A Tourism Ministry public relations gimmick to bring Hollywood stars to Israel has bombed, with not a single one of the 26 Oscar nominees awarded free trips to Israel last year actually making the trip. Now, the BDS movement is taking credit for the failure.
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The tour packages, worth tens of thousands of dollars apiece, were given to 26 nominees in the highest-profile Oscar categories, including actors Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Sylvester Stallone and Kate Winslet.
Last February, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement put out an official statement urging recipients not to use the tour packages, charging that by coming to Israel, they would be helping the Israeli government whitewash what BDS terms the crimes of the occupation.
On Wednesday, Yousef Munayyer, an activist with the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights who promotes the cultural boycott of Israel, said his movement’s efforts had proved effective.
“This is a success,” Munayyer told AFP. “I am very glad there’s no evidence that people went. I think it is clear the objective of using the actors to whitewash Israel has failed.”
When the packages were announced last year, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin waxed enthusiastic. “We’ll be delighted to bring senior members of Hollywood’s movie industry, together with [other] public opinion leaders, to Israel, so they can experience Israel firsthand instead of via the media,” he said. “If they indeed accept the invitation, their visits will create significant buzz among their fans and their followers on social media.”
Lone benefactor: Jennifer Lawrence's mother
But none of the stars came, and only one made any use of the package at all: Jennifer Lawrence gave it to her mother.
A Tourism Ministry effort to bring NFL football stars to Israel also suffered a setback when two of those invited, Michael Bennett and Kenny Stills, announced that BDS activists had convinced them not to come.
Ironically, however, several famous entertainers who didn’t receive paid trips did visit Israel last year. Actress and director Amy Poehler came to discuss developing a television series based on the movie “Zero Motivation,” a soloist from the band Coldplay came to look into having his band perform here, and actor Will Smith came on a personal visit.
The Tourism Ministry said yesterday that even though the Oscar packages weren’t used, “the campaign, to our delight, achieved its goal, and Israel received positive press during the [Oscar] competition from many media outlets, at no cost. As a result, we have seen a significant upswing in tourism to Israel in recent months, and January saw a 27 percent rise in the number of tourists.”
The gift bag, valued at $55,000, also included is a walking tour of Japan, a year's worth of unlimited Audi rentals, private fitness sessions and a bizarre item described as a Vampire Breast Lift.