How Israeli hostages in Gaza wound up on display outside an Academy Awards afterparty

On the red carpet at the Academy Awards on March 10, 2024. Photo via JTA.

by Philissa Cramer

(JTA) — Attendees at the Academy Awards on Sunday night could see some of the most searing footage of the last year when a video featuring Israelis held hostage by Hamas is screened on a building adjacent to one of the award show’s glitziest afterparties.

The display planned outside the Vanity Fair party is part of an ongoing international advocacy effort to call attention to the roughly 134 people taken hostage when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 who remain in captivity in Gaza.

It follows previous efforts to draw attention to the hostage crisis at the Golden Globes and Grammy Awards earlier this year — as well as pro-Palestinian displays at the award shows that are expected to continue during the Oscars, with some attendees wearing red pins to show their support for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Matti Leshem and Lynn Harris, married filmmakers who live in Los Angeles and have been involved in advocacy around the hostage crisis since soon after the attack, produced the project that will air outside the Oscars, according to a press release.

“On the evening of the Academy Awards, as the entire world turns its eyes to Hollywood, the entertainment industry has a responsibility to speak out on behalf of the 144 people – men, women, and children – who are being held captive in horrific conditions by Hamas,” Leshem said in a statement. “This display will remind our colleagues in the entertainment industry about this tragedy, and encourage them to demand that Hamas release the hostages now.”

The display is also thanks to an emergency decision by the Beverly Hills City Council, which oversees permits in the independent enclave within Los Angeles where the Vanity Fair party is taking place. The council held a special meeting last week to consider a request for what organizers said would be a “Wall of Awareness,” then unanimously approved the application.

According to a report in a local newspaper, Beverly Hills officials had originally rejected the application, which was filed just five days before the awards show — short of the required notice period for a permit in the city. But the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, the organization that formed to advocate for the hostages, persuaded the council to vote by arguing it had not filed earlier amid hopes that Israel and Hamas would reach a deal that would result in the release of more hostages. More than 100 people were released during a 10-day ceasefire in November, but negotiations toward a second deal have not resulted in one this month.

“I don’t think you can find a single one of us sitting up here who is not in strong support of Israel and supporting the release of the hostages,” councilwoman Sharona Nazarian, who is Jewish, said at the meeting, according to the local news account.

At the same meeting, the city council voted to reinstate a display of Israeli flags symbolizing the roughly 1,200 people murdered on Oct. 7. The reinstatement, which will cost $150,000, comes after an initial display was removed.

The local police chief warned during the meeting that the flag display could become a “potential target,” saying that the previous version was the site of protests and disturbances and warning that the police department would be unable to guard the new display during the awards ceremony.

“If we put the flags back up it is going to be a security concern,” Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said, according to the local news account. About the previous display, he said, “We had hate crime, vandalism, assault, disturbances, mental illness and obviously it was the center of some protests.”

Beverly Hills, which is home to large Jewish and Israeli populations, was the site of an alleged antisemitic assault in December that came with the community on edge amid the tensions surrounding the Israel-Hamas war.

The use of the building on which the hostage footage will be projected outside the Vanity Fair Oscars party was donated by its owner, an entrepreneur named Shawn Far who has gained attention in the past for placing provocative billboards on a building he owned in a different part of Los Angeles. The owners of the INVNT marketing agency donated the costs of producing and projecting the display.

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