Ad accusing Israel of apartheid published in Los Angeles Times

A full-page ad that calls on Oscar nominees to refuse a free Israel trip worth $55,000 offered in their Academy Award swag bags was published in the Los Angeles Times.

The ad, which says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” appeared Wednesday in the newspaper’s Calendars section days after the entertainment magazine Variety refused to publish the ad, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Co-sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the ad has a top line reading “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians.”

The Israeli government is sponsoring the all-expenses paid, 10-day luxury travel pack with first-class air travel to Tel Aviv. The trip is included in swag bags for Oscar host Chris Rock and all nominees in the best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress and director categories.

Variety initially accepted payment for the group’s ad, but then said it could not publish the ad since “it would need to have a softer tone.” JVP said in a statement it had asked for suggestions of “specific edits,” but was told “The topic is too sensitive at this time and we will not be in a position to add it to next week’s edition.”

“We’re glad the LA Times is running our ad,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Censorship has no place in a serious publication, whether in ads or editorial content.”

Full-page ad in L.A. Times calls Israel apartheid state; Variety previously rejected it

On Wednesday morning, Feb. 24, The Los Angeles Times published a full-page ad sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation calling Israel an apartheid state and saying it distracts the public from human rights abuses; the same ad had been rejected by Variety.

The ad appears on page 8 of the Calendar section and implores Oscar nominees to “#SKIPTHETRIP,” referring to a luxury trip to Israel offered in a gift bag of various items from Explore Israel (a tourist agency) and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. The gift is being offered to 25 Oscar nominees in the acting and directing categories, plus Chris Rock, host of Sunday night’s Academy Awards presentation. According to The Daily Beast, the total value of the gifts in the bags is about $200,000, including the free 10-day VIP trip to Israel, which is believed to be worth about $55,000. The gift bag also offers one year’s worth of unlimited Audi car rentals from Silvercar, a 15-day walking tour of Japan, a lifetime supply of skin creams from Lizora, and a number of other luxury items. Distinctive Assets, an L.A.-based marketing firm, organized the gift bags.

[RELATED: Disputed territories – undisputed double standard]

The Times’ ad describes the free trip to Israel as “at the expense of Palestinians,” and calls on the celebrities receiving the gifts to not “endorse Israeli apartheid.”

“This year’s top Oscar nominees are getting a $55,000 trip to Israel, sponsored by the Israeli government,” the ad reads. “This is part of a larger ‘Brand Israel’ strategy to use celebrities to distract from almost 50 years of illegal occupation of Palestinian land and human rights abuses including separate laws for Palestinians.” 

Oscar nominees who have said they would not “visit Israel professionally,” according to Jewish Voice for Peace, include Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) and Asif Kapadia, whose documentary, “Amy,” is nominated for Best Documentary (Feature). Kapadia is not among those being offered the gift.

Both Jewish Voice for Peace and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation are left-wing groups that support the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which claims Israel is an “apartheid state” and aims to weaken Israel and isolate its economy from the rest of the world.

On Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace sent out a press release stating that the entertainment news magazine Variety had refused to publish the ad after initially accepting it. The release said that Variety’s Director of Strategic Partnerships told Jewish Voice for Peace that the ad’s “topic is too sensitive at this time” and that publisher Michelle Sobrino-Stearns had rejected it. Variety did not respond to requests for comment from The Jewish Journal.

Ari Wohlfeiler, Jewish Voice for Peace’s deputy director, said in an email that the price of running the ad was the standard rate for any ad in that section of the L.A. Times – about $10,000. Asked whether an image in the ad of what appears to be a trip voucher to Israel was an image of the actual voucher from the Oscar gift bag, Wohlfeiler said, “As far as we know.”

Wohlfeiler said that when Variety rejected the ad, it did not offer suggestions for edits that might make it acceptable. The L.A. Times also had some editorial requirements, he said, but was willing to run the ad once they were met. “They required we put a bar at the top explaining overly that this was an ad paid for by JVP and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and asked that we remove a link to a webpage describing Variety’s refusal to print the ad,” Wohlfeiler said.

Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for the L.A. Times, said the newspaper doesn’t discuss any specific ad buys, but that it “accepts advocacy and opinion-based advertising in its pages” and that this ad “was reviewed to ensure that it meets our standards and guidelines.”

Haim Saban, a film and television producer who's also a major supporter of Israel, connected the ad to the BDS movement, saying it follows a pattern of hate toward the Jewish state: “The BDS has made it clear that their purpose is to delegitimize Israel using whatever tactic they can. In this case, using the Oscars for a hate-filled message.”

