Palestinians are calling on Oscar nominees to reject a travel voucher supplied by the Israeli government as part of the gift bag they will be given during the Academy Awards.
The Israeli tourism ministry said it was behind the vouchers which are good for a “10-day VIP trip to Israel for two.”
Tourism minister Yariv Levin made clear that the goal of the stunt is to improve Israel’s image by capitalizing on the fame of Hollywood stars.
Israel hopes that stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Kate Winslet will be “touring in Tel Aviv or walking through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem” – a part of the occupied West Bank.
“If they do indeed accept the invitation, their visit will have enormous resonance among millions of fans and followers,” Levin said.
Palestinian rights campaigners have reacted sharply.
“There are no Hunger Games in Gaza but there is real hunger, and it is induced by years of Israeli occupation and siege,” said Omar Barghouti, of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), referring to the film series starring Jennifer Lawrence, one of the actors named in the Israeli government’s publicity effort.
“We hope Oscar nominees will take the moral path of rejecting this free propaganda gift from Capitol while its brutal troops and settlers burn and colonize our District 12,” Barghouti added, making an analogy between Israel’s violence against Palestinians and the Hunger Games plot.
The BNC contrasted the fictional Hunger Games with the dystopian reality imposed by Israel: “In 2012, it was revealed that Israel used a ‘calorie count’ to severely limit food supply to the 1.8 million Palestinians under siege in Gaza.”
The BNC is the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations and leads the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Just as Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese founded Filmmakers United Against Apartheid to protest the racist regime in South Africa in the 1980s,” Barghouti said, “Palestinian artists and civil society expect Hollywood figures to act with conscience by refusing to lend their name to Israel’s desperate attempts to cover up its war crimes and racism against the Palestinian people.”
The Academy Awards’ decision to let Israel use the Oscars for its own propaganda comes amid controversy over the lack of racial diversity among nominees, a debate that lit up on social media with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
“The Academy’s association with Israel further tarnishes its image regarding racism and evokes memories of Hollywood’s past collaboration with criminal regimes,” Barghouti added.
The Israel trip has been valued at $55,000 and is just one of the items to be lavished on nominees in the acting and directing categories, in a gift bag worth more than $200,000.
Among the other gifts sponsored by various companies and organizations are a breast lift, a sex toy and a $45,000 walking tour of Japan.
Also included are unlimited rentals of Audi cars, the brand owned by Volkswagen, the tarnished German automaker that, like Israel, is in desperate need of an image boost following revelations of massive cheating on emissions tests. (The gift is being offered by a premium car rental company partly owned by Audi.)
Israel’s effort to use the Oscars to promote its image and attract visitors comes amid a depression in its tourism industry.
The sharp fall in tourist numbers, especially from Europe, continued through 2015 and into the new year.
The number of foreign tourists in Israel dropped another 1.6 percent in January compared to the same month in 2015.
Hotel bookings in December were down 28 percent from the same month in 2013.
It’s going to take more than a few Hollywood stars to turn Israel’s blood-soaked image around.