American Jews need to stop smiling for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel. In the recent blowup concerning Natalie Portman and the so-called Genesis Prize, it comes down to multi-million dollar funds with iffy political rightwing connections to rebrand Israel and the Jewish public sphere by exploiting high profile Jewish celebrities and other bigwigs. Here’s an illuminating Twitter thread by Allison K. Sommer explaining the history, politics, and function of the so-called Genesis Prize.
Allison K. Sommer @AllisonKSommer
1/ Some people have never heard of the Genesis Prize, which Natalie Portman declined to receive and so don’t understand how it is linked to Netanyahu. It was created in 2012 with a $52 million endowment by the trio of Russian oligarchs that control Alfa Bank.
9:03 AM – 22 Apr 2018
2/ Its creation was announced BY NETANYAHU HIMSELF during a visit by President Vladmir Putin to Israel. Not a cooincidence. The trio are tight with Putin, so much so that they were namechecked in the infamous Steele Dossier, claiming they have paid off Putin in the past
3/ and were somehow involved in Russian interference in the 2016 election. (They have filed libel suits against Fusion GPS and Buzzfeed for making and publicizing these claims.)
4/ The director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office is on the Genesis Prize selection committee which is headed by Natan Sharansky and the prize committee is headed by Yuli Edelstein, both Netanyahu political allies.
5/ It is a weird prize, somehow supposed to “inspire” young Jews by showing them that so many cool, rich and successful people are Jewish. I was at the first bizarro gala prize ceremony in Jerusalem because Jay Leno was the host
6/ Felt like these Russians were saying “if religion doesn’t inspire young people to be Jewish, and Israel and Zionism doesn’t work on them anymore, maybe reminding them that this indefineable “Jewish spark” leads to fame and fortune will convince them.”
7/ Originally, by the way, they were going to just hand a million dollars to the winner. But there was a backlash when the first winner was Michael Bloomberg and it was so absurd to hand a million bucks to a billionaire
8/ Bloomberg said he’d donate the prize money and basically transformed it into a format where the winner gives the money to charity — all the subsequent winners did the same.
9/Besides showing the world what fabulous rich and famous people are Jews, the prize is also designed to bring celebs to Jerusalem and highlight Netanyahu. He attended all three of the ceremonies, sat next to the winners (Michael Bloomberg, Michael Douglas and Itzhak Perlman)
10/ They all had pictures taken with all of them. It’s clearly part of the deal of winning the prize. No willingness to come to Jerusalem and receive it from Bibi – no prize.
11/ This was not the first cancelled ceremony. Last year the prize was supposed to go to artist Anish Kapoor. It was cancelled by Kapoor a month before it was scheduled to happen because, he said “it wasn’t appropriate” to have a ceremony with so much bloodshed happening in Syria
12/ So here’s what I think vis a vis Natalie. On one hand, she is being unfairly painted as an Israel-hating BDS-loving friend of Hamas by idiots in Israel and abroad. Come on … this is the girl who helped Alan Dershowitz research “The Case For Israel” as a Harvard student
13/ She filmed her first movie as a director in Israel. In Hebrew. She made a silly video about her mastery of Hebrew slang. She was born in Jerusalem and self-identifies as a proud Israeli. She’s no Israel-hater.
14/ She is, however, a Bibi-hater. Her cancellation, as she stated, is all about the unavoidable photos with Netanyahu and visually giving him her stamp of approval. Clearly, she isn’t comfortable getting the prize from him and visually endorsing him by smiling for the cameras
15/ But here’s the thing – none of this is new. The nature of the prize and its Bibi-linkage isn’t a secret. Neither is Natalie Portman’s distaste for Netanyahu – she’s been outspoken about her feelings regarding him and his policies for years already.
16/So yes, we’ve got Gaza going on and the African deportation crisis and both are awful, but really, there’s always something here happening under the Netanyahu government that she isn’t going to like and she could have and should have anticipated.
17/Natalie Portman is a smart person and she should have done her homework about the prize, its ties, origins, and conditions and understood that a bear hug from Netanyahu is part of the deal.
18/ If she had strong negative feelings about Netanyahu from the outset, she really shouldn’t have agreed to accept the prize in the first place. (END)
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