Saban suggested that anyone viewing the ad “should regard it for what it is – an organization trying to spread anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned the L.A. Times for running the ad, but added he’s not surprised, noting that in 2006 the newspaper had published an op-ed by Khaled Mashal titled, “We shall never recognize…a Zionist state on our soil.” Mashal heads the political wing of Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel.

“For a leading newspaper that has already provided op-ed space to a senior person of Hamas, whose charter is to destroy the Jewish state, what’s the big deal about accepting an ad that’s a lie?” Cooper asked, rhetorically.

Cooper said groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation want to stop celebrities from visiting Israel because “Israel sells itself” to tourists.

“It’s an open society with plenty of warts and plenty of problems, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out pretty quickly that to call it an apartheid state is a lie,” Cooper said. “For the L.A. Times, after other publications in this town rejected it, for the L.A. Times to allow unencumbered Israel apartheid on a full-page ad is a massive victory for people who oppose peace.”

On Feb. 26, JVP, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Artists for Palestine UK and the Palestinian Performing Arts Network sent satirical invitations to representatives for the same 25 nominees “to visit Palestine and experience life through the eyes of Palestinians living under apartheid and military occupation,” according to a press release. Guests would receive an “occupied territories swagbag,” including “settler-inflicted beatings” and an “uprooted olive tree.”

In response to the ad in the L.A. Times, Creative Community for Peace, a Los Angeles-based entertainment industry organization dedicated to countering cultural boycotts of Israel, created the hashtag, #TAKETHETRIP, and the organization posted an altered version of the Times ad on its Facebook page that reads, “This Free Trip to Israel Can Advance Peace with the Palestinians.”

“We were aware JVP attempted to put an ad in Variety. We were aware of that and we’re following it closely,” Jill Hoyt, director at Creative Community for Peace, said in a phone interview. “I can’t say I knew they were planning an ad in the Los Angeles Times today, but once we saw it, we felt the need to respond as we did on social media, and obviously to share with you and other people we think it’s not helpful toward achieving peace and … to get to some kind of resolution.”

Actor Josh Malina, an active supporter of Israel, said it's important to call out hate speech, but to do it wisely: “The anti-Israel forces are certainly strong and vocal, and when they cross the line into hate speech and anti-Semitism, as they often do, they should be called on it,” Malina wrote in an email. “That said, I would urge people who consider themselves pro-Israel to consider that this doesn’t preclude them from being pro-Palestinian as well. We rail against BDS groups because they judge Israel with a striking double-standard, refusing to recognize and reckon with Palestinian violence and terrorism. Let us on the pro-Israel 'side' avoid making the same mistake. Palestinians are fellow human beings. As with all other countries, there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Israeli actions, and these should be part of the discussion. Ultimately, anyone who suggests that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is something other than a conflict between two parties, is guilty of misrepresenting the truth, and is not helping to create an environment where positive progress might be made.”

The gift bags have caused concern on other fronts, as well. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which oversees the Oscars and does not give out bags, filed a civil suit on Feb. 16 against Distinctive Assets, the marketer behind the gifts, accusing the company of trademark infringement, false advertising and trademark dilution, according to a complaint available on the United States District Court website.

The BDS movement applauded AMPAS’ decision to sue Distinctive Assets, even though the suit has nothing to do with Israel.

“The Academy’s decision to sue Distinctive Assets was based purely on its need to protect its intellectual property and clarify that it is not affiliated in any way with Distinctive Assets or its gift bags,” an AMPAS spokesperson said. “Politics played no role in the decision, and neither the destination of any of the trips involved in Distinctive Assets' gift packages, nor who was paying for them, was relevant to the Academy choosing to file suit.”


UPDATE (Monday, Feb. 29, 10:30am): This story was updated to reflect a satirical invitation sent by pro-BDS groups on Feb. 26.

Jewish Journal senior writer Danielle Berrin and Naomi Pfefferman, the Journal's arts & entertainment editor, contributed to this report.

Variety pulls pro-BDS ad accusing Israel of ‘apartheid’

The entertainment magazine Variety refused to publish an advertisement that says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid.”

Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, announced Monday that the magazine initially accepted payment for the group’s ad, but then said it could not publish the ad since “it would need to have a softer tone.”

The ad, which has a top line reading “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians,” calls on Oscar nominees to refuse a free Israel trip worth $55,000 offered in their “swag bags.”

JVP said in a statement it had asked for suggestions of “specific edits,” but was told “The topic is too sensitive at this time and we will not be in a position to add it to next week’s edition.”

JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson called the refusal “a clear and disturbing example of the constraints on public debate about Palestine and Israel. Variety’s refusal to print our ad — especially in the context of the pro-occupation ads they have published in the past — illustrates a clear bias. Messages that support Israel are acceptable, while those that assert the humanity of Palestinians are censored.”

