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

Mon Feb 8, 2016 1:27pm EST
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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.

Israel's tourism ministry said the trips, valued at $15,000-$18,000, not including first-class airfare which would be funded by another party whom it did not identify, are on offer to actors and directors vying for Oscars in the Feb. 28 ceremony.

Israel 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 those to be offered 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 best supporting actor, Mark Rylance, is a pro-Palestinian activist in Britain who might be less inclined to take up the offer.

The junket would be offered to all 25 artists nominated in the best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress and best director categories and to the host of the ceremony, the ministry said.

(This version of the story was corrected to say ministry says trip would cost $15-18,000, not $55,000)

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Actor Sylvester Stallone introduces a clip from the nominated film "Creed" at the 47th NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena, California February 5, 2016.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni