Want a free Israel trip? Just get Oscar nominated
Someone over at the Israeli hasbara PR hub thought it would be a great idea to provide directors and actors shortlisted for this year's Oscars with a "swag bag". Nothing too unusual, you may think. From shoes to skirts, belts to booze, celebs - and occasionally even humble journalists - get given all sorts of free stuff. So what's in the Oscars swag bag? Is it a brand new iPad mini? Is it a self-branded USB stick with a matching pen? Is it a notepad and a calendar with images of care-free Israelis on the beaches of Tel Aviv? Lo (that's Hebrew for no). Israel is offering vouchers - reportedly worth $55,000 each - to be used to visit the state this year. The ten-day trip, allegedly worth double the average Israeli salary (doesn't matter how much Palestinians get, stay on topic), includes first-class tickets for two, as well as five-star accommodation (which one supposes will not have Gaza-side views). Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said targeting Hollywood A-listers was intentional: "These are the most senior people in the film industry in Hollywood and leading opinion-formers who we are interested in hosting. Their visit will have enormous resonance among millions of fans and followers, including social media." Aaron Klein, Jerusalem correspondent of right-wing website Breitbart, wrote: "Despite attempts by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to target Israel, especially in the entertainment world, the Academy Awards seems to be taking a stand in solidarity with the Jewish state." That's great, but this year's Oscars have already been hit with controversy when Hollywood celebrities began boycotting the awards ceremony due to a lack of black nominees. The movement is being led by Jada Pinkett Smith who master-minded the drive to boycott the ceremony in a video published online. "Maybe it's time that we recognise that if we love and respect and acknowledge ourselves in the way in which we are asking others to do, that that is the place of true power. "Begging for acknowledgment, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power - and we are a dignified people, and we are powerful. Let's not forget it." And when racism and prejudice are in the spotlight, it might seem only natural for Israel to take to the stage.