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Jewish Journal

Is Hollywood’s Hat in the Ring?

Variety ad marks first public pro-Israel move.

by Rob Eshman

June 13, 2002 | 8:00 pm

A full-page advertisement in Variety last Monday marked the entertainment industry's first public show of support for Israel since the outbreak of the second intifada.

Over 70 prominent members of Hollywood community signed the ad. Among the names are well-known agents, lawyers, producers, writers and directors. They include entertainment lawyer Bruce Ramer, agents David Lonner and Dan Adler, producers Mace Neufeld and Lynda Obst, directors Arthur Hiller and David Zucker, and screenwriters Lewis Colick and David Diamond. (The entire ad and list of names can be viewed at www.peace4israel.com.)

"To Our Fellow Americans," read the ad headline. The text, written by Ruth Wisse and Cynthia Ozick, affirmed support for Israel, called on all Arab governments to recognize the Jewish state and denounced Palestinian terror. "We are reminded that the State of Israel has been the fighting on the front line of democracy since its founding in 1948," the ad concluded. "In this hour of peril and anguish, we call upon the continuing support of America for our Israeli allies."

The same ad originally appeared in The New York Times one month ago, where it was signed by several prominent Jews, including Elie Wiesel, David Mamet and Saul Bellow.

The"Quarrel" screenwriter David Brandes, an organizer of the ad campaign in Los Angeles, told The Journal that while the three-week signature gathering effort started slowly, it eventually met with great success. "In the beginning it was like pulling teeth,"he said. Brandes added that many people were worried at first that the ad's message wasn't balanced enough. "People also wanted to know who else had signed," he said.

Organizers of the New York ad campaign contacted Brandes last month and asked if he could gather signatures from Hollywood movers and shakers. Brandes joined with filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd, comedian Larry Miller, director Henry Jaglom and producer Zvi Howard Rosenman and began a telephone and fax campaign to line up support.

New York charity Keren Keshet-The Rainbow Foundation paid $5,000 for the ad. Keren Keshet is endowed through the estate of the late Zalman Bernstein, who also funds the Avi Chai Foundation, according to Keren Keshet's Linda Sakacs. The signatories made no contributions.

As more prominent individuals signed on, gathering names became easier, said Brandes. "Once you get a couple of people like Arthur Hiller and Lonner, it becomes kosher," he said.

The organizers hope the ad signals a new activism in Hollywood on behalf of Israel. The entertainment industry had engaged only in below-the-radar efforts at fundraising and boosting Israel's media image during the current crisis. Until now, the highest profile statement of support had come from Jerusalem-born actress Natalie Portman, who defended Israel in a letter to her Ivy League university newspaper last month.

In April, the Jerusalem Post ran an editorial criticizing some of the most visible American Jewish personalities for their reticence either to defend Israel in public or to visit the country.

But Brandes saw several positive signs in the Variety ad. The status of the signatories is one.

Furthermore, along with venerable Hollywood stalwarts like David Dortort, the creator of "Gunsmoke," the list of names includes many accomplished members of the current generation, like Endeavor Agency partner Ari Emanuel.

The organizers hope the ad will lead to more Hollywood-based initiatives on Israel's behalf, including seminars and high-profile trips. Before the ad appeared, there were unconfirmed reports this week that comedian Jerry Seinfeld might make one such visit in the coming weeks.

Brandes, for his part, sees reason to hope that more public displays of support are forthcoming. Toward the end of the signature-gathering process, he said, "People were calling us to get on the list."

Please visit www.peace4israel.com

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