TEL AVIV – Oscar-nominated celebrities were pressured by anti-Israel extremists on Wednesday to forego a $55,000 trip to the Jewish state offered by Israel’s Foreign Ministry as part of the awards swag bag.
The Los Angeles Times published a full-page ad sponsored by pro-Palestinian groups urging the nominees to “#SkipTheTrip. Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid.”
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace claimed that the trip is part of a larger “‘Brand Israel’ strategy to distract from almost 50 years of illegal occupation of Palestinian land.” Both groups formally endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel.
“As was the case many years ago in South Africa, celebrities are being asked to refrain from whitewashing apartheid policies,” Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, said in a statement.
Breitbart reported that the trip is the most expensive item in the awards bag, which also includes a sex toy, a non-surgical breast enhancement, and a year’s worth of car rentals from Audi.
The trip was offered to five Oscar-nominated directors and 20 lead and supporting actor and actress nominees, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Damon, and Kate Winslet.
The total sum amounts to $1.5 million if all recipients were to cash in their vouchers and make the trip.
The Israeli government confirmed it was funding $15,000-$18,000 of each 10-day trip.
“These are the most senior people in the film industry in Hollywood and leading opinion-formers who we are interested in hosting,” said Israel’s Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “They will experience the country firsthand and not through the media.”
Reuters reported that Creed supporting actor Stallone signed a pro-Israel petition during the 2014 Gaza war. Meanwhile, Bridge of Spies nominee Rylance signed a petition by Artists for Palestine UK which calls for a cultural boycott of Israel.
A reporter for Haaretz newspaper published an open letter Tuesday in favor of the trip, counseling nominees to listen to people’s objections but go anyway.
“Israel and the exceptional people who live there are nothing like you think they are. Whatever you think they are,” writes Bradley Burston.
Originally from the US, Burston admits that during his first trip to Israel he found out that “absolutely nothing I had read about the place, seen on the news, or been told, was anywhere near what it’s really like here.”
He adds that the nominees’ presence in Israel can alleviate some of the country’s turmoil.
“You can be a force for making this a better place. You can help heal the deep wounds from which everyone who lives here suffers.”
Burston ends by suggesting a sample itinerary which includes meetings with leftwing organizations such as the New Israel Fund and Peace Now.