Celebrities embody a unique and very emblematic space in the capitalist system in which they are both human individuals and a brand name at the same time. They often endorse products and services they enjoy. Of course, one would be naive to assume that their enjoyment of these products and services and consequent endorsement is an organic process. Understanding the leveraging power of the celebrity status, corporations woo big name actors and musicians with thousands of dollars worth of sample gift baskets and free services, hoping the celebrity would tie their brand name with the corporation’s brand name.
The problem with this system, as is common with capitalism, is that in the majority of cases the celebrities don’t check the label, so to speak, and often endorse corporations which abuse the environment, animals and humans. As always, I’ll be tying this with the brand name that is no exception to capitalist brutality: Brand Israel.
Israel’s Tourism Industry and the American Celebrity
In May of this year a group of TV celebrities was brought to Israel via America’s Voices in Israel. The group included AnnaLynne McCord
from “90210″; Zach Roerig “The Vampire Diaires” ; Paul Johansson from “One Tree Hill”; Omar Epps from “House”; Holly Robinson Peete “21 Jump Street”; Mekhi Phifer “ER”; Holt McCallany from FX series “Lights Out” and Paget Brewster from “Criminal Minds”.
Rapidly and surely, with the unabashed assistance of the Israeli Ministries of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Tourism, and Foreign Affairs, specialized travel agencies are popping up [1,2,3,4], that cater to a very select crowd, with very select purposes. Institutionalized tourism is one facet of the Brand Israel strategy, which has been given a big push after the international backlash and criticism of the 2009 military onslaught of the Gaza Strip, which left approximately 1400 Palestinians dead and tens of thousands wounded, and destruction of civilian infrastructure which has yet to be recovered from (also due to the ongoing hermetic siege of Israel on the strip) and the murders of 9 human rights defenders of the Mavi Marmara Freedom Flotilla, attempting to break the siege in 2010:
Arquette was invited as the guest of the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. And other bodies, governmental and non-governmental, are making a concerted effort to bring in the stars.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said: “Over the last year, the Tourism Ministry has increased its hosting of celebrities and opinion-formers with the objective of increasing tourism.” He believes the strategy is winning. “Today, the state of Israel is reaping the benefits of the intensive marketing activity with the all-time record high in incoming tourism.” Israel and its backers also hope the influx will help revive Israel’s battered international image.
Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s minister for public diplomacy and diaspora affairs, went so far as to say that actors’ assessments on Israel are received as “ultimate truth”.
One such example of heavily-state-sponsored tourism is America’s Voices in Israel, “a pioneering program [that] begun ten years ago to bolster Israel’s image in the United States by bringing traditional media and radio personalities to broadcast live from Israel.” As a reaction to ”the distortions and misrepresentations about the Jewish state that are increasingly promulgated by those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel,” the program “was re-organized in late 2010 under the leadership of Irwin Katsof and re-launched with a new, bolder approach.”
Much like their industry-insider-fat-cat counterparts of Creative Community for Peace, the agenda is clear and the Brand Israel method of apartheid PR is part and parcel of what AVI tours does:
Research indicates that they may perceive Israel as an ultra-religious, militaristic intolerant society… They see that too often “sensational news” of violence and conflict overshadows the real story of Israel… The potential to impact how Israel and Israelis are portrayed in television, on the big screen, in the blogosphere and other public domains that attract the attention of millions is limitless, as is the potential to allow Americans to see Israelis as people much like themselves.
And they’re also not shy about their MO [bolds by me]:
Visitors tour strategic, religious, cultural and historical sites and meet, and have an opportunity to be briefed by and dialogue with academic and military experts, policy makers and other influential Israelis. They share their experiences and communicate their enthusiasm in real time to millions of fans, followers and colleagues via Facebook, Twitter, radio, television, blogs, and other social and traditional media outlets. Without exception, those who have traveled with America’s Voices use their respective platforms to speak about their experiences in Israel and have become lasting friends and advocates.
The ingenuity of the celebrity tour method is twofold: Not only are celebrities leveraged to become the face of Israel, creating a glitzy and mainstreamed image for the state, just like any other cosmetics product or expensive watch; But their mere presence is then picked up by the press as a “news item”, because in this topsy-turvy world, the travel plans of an artist are not only everybody’s business, but top news, as if nothing notable is happening.
