Elton John’s Oscar Party, AIDS and Israel

Every year, Sir Elton John hosts an Oscar party/AIDS benefit that along with the Vanity Fair party and The Governors Ball is one of the most coveted tickets in town. The $3,500-per-plate price tag supports The Rocket Man in raising millions of dollars for AIDS research: In 2008, his gala raised $5 million and early figures from last night’s festivities are estimated at $4 million.

On the same day Sir Elton entertained a star-studded guest list of wealthy donors, the Harvard and Oxford educated economist, Dambisa Moyo told the NY Times philanthropic and government aid to Africa should stop. The Zambian native said that financial aid is more harmful than helpful—it inhibits entrepreneurship and creates unhealthy dependency on foreign nations.

What would she say to Elton John and other celebrities like Bono who make the continent of Africa their cause celebre?

I’ll make a general comment about this whole dependence on “celebrities.” I object to this situation as it is right now where they have inadvertently or manipulatively become the spokespeople for the African continent.

Jews would not agree with Moyo. While they typically do not support AIDS causes, the Jewish community is a huge advocate of distributing foreign aid because of Israel’s need.

Last summer, while working on a story about “Hollywood Heart,” an AIDS camp for affected youth created by MTV New Media veep David Gale, I asked why he had not tried to solicit funding from the Jewish community. “I wasn’t thinking this was a Jewish cause,” he replied. “Jews aren’t necessarily going to have a particular place in their heart for children affected by HIV/AIDS—not that they’re not compassionate, but their giving is usually specific to Israel or something the community is affected by, whereas HIV/AIDS hasn’t affected the Jewish community very much.”

For a community in which the concept of “Tzedakah” is so deeply inculcated, in which giving is equated with an act of justice, the idea of denying a people in need is unthinkable. But consider how Moyo’s no-aid prescription for an independent nation might affect Israel’s standing in the world: How might Israel be perceived if not as a Middle-Eastern appendage of the U.S.? If not the beloved prize of wealthy American Jews?