was filmed in Jerusalem. The actress is married to dancer Benjamin Millepied, with whom she has two children, Aleph and Amalia.
“I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema, and dance,” Portman wrote after her controversial decision. “Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”