By boycotting a major Israeli event, Hollywood star Natalie Portman, normally a staunch supporter of Israel, has shown she is willing – and has the right – to take a very public vocal stand against the Israeli government.

Portman was scheduled to travel to Jerusalem to receive the Genesis Prize, a prominent award to individuals dedicated to the Jewish community. Last week, she abruptly canceled her visit, writing that she “did not want to appear as endorsing [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu”.

Portman declined to say why Netanyahu had angered her. It could be connected to the international criticism of Israel for its military response to Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border during the last few weeks, in which 35 Palestinians have been killed. Or Netanyahu’s recent reversal of a controversial deal with the UN aimed at avoiding the forced deportations of thousands of African migrants, leaving the refugees in limbo. The premier is also the subject of a series of corruption investigations. A statement issued by Portman on Israel being a haven for refugees seemed to imply that African migrants was the issue that had so upset her.

Whatever her reservations, why Portman rebuffed Netanyahu and, by extension, the Israeli government, is moot. She is warning Israel that its policies, whether on the Palestinians or African migrants, are putting it increasingly at odds with its most natural friends abroad. Portman is not simply an outspoken advocate of Israel. She is an Academy Award-winning actress who is an Israeli citizen, was born in Jerusalem, speaks fluent Hebrew, and as an undergraduate at Harvard, worked on a prominent book defending Israel against its critics. Portman, 36, is one of the most prominent members of the younger generation of American Jews and her stand points to a growing divide between them and Israel. A growing number of American Jews look at Israel and see a country that is occupying Palestinian territory and breaking up peaceful Palestinian protests using deadly force.

Criticism of Portman following her cancellation was swift and torrid. An MP has called for Portman’s Israeli citizenship to be stripped. One minister said her decision “has elements of anti-Semitism” and Netanyahu’s Likud Party slammed her as being a “hypocrite”.

Prominent Israeli politicians worry that Portman’s stand portends future trouble between Israel and its most important international ally. The Israeli government’s hysterical response to Portman is testament to that fear. This is why these politicians, notably rightwing, have called for her citizenship to be stripped or tried to paint her as being anti-Semitic. The Israeli establishment is afraid of losing the affections of Portman and those like her.

Until April 20, Portman was considered the pride of Israelis and Jews worldwide. The speed and ease with which someone like her suddenly became an enemy of the state shows how defensive Israel is and how it is willing to drop one of its heroes should they deviate from the script.

While Israelis can dislike or express reservations about Portman’s act of protest, they should acknowledge that she has a right to be critical of her country. But because of their ingrained sense of victimhood, Israelis are incapable of handling legitimate criticism, which is why, all at once, Portman went from being Israel’s darling to a controversial figure at best, and at worst, public enemy No 1.

Netanyahu’s government is one of the most extreme in Israeli history when it comes to the Palestinians. Israel is a country that uses its army to occupy another people, and its steady land grab only strengthens its commitment to annexationist policies in the years to come. The situation is getting harder and harder to justify to the international community. That is exactly what Portman was trying to say.