Introducing Your Tour Guide: Irwin Katsof
Another similarity between America’s Voices in Israel and Creative Community for Peace is its deep connections to the state of Israel. Irwin Katsof, the man behind the brand and an ex-settler in East Jerusalem, founded the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah (not to be confused with the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development) in occupied East Jerusalem, which you may remember from more academic settings, relating to the Jewish Agency.
In 2001 he “assisted” (whatever that means) in founding HonestReporting.com, a pro-Israel media-watchdog team (also worth to take a look at their designated “Big Lie” section and their “Essential Links”), edited by an ex-employee of the Jewish Agency, Board of Deputies of British Jews, BICOM and Managing Editor of anti-human-rights-NGOs settler watchdog organization NGO Monitor and active reservist at the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit; a Gush Etzion settler who previously worked as a lobbyist for AIPAC) as a legislative aid on Capitol Hill; And an ex-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (which funds the NGO Monitor) copywriter. And oh! They have their own little travel scheme!
Also in 2001 Katsof launched “Words Can Heal”:
Words Can Heal is a national effort to reduce verbal violence and gossip. The mission of the campaign is to promote the value and practice of ethical speech in order to improve our democracy, build mutual respect, honor and dignity in our country. The campaign will include posters, print and television ads.
Which all would have been very fine, except you gotta wonder about the irony, when it comes from the house of Katsof and features the support of bigots and warmongers such as Joe Lieberman, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and John McCain (just to name a few).
In 2005 he founded the World Congress of Christians, Jews and Muslims:
The mission of the World Congress of Christians, Jews and Muslims is to harness the spiritual power and religious wisdom of these faiths in the service of universal peace and tolerance. Toward that end, we bring together inspiring, influential religious leaders and committed private sector elites to set a common agenda promoting the sanctity of human life and religious reconciliation through respect and freedom, even when they grapple with the thorniest issues facing humanity, including religious extremism, terrorism, oppression, prejudice and hate.
Irwin Katsof and Israel’s Occupation Economy
The World Congress of Christians, Jews and Muslims’ official website indicates that that endeavor just wasn’t worth the effort. Or maybe Katsof just got distracted by his other venture that year, the very profitable (and Zionist achievement multi award winner) Global Capital Associates:
- Procure financing for start-up ventures, market expansion, etc.
- Identify and match potential strategic partners
- Promote joint ventures
- Facilitate mergers and acquisitions
- Consult and advise on niche markets
While my general frame of mind is that capitalism on a whole has got to go, I’d like to keep focused on Israel, and coincidentally so would Global Capital Associates, who’s list of business missions and events focus on Israel and the American military apparatus and everybody in the government and corporate sector class are invited!
- High Tech Innovation Mission to Israel, September 10 – 15, 2005, Chaired by Alan Ganek, VP of Autonomic Computing, Software Group and CTO, Tivoli, IBM Corporation, Faisal Hoque Founder & Chairman of BTM Institute and Chairman and CEO of Enamics, Inc. , Mitchel Lenson Managing Director, and ex Group CIO, now Senior Advisor to the Board, Deutsche Bank, Mark Minevich Chairman, BTM Global Leadership Council; Chief Strategic Officer, Enamics; International Strategic Advisor; Author; and Former CTO, IBM Next Generation, Ellen Pearlman Vice President, Ziff Davis; Editor in Chief, CIO Insight.
- The Second Annual Life Science Mission to Israel, June 26 – 30, 2005, chaired by Jonathan Silverstein General Partner, OrbiMed Advisors, LLC. And hosted by The New Jerusalem Foundation, The Jerusalem Development Authority, Mr. Ehud Olmert – Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Labor & Trade, State of Israel, Mr. Danny Naveh – Minister of Health, State of Israel, Mr. Uri Lupoliansky – Mayor of Jerusalem.
- The first-ever Defense, Aerospace and Homeland Security mission, chaired by the former Undersecretary of the Army Joe Reeder and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Robert Liscouski, and attended by two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and two members of the House Armed Services Committee.
The first-ever Life Sciences Mission to Israel, August 8 – 14, 2004, was led by former Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Dr. Mark McClellan; Lehman Brothers Vice Chairman, Fred Frank; Former Chairman and CEO of Human Genome, Dr. Bill Haseltine; and President & CEO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Leonard Schleifer. Additionally, the Life Sciences Conference in Jerusalem drew 500 Israeli executives.
