Israel tries to bolster its image via Oscars 'swag bag'

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 08, 2016 8:46 AM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Top Academy Award nominees will have a politically charged gift in their swag bag this year - a luxury trip to Israel paid for in part by a government that hopes such celebrity junkets will offset news coverage of the country's troubles.

The $55,000 trips are on offer to actors and directors vying for Oscars in the Feb. 28 ceremony, according to Israel's tourism ministry. It has long sought ways to overcome any misgivings foreign visitors might have about the security situation given the simmering conflict with the Palestinians.

"These are the most senior people in the film industry in Hollywood and leading opinion-formers who we are interested in hosting," said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. "They will experience the country first-hand and not through the media."

Among the recipients of the 10-day VIP trip-for-two will be actors Sylvester Stallone, who signed a pro-Israel petition during the 2014 Gaza war, and Leonardo diCaprio, who sent Israeli paparazzi into a frenzy in 2010 while visiting the country's top model, Bar Refaeli, his girlfriend at the time.

DiCaprio is among the nominees for best actor this year.

One of Stallone's rivals for the best supporting actor Oscar, Mark Rylance, is a pro-Palestinian activist in Britain who might be less inclined to take up the offer.

If all 25 artists nominated in the five acting and directing categories accept the swag, it could cost up to $1.4 million.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)