JVP, which co-sponsored the ad together with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, was apparently referencing a December 2011 ad Variety published from the Emergency Committee to Protect Israel. The advertisement does not explicitly support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, but asks: “Why does the Obama administration treat Israel like a punching bag?”

Variety did not respond to a request from the Forward for comment.

The Israeli government is sponsoring the $55,000 all-expenses paid, 10-day luxury travel pack with first-class air to Tel Aviv that is included in swag bags for Oscar host Chris Rock and all nominees in the best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress and director categories.

Two Oscar nominees, Mark Rylance and Asif Kapadia, have pledged not to visit Israel professionally, according to JVP.

KCRW gives us ‘The Business’

In an underground office on the campus of Santa Monica College, Claude
Brodesser-Akner is working with his producer, Matt Holzman, and
associate producer, Darby Maloney, to describe the current status of
the Oscar broadcast — and work in a pun.

Finally, Brodesser-Akner says, with some satisfaction, “The Oscars are mired.”

Welcome to the world of “The Business,” a half-hour syndicated radio program
devoted to the nuts and bolts of the entertainment industry (pun
intended), hosted by Brodesser-Akner each week since June 2004.
Produced by KCRW-FM 89.9 in Santa Monica, the show is distributed
nationally to public radio stations.

On the show, Brodesser-Akner explores, surveys and comments on all
facets of the entertainment business, reaching out to executives,
producers and artists, as well as other journalists, that he might not
otherwise know, deepening his — and in the process, our —
understanding of what is occurring in Hollywood on a weekly basis.

Between drafts of the script for this week’s broadcast, which involves
a lot of cutting and arguments among Brodesser-Akner and his producers
about meaning, nuance, as well as the insertion and deletion of more
puns, Brodesser-Akner and I repair to a side office to hear his story.

Long before his 2006 marriage to Taffy Akner, the former West Coast
director of education for, and taking on a hyphenated
last name, Brodesser, 35, grew up in Centerport, Long Island, a good
Catholic boy. The son of German immigrants, he attended parochial
school at St. Phillip Neri in Northport and St. Anthony’s High School
in Huntington.

At the liberal-arts-oriented Skidmore College, he led a peer-to-peer
writing program that taught expository writing, and after graduation,
took on a gig teaching English in China as part of a sister school
program founded by a former Shakespeare professor.

Returning to New York — by his own account, he “washed ashore,
indigent,” Brodesser launched into a series of internships that, in
hindsight, each “presaged the imminent demise of editors.” Kurt
Andersen departed New York Magazine shortly after Brodesser arrived;
arts editor Karen Dubin exited The Village Voice the week he started;
and at the Charlie Rose public television program, the woman he was
supposed to report to never appeared, even on his first day.

Nonetheless, in 1996, Brodesser landed his first paying job at
Mediaweek magazine, covering TV broadcast stations at what turned out
to be an interesting time.

“It was just after the telecom bill was passed,” a period that saw a great agglomeration of local stations and outlets.

Brodesser’s next stop was at Variety’s New York edition, where in
keeping with his internship experience, the Broadway editor left
shortly after his arrival. Brodesser was given the beat, which he took
on, not as a fan of Broadway musicals, but as a reporter — “Just a guy
with a pad asking questions.” Broadway was a small community, and he
sought out The New York Times’ Frank Rich, who became a mentor and
advised him to be fearless.

Variety got aggressive, breaking daily stories.

“It was great fun,” Brodesser recalled.

In 1998, as the call of the Internet made a thousand ventures bloom,
including sites that hoped to transform entertainment industry
reporting (and make its reporters a fortune), such as and, Variety lost most of the members of its film

Brodesser moved to Los Angeles to cover film and found it different
than New York, where, as he recalled, he could attend a party at Tavern
on the Green and walk up to the dean of theater agents, George Lane,
and then wander over to playwright Edward Albee — with the
understanding that with a drink in one’s hand, all comments were off
the record.

At Brodesser’s first Hollywood premiere in 1999 for the Martin
Lawrence-Luke Wilson action-comedy, “Blue Streak,” he approached Drew
Barrymore, introduced himself, explained his “drink-in-hand” rule; and
they started to chat. He asked her about rumors he had heard concerning
the production of “Charlie’s Angels.” She answered and then wished him
well. Brodesser was delighted to have had a Hollywood moment.

Within minutes, several beefy bodyguards surrounded him.

“Your night is over,” they said. “You threatened Miss Barrymore.”
Despite protestations that he was a member of the press, they picked
him up and tossed him out — literally.

