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For Immediate Release: February 22nd, 2016

Variety Censors Ad Supporting Palestinian Human Rights

Naomi Dann: naomi@jewishvoiceforpeace.org
Ramah Kudaimi: membership@endtheoccupation.org

Ad Calls on Oscar Nominees to “Skip the Trip” to Israel Offered in Swag Bags

After initially accepting payment from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) for an ad placement in its Oscar issue, Variety informed the organization that it was unable to publish the advertisement because “it would need to have a softer tone.”

After inquiring about specific edits that could be made, Variety’s Director of Strategic Partnerships Patrice Atiee elaborated that: “The topic is too sensitive at this time and we will not be in a position to add it to next week's edition.” According to Atiee, the ad was run by the senior team at the company (legal, operations, editorial) and the decision was made by publisher Michelle Sobrino.

"In the past, Variety has published ads condemning the Obama Administration for daring to criticize Israel, so we are perplexed as to why our ad, which attempts to highlight Israel’s human rights abuses, is deemed unacceptable,” said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which co-sponsored the ad with JVP. “They are essentially censoring the other side of the debate. As a publication that I’m sure would claim to prize free speech, we find this highly disturbing”

Munayyer is referring to an ad from the Emergency Committee to Protect Israel that was published by Variety on December 15, 2011, according to the Committee’s website.

“This is a clear and disturbing example of the constraints on public debate about Palestine and Israel,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. “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.”

The ad is part of a campaign calling on Oscar nominees to #SkipTheTrip to Israel being offered in swag bags from Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles-based marketing company.

As Variety itself reported last week, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is suing Distinctive Assets for copyright infringement after it marketed its swag bags -- which include a $55,000 all-expense paid trip to Israel -- with slogans such as “Everyone Wins at the Oscars! Nominee Gift Bags.”

2016 Oscar nominees Mark Rylance and Asif Kapadia have already pledged not to visit Israel professionally as long as the human rights violations persist. Last week, five-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh, director Ken Loach and musician Brian Eno publicly denounced the Israeli government’s propaganda initiative, which is being promoted by Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a vocal proponent of Israel’s illegal settlement project opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

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

Getting celebrities to come to Israel is part of a "Brand Israel" strategy by the government to improve Israel’s image abroad in the face of growing boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns (BDS) that challenge Israel’s military occupation and apartheid policies towards Palestinians.

"The Israeli Tourism Ministry wants glossy photos of stars in entertainment magazines to brand Israel as a sunny tourist destination, rather than a state enforcing occupation, discrimination and apartheid,” said Vilkomerson. “The nominees now have an opportunity to take a stand for human rights by refusing to allow themselves to be used in Israel's PR campaign," said Vilkomerson.

A petition launched last week urging nominees to follow the lead of celebrities like Ms. Lauryn Hill, Danny Glover, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Angela Davis, and others who have refused to lend their names to Israel's past propaganda attempts already has over 5,700 signatures.

The Palestinian Performing Arts Network, which represents the majority of the Palestinian cultural sector, is also calling on Oscar nominees to #SkipTheTrip, and the Palestinian BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) National Committee, the broadest Palestinian civil society coalition, welcomed the Academy’s moves to distance itself from the swag bags.