- The two High Tech Missions, April 4, 2001, & October 10-17, 1999, brought to Israel the Vice President of Technology at Warner Music, Tsvi Gal; Chairman & CEO of Infospace.com, Naveen Jain; Co-Founder of Akamai Technologies, Inc., Randall Kaplan; Executive Vice President of Technology Strategy at EMC Corporation, Erez Ofer; and COO of Yahoo! and former President and CEO of ZDNet, Daniel Rosenzweig.
At least by what we can see on the Global Capital Associates website, the last meeting of this magnitude, to be facilitated, was in 2008. It would make sense that entrepreneurial Irwin Katsof would already have a ready and profitable exit that would leverage his skills and connections. Sure enough, between 2003-2006 Katsof was strengthening his Hollywood connections through the Board of Directors of IDT Entertainment (also known as Starz Media), a major motion picture production company. And in 2008 was appointed Board of Directors of CTM Media (subsidiary of IDT Corporation, a telecommunications company about which we will learn in the coming paragraphs); A PR firm that specializes in print and digital brochure designing and distribution, which apparently requires “active involvement” in “the travel and tourism community, CTM Media Group is a proud member of over one hundred Convention and Visitors Bureaus.”
Not neglecting his hands-on government connections, somewhere mid 2006 Katsof joined the US Commerce department 2008 Trade Mission to the Republic of Georgia with Under Secretary of Trade John Sullivan, US Trade Representative Larry Walther and Director of Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) Robert Mosbacher Jr. In 2010 he was the Co- Leader of a US Commerce Department 2010 Trade Mission to Belarus, to discuss Energy development and general business opportunities. And by 2011 “Katsof was appointed by US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Ambassador Ron Kirk, the United States Trade Representative to be one of ten national energy executives to serve on the US Commerce Department Trade Advisory Board (ITAC 6) to advise the United States Government on International Energy Trade Policy. His term runs through 2014. Generally, this would be an energy oriented year for Katsof, as he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the New-York headquartered Genie Energy (NYSE-GNE):
…a holding company comprising IDT Energy, a retail energy provider, and Genie Oil and Gas, which controls the company’s ventures in oil shale research and development in Colorado and Israel. Members of the strategic advisory board include former Vice President Dick Cheney, Michael Steinhardt, Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch. [http://irwinkatsof.com/about/]
Genie Energy – The Oil Trail
Now, I didn’t go over Irwin Katsof’s entire resume because I’m looking to hire. Apart from being a clear connection to the biggest American war profiteers and media moguls in the world, Genie Energy connects Katsof directly with Israel’s occupation economy. Being a single-minded gal, who’s actually writing this whole article just to make sure people stop telling me that “culture builds bridges” and “has nothing to do with politics”, I’d like to devote this following section to exactly what celebrities are lending a hand to, when they travel with America’s Voices in Israel.
Genie Energy, a subsidiary of IDT Corporation (NYSE: IDT), is the parent company (89%) of Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd. (IEI), which holds an exclusive shale oil exploration and production license covering 238 square miles in the Adulam district, which is between Beit Shemesh and Beit Guvrin. The company believes that its shale oil cracking technology can free the world from dependence on Arab oil and turn Israel into an energy powerhouse able to produce 300 billion barrels of non-conventional oil at a cost of up to $40 per barrel. [Israeli Globes]
We’ll leave the ideological Arab-phobia, reminiscent of the Cold War era, and the irony of American sanctioned “freedom” in the Middle East via oil, and start with Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd.’s “exclusive shale oil exploration and production license”. On their website IEI states that this license is “granted by the Israeli Government pursuant to Israel’s Petroleum Law.” Naturally, I have an itching desire to explore this Law that I’ve never heard of:
The Israel Petroleum Law was passed in 1952 and underwent substantial amendment in 1965. The Law governs the exploration and production of petroleum in Israel, including the continental shelf.
One might start questioning the governing of this law over the continental shelf of the besieged Gaza Strip, but the law doesn’t mince words:
Petroleum resources belong to the State, whether or not located on state lands. No person is allowed to explore for or produce petroleum without receiving a right under the Law.
