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Oscar-nominated celebrities were urged to skip a $55,000 (£39,500) trip to Israel offered as part of an awards gift bag. Two US- based groups campaigning for an end to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories made the plea in a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times that appeared five days before the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday (28 February).
"#SkipTheTrip. Don't endorse Israeli apartheid," said the ad, sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace. The ad said the trip, which is partially paid for by the Israeli government, was part of a larger Brand Israel strategy aimed at distracting from the 50 years of occupation of Palestinian land.
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, said: "There is a serious objection to accepting such a trip – in fact they are playing a very significant role for the Israeli government. They are really trying to sell a fairy tale to the people."
The trip is one of the most expensive items in a swag bag handed out to the 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 gift bag is not affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises the Oscars. The Academy has filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles-based Distinctive Assets, accusing the gifting group of promoting the bag as official Oscars swag. Still, the groups believe that Hollywood needs to understand the importance of their actions.
"So this is coming at a moment when there is a real question about the role of the motion picture industry is when it comes to social responsibility," said Munayer. "We think it's important at this time that they think about the issue of Palestine as well and not take the bait and not take the trip to act as apartheid lackeys in this casting call by the Israeli government."
The Israeli government earlier in February confirmed it was funding $15,000-18,000 of each 10-day trips as a means of offsetting news coverage of the country's troubles. It was not immediately known whether any of the Oscar-nominated directors, actors and actresses will take up the offer, which must be declared to US tax authorities.
Creed supporting actor Stallone signed a pro-Israel petition during the 2104 Gaza war, while Bridge of Spies nominee Rylance has signed a petition circulated by Artists for Palestine UK which calls for a cultural boycott of Israel.