JERUSALEM -- Goodie bags filled with a fortune in freebies are “gifted” to Hollywood stars as part of the annual orgy of award shows.
This year there’s the personalized M&Ms, a "vampire breast lift," Audi leases, personal trainers and three nights at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo near George Clooney's place at Lake Como.
The new wrinkle is that Israel has decided to play the celebrity product placement game. The Israeli Tourism Ministry and a Brooklyn-based travel company run by ultra-Orthodox Jews called ExploreIsrael.com are offering a $55,000 all-expenses paid, 10-day luxury travel pack with first-class air to Tel Aviv -- "plus all the falafel you can eat."
The trips are part of an effort to sell Israel as a travel destination and not a conflict zone. The offer is being extended only to the nominees in best actor/actress, best supporting and director categories, alongside presenter Chris Rock, so that’s 26 people, plus their companions.
Producers, script writers, makeup and special effect gurus are not on the guest list.
The ministry is very hopeful: “Among the nominees who could be touring in Tel Aviv or walking through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem -- Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jennifer Lawrence, Sylvester Stallone, Christian Bale and Kate Winslet.”
Israeli officials say they would be really happy (amazed?) if two or three stars took them up on the offer.
Because it's not like Leo can’t afford his own airplane.
Nor might the stars want to be used to boost Israel (or any destination) for the price of a couple of round trip tickets even first class on El Al out of Newark.
Getting celebrities to come to Israel is part of state-funded campaign to promote the Jewish state and to fend off the international movement known as “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” or BDS, which called on the Oscar noms to reject Israel’s “propaganda trip.”
Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, claimed, “Israel is desperately trying to fight its increasing isolation through bribes and intimidation rather than ending its occupation and apartheid.”
Israel has maintained its military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, for almost 50 years and continues to isolate the Gaza Strip with a tough restrictions on travel and trade, in part because the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave and is considered a terror organization, keeps firing rockets at Israeli civilian centers.
BDS activist make similar appeals to music acts, and though they’ve had some success in the boycotts, entertainers such as Elton John, Jennifer Lopez and Julio Iglesias have scheduled concerts this summer in Tel Aviv.
Israel has an active “hosting program,” which has paid to bring 3000 “opinion-formers” in sports, religion, and entertainment to the country. Big “gets” hosted by the state in past years include Paula Abdul, Martha Stewart and cast of the CSI television shows.
These guests are great publicity for Israel. Abdul pronounced her paid visit "the most magnificent trip I've ever taken.”
Yariv Levin, Israel’s tourism minister, said he wanted to host the Hollywood elites “so they will experience the country first hand and not through the media.”
Levin has been in hot water with American Jewish leaders after he disparaged Chelsea Clinton’s marriage to a Reform Jew and said that members of the Jewish Reform movement (the most popular in the United States) are part of “a waning world” because of their assimilation.