Additionally, just in case, the law makes use of one of Israel’s most devious land expropriation laws, Ordinance 1943:
RIGHT OF ACQUISITION
(40) The holder of a petroleum right shall, for the purpose of the Lands (Acquisition for Public Purposes) Ordinance, 1943, be considered as the holder of a concession where under he is entitled to require the Government to acquire land on his behalf… [Israel Petroleum Law]
This is joined by Israel’s infamous “government needs”:
The leasee is entitled to transport and market the petroleum produced, subject to the
right of the Government to call upon him to supply local needs first, at market price. [Israel Petroleum Law]
The needs are stipulated in the law as such [bolds by me, dot connection by you]:
… the Minister may require lessees to produce petroleum from their existing wells at a rate sufficient for the said purposes; provided that no lessee shall be required… to supply towards the required quantity a percentage of his production exceeding the percentage required from any other lessee, unless the Minister sees fit to deviate from this rule when this is in his opinion required for reasons of State security or in order to prevent waste or inequity towards a particular lessee… Israeli consumption includes the bunkering of ships in Israel ports and the fueling of aircraft in Israel.
This connection to Israel’s actual military apparatus is only speculation, but one can’t deny that the Israeli government is all about the acquisition of land through military means. In the case of Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd., there’s no need to acquire the land militarily, since its specific portion– a municipality within the Jerusalem municipality of Mate Yehuda– was already conquered way way back in the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine (although it’s worth a mention that Mate Yehuda jurisdiction includes “no-man’s lands” to its north, which as far as the EU is concerned are “not considered Israel”, I’m sure that for investors, this carries legal implications):
Ten kibbutzim and thirty-eight moshavim are included in this diverse collection of settlements. Most of them were founded in the early 1950’s, mainly by groups of immigrants from Oriental/Sephardi origin. The original purpose of these settlements was to bolster Israel’s security in the region, to act as a barrier and a trade corridor due to the large number of Arab villages in the area. In 1948, most of the Arabs living in the area fled, leaving a few houses and years of neglected agriculture behind them.
The connection to the government, military apparatus, and settler industry only deepen, when you realize that the Investment in Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd. was facilitated by “war hero”, settler and ethnic cleansing proponent, PM Netanyahu’s “Special Emissary” to the JNF “Caravan for Democracy” (already known to us as part of the Reut tent), and ex-MK in the Likud government serving both as Minister of National Infrastructure in 2002 and Minister of Housing and Construction in 2003, Effi Eitam:
IEI president Effie Eitam, who served as minister of national infrastructures in the Sharon government, told “Globes” that IEI hopes to obtain a permit from the regional planning and building commission within days to carry out a pilot shale oil project on a six-dunam (1.5-acre) site in the Elah Valley. [Israeli Globes]
The Oil Trail Stretching into Occupied Golan Heights?
Coincidentally, it was just three months ago that Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau has decided to greenlight oil exploration in the occupied Golan Heights:
The decision could have far-reaching political ramifications, and those in Landau’s inner circle do not deny that his political beliefs played a part in the decision. A source close to the minister said: “His view that (the country) must take advantage of every possibility for oil exploration in Israel – to free itself from dependence of Arab oil – is known.”
What better way to “free Israel from dependence of Arab Oil” than to allow foreign American investors into your already American dominated oil market?
Not so coincidentally, it was only yesterday that Effi Eitam (who’s either been promoted between 2010 and yesterday from president of Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd. to president of Genie Energy International, or the Israeli Globes was holding out on us) was the first to make the bid for a drilling permit in the now greenlighted Golan Heights:
Three months after the State reaffirmed a decision to allow oil explorations in the Golan Heights, former leader of the National Religious Party Efraim Eitam has submitted the first request to do so.
According to a Tuesday report in Yedioth Ahronoth, the permit request was filed by Genie Energy International, which Eitam heads… Back in May, Energy and Water Ministry officials said that Eitam was privy to the deliberations that preceded the decision to renew drilling permits in the politically sensitive area. Eitam denied the report.
Our oil trail comes full circle, as the article establishes a connection between IDT and Uzi Landau:
Genie Energy is a subsidiary of US-based IDT, headed by businessman Howard Jonas. Jonas has contributed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2007 primaries campaign and to to Landau’s primaries campaign in 2005.
America’s Conscientiousness Voices in Israel and BDS
Jacob Rothschild said, “Rupert Murdoch’s extraordinary achievements speak for themselves and we are very pleased he has agreed to be our partner. Genie Energy is making good technological progress to tap the world’s substantial oil shale deposits which could transform the future prospects of Israel, the Middle East and our allies around the world.”
“Covering and distributing news has been my life’s work,” said Murdoch. “If Genie’s effort to develop shale oil is successful, as I believe it will be, then the news we’ll report in the coming decades will reflect a more prosperous, more democratic, and more secure world.