Gossip columnist Mitchell Fink wrote about it, and the incident got
some play. The next day, Peter Bart, editor of Variety, called
Brodesser into his office.

Brodesser feared that Bart was going to fire him. Instead, Bart was
tickled pink (and here Brodesser slipped into a British/patrician
accent): “That’s how you do it,” Brodesser recalled Bart telling him,
referring to the ruckus he caused. “….That’s the way we should do

And that pep talk informed his next seven years at Variety.

Still nothing could have prepared Brodesser for the call he received in
2003 from Akner, who was then director of education programs for
journalism site, She called to ask him to teach a
workshop. Little did either of them know this call would lead to love,
marriage and the baby carriage — not to mention circumcision,
conversion, separate dishes for meat and dairy and a hyphenated last

As he recounted to me recently, Brodesser was someone who thought he
might never get married or have children, but, as he put it, “I met my
wife and it was kapow!”

And so, as reported in a New York Times article about their wedding,
former Catholic school boy Brodesser, the son of a “father conscripted
at age 14 into the German army near the end of World War II,” and
former yeshiva student Akner, the granddaughter of “a survivor of the
concentration camp at Dachau” and whose concerned mother, Daniela
Shimona, prayed for her daughter at the grave of the late Lubbavitcher
Rebbe Schneerson, only to have a change of heart when she saw a video
about conversions at the nearby Lubbavitch center, were married in 2006.

Brodesser-Akner told me that the thought of raising a child with Akner
inspired him to convert. He studied first at the University of Judaism
(now American Jewish University), which he felt did a great job of
organizing 5,000 years of history and learning into a syllabus. But, he
says, “I wanted more.”

He wanted a conversion that would be accepted by the Orthodox, and his
journey led him to Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea, who
became his sponsoring rabbi, performed the marriage and to whose Modern
Orthodox congregation the family now belongs.

He says his wife jokes that “her punishment for dating a Catholic boy
is living an Orthodox life.” They are Sabbath observant, keep kosher
and Brodesser-Akner now sports a multicolored kippah.

He says that although being observant is not always easy, “it is worth
it.” As someone who used to work all the time, Brodesser-Akner is
grateful for the respite of Sabbath. But it is the feeling of community
— of belonging and caring — that he has experienced as part of B’nai
David-Judea that seems to have most deeply impressed him.

Brodesser-Akner explained that although he has lived in a great variety
of neighborhoods in Los Angeles and was a very social person, it was
only as part of his temple that he experienced a deeper level of
community, where each member is cared for. Brodesser-Akner spoke
movingly about the visitation schedule organized for a sick elderly
congregant and about the attention and care he and his wife received
recently in the weeks after their first child was born.

In this last year, Brodesser-Akner also joined Advertising Age as Los
Angeles bureau chief, reporting on the entertainment industry (he left
Variety in 2005 and worked for FishbowLA, a mediabistro blog, and wrote
for Los Angeles magazine, before being poached for the launch of in 2006, where he lasted a year).

He finds himself at Ad Age at a moment when the industry is in turmoil
and the worlds of advertising and entertainment are increasingly
converging. To what end, it is hard to say — but that gives him plenty
to report and comment upon.

For example, Brodesser-Akner views the Writers Guild strike as
“disastrous,” not because the writers’ cause is without merit, but
rather because they are so overmatched by the conglomerates that own
the studios and networks that he “doesn’t see this ending well.” He
notes the folly of an industry that claims it can’t afford to pay
writers, while remaining hostage to star salaries and profit

As for the Oscars, Brodesser-Akner reminded me that last year, fewer
than 11 percent of the audience had seen the nominated films. Evidence,
he feels, of the disconnect between mega-audience movies and films
winning honors.

On the taping of “The Business” that I watched being produced, which
aired Jan. 14, the discussion focused on a growing trend to loosen
copyright protection on music, as well as an acknowledgement that
independent films, such as “The Kite Runner,” might suffer at the box
office without award shows, such as “The Golden Globes,” for promotion
and publicity.

At the start of our conversation, Brodesser-Akner joked that he had
converted to Judaism for the heavy food and self-deprecating humor. But
let me take a more Jesuitical — I mean talmudic — approach: Perhaps
he did it for the questions. Because, the only thing we know for sure
about the entertainment business, based on the past, is that whatever
occurs, there will be plenty of questions.

So, beyond the strike and the Oscars remain the questions: Where is the
culture going? What will we watch, listen to or play? And on what will
we see and hear it? How will it be financed? What will pay for it:
hedge funds, product placement, advertising sponsors or Internet ads?

If these questions intrigue you, then the answer is simple. Tune in to Brodesser-Akner for “The Business.”

Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else,
he’s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times
Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every
other week.