AS ISRAEL fights “cultural boycott” in the world of global entertainment business, its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to meet the who’s who of the Indian film industry in a specially-choreographed event, “Shalom Bollywood”, sources have told The Indian Express.
The event, which is likely to be held in Mumbai on January 18, will be one of the showpiece events during Netanyahu’s four-day visit to India beginning January 14. Netanyahu and his wife Sara, who hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at their residence for a three-hour-long dinner in Tel Aviv last July, will also visit Agra to see the Taj Mahal on January 16.
Modi, who will hold bilateral talks in Delhi on January 15, will accompany Netanyahu to Ahmedabad on January 17. They will visit the Sabarmati Ashram, where Modi earlier took Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
But the marquee event is the one in Mumbai — the Israeli government is trying to get Bollywood’s A-listers, including top directors and producers, to attend it. Netanyahu will also meet top corporate leaders in India’s financial capital, besides visiting Chabad House. Moshe Holtzberg — who was just two years old when his parents, Rivka and Gavriel Holtzberg, serving as emissaries of Chabad in Mumbai, were killed along with six others at Chabad House in the 2008 terror attacks — will also be there, accompanied by his grandparents.
Sources said while Netanyahu and his wife are fond of Indian films, the move to woo Bollywood is “more political” than personal. The ultimate goal is to fight the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign against Israel, which has tried to isolate the country.
“The Israelis are looking at Bollywood to fight the global BDS movement, which has impacted them… This event is aimed at getting movie producers to shoot in some of Israel’s picturesque locations,” a source told The Indian Express.
The BDS movement began when a coalition of 170 Palestinian civil society groups issued a call to “people of conscience” around the world on July 9, 2005. While Netanyahu has said that BDS stands for “bigotry, dishonesty and shame”, the movement has been backed by people like Stephen Hawking, Angela Davis and Judith Butler. Meanwhile, the likes of author Alice Walker, ex-Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters and critically acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach have lent their support to the “cultural boycott”.
Since around 2010, Israel has stepped up its fight against BDS and so-called “de-legitimisation”. In 2011, the Knesset passed a draconian law against advocating boycotts within Israel. Over the weekend, it blacklisted about 20 civil society groups who support the BDS movement.
Last year, Israel’s move to woo Hollywood stars did not succeed, with none of the 26 Oscar nominees who were awarded free trips to the country taking up the offer. The tour packages, worth thousands of dollars apiece, were offered to 26 nominees in the highest-profile Oscar categories, including actors Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Sylvester Stallone and Kate Winslet. Only Jennifer Lawrence reportedly passed it on to her mother. Last February, the BDS movement issued an official statement urging recipients not to use the tour packages.
Sources said Netanyahu will appeal to Bollywood to come and shoot films in Israel, and offer tax breaks and facilitation. The collateral benefit will be creation of jobs in Israel — as Bollywood is known to work wonders for tourism in the country. The template available to Israel is Yash Chopra’s showcasing of Switzerland in the ‘80s and the projection of Spain in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
Last October, actor Jacqueline Fernandez was in Israel to shoot for an action-comedy film — reportedly the first Bollywood project to be shot there. The film Drive, which also has Sushant Singh Rajput, has scenes shot over three days in coastal Jaffa and Tel Aviv, and was reportedly partly funded by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the foreign and tourism ministries to boost Israel’s tourism profile in South Asia.