Without a doubt, this one endeavor has many connections within the American government and corporate elite. It’s every American’s right and obligation to fight against military and corporate conquests by their state that may harm their personal security. Civil society has an obligation to protect itself from its government’s megalomaniac blunders, and make sure that other communities aren’t harmed in its name as well. Once again we come full circle, as the last corporate chapter in the story of America’s Voices in Israel unfolds.
In its celebrity May mission, America’s Voices in Israel employed the services of:
- The David Intercontinental hotel in Tel Aviv, where the participating celebrities “received greetings from Haim Gutin Deputy Director General Ministry of Tourism North and South America and Shay Attias senior adviser to Minister Edelstein.” Later they would dine at the Black Out Restaurant at the [ethnically cleansed and consequentially racially-motivated-neglected] Jaffa port. After which they were joined by Israeli celebrities “Aki Avni, one of Israel’s leading actors, Gideon Ruff, creator of “Homeland” Ninet Tayeb, the first winner of the Israeli version of American Idol, Joseph Cedar, winner of the best screenplay at Cannes in 2011 and Shirley Bouganim, one of Israel’s leading super models.”
- On the 8th of May, they were treated to “a briefing by Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of Ha’aretz newspaper.” Then “visited the Palmach Air Force base. Met with the Officers and pilots. Saw helicopters and the unmanned aerial drones and learned how careful the pilots are with very exact targeting to avoid civilian casualties even when missiles are fired from populated areas against Israel.” After which they visited ethnically cleansed Safed and Caesarea, but without the Palestinian narrative, then checked into Bayit B’galil in Rosh Pina.
- On the 9th of May they went to the Capernaum and Mt Beatitudes and the Sea of Galilee (which on a good year is part of occupied Golan Heights), the Meir Panim soup kitchen in Tiberias (another good cause abused to mask bad deeds), and then had “lunch with [occupied] Golan [Heights] resident Lilach Ashtar at her home. Lilach is a fascinating, colorful individual with an amazing life story.” After a hardy lunch it was time for the Jeep Ride and tour of the border and visit in the Golan Vineyards (It’s hard to tell by the information on the website, whether they were in the war profiteering Chateau Golan Winery), but later that day, they would bike to the Wailing Wall in occupied territories with Jerusalem Midnight Biking Tours.
- Last but not least, an extremely un-self-aware Huffington Post article implicated the Jerusalem Inbal Hotel (which also hosted the HonestReporting.com missions) and El-Al airline (petroleum, anyone?), also known as “El Al Israel Airlines Ltd”, “Israel’s official carrier”, “Israel National Aviation Company” and is “the flag carrier of Israel”. The company started as an international decoy hoax by the Israeli military:
In September 1948, Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, attended a conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Weizmann was scheduled to fly back to Israel in an Israeli government aircraft, but due to an embargo imposed on Israel at the time, this was not possible. An Israeli C-54 military transport aircraft was instead converted into a civilian plane to transport Weizmann home. The aircraft was painted with the logo of the “El Al/Israel National Aviation Company” and fitted with extra fuel tanks to enable a non-stop flight from Geneva to Israel. It departed from Ekron Air Base on 28 September, and returned to Israel the next day. After the flight, the aircraft was repainted and returned to military use.
It’s beginnings were two American planes, bought by the government and the Jewish Agency. Today 13% is owned by the government, 46% is owned by Knafaim-Arkia Holdings Ltd. (which got its start with El-Al and the Histadrut , and is owned by Jordache Enterprises, Inc., owned by Israeli Joe, Ralph, and Avi Nakash), and 8% by the Histadrut- Israeli trade union, under growing boycott, divestment and sanctions.
So there you have it. A huge list of accomplices in war profiteering, and all in the name of whitewashing the State israel’s violations of Palestinians’ human rights. I would like to make a personal appeal, which echoes within the ever-growing BDS movement, to celebrities that are approached by anything-Israel:
Chances are the person and company that approached you are somehow directly profiteering out of a situation of military occupation and the apartheid policies implemented by the state of Israel. The state is constantly in process of annexation of Palestinian lands and ethnic cleansing. Please be socially responsible and look into the details of the companies, and NGOs that employ you, or your namesake. Please understand the implications of your actions. To you, this may just be a joy ride in some faraway “exotic” land, but to Palestinians you are helping erase their history, culture and existence. Artists, musicians, celebrities, the time is now for cultural boycott of Israel. The time is now for America’s conscientious voices to ring out in Israel.