Beverly Hills Affirms Support for Israel on Hollywood’s Biggest Night

As Hollywood’s biggest stars arrived for the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 10, a massive light projection calling for the release of the remaining hostages held in Gaza by Hamas illuminated the building across the street at 499 N. Canon Drive.

Spearheaded by movie producers Matti Leshem and Lynn Harris, the light projection with images of the remaining 134 hostages represented the couple’s latest effort to raise awareness about the hostages still held captive after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. 

Leshem and his wife began organizing to support the hostages’ release almost immediately after Oct. 7, arranging delegations in Los Angeles of freed hostages who shared their stories with allies and donors, and erecting billboards in New York’s Times Square and in New Jersey. 

As the Oscars approached, Leshem and Harris discussed ideas to highlight the plight of the hostages during such a high-profile event. One day last month, while walking their dogs past Beverly Gardens Park, they realized that the building across the street from The Wallis at 499 N. Canon Drive would be a perfect canvas for a large-scale light display. [Ed. Note: The building houses the Courier’s office.] 

They called the building’s owner, who enthusiastically pledged his support. They also secured more than $100,000 to cover costs from global events company INVNT and worked with the Tel Aviv-based Hostages and Missing Families Forum to design the light projection, Leshem said.   

However, the light display “almost didn’t happen,” according to Leshem. 

During a Special City Council Hearing on March 8 to discuss the matter, City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey noted that the special event permit application had not been filed 10 days in advance of the event, as required by ordinance. 

But more than 150 residents from Beverly Hills and beyond urged the city to allow the light demonstration and reinstall the flag display at Beverly Gardens Park. Hunt-Coffey presented the council with three interpretations of the City’s Municipal Code that would allow it to approve the permit. 

“The council does have the opportunity to interpret the code,” Hunt-Coffey said. 

She added that the council could interpret a provision saying applications “shall” be filed at least 10 days in advance as saying applications “may” be filed at least 10 days in advance. The council could also decide that the special event will have “an overriding benefit” for the city. And, since Leshem and Harris contacted Councilmember Lili Bosse in February, who connected them with Deputy City Manager Keith Sterling on Feb. 20, the council could count the email to Sterling as a “pre-application,” Hunt-Coffey said. 


The building at 499 N. Canon Drive was illuminated with images of the hostages.

Though the council was unanimously supportive, there was debate about which interpretation to choose. Councilmember Sharona Nazarian favored the “pre-application” interpretation. Bosse said she would “mark every single box.” And Councilmember John Mirisch said the couple’s Feb. 20 contact with Sterling could be considered an application and the projection’s benefit to the city was apparent. 

Vice Mayor Lester Friedman, who also affirmed his support, cautioned that accepting the application because of its benefit could set a difficult precedent going forward.

“What happens when we are confronted with someone who wants to come in here with something that we don’t all agree with, and … we have made an exception that is not defensible?” Friedman queried.  

In response to a question from Friedman, City Attorney Laurence Wiener said, “I’m not sure that I agree with any of these interpretations, but I think the two interpretations that would be the most defensible would be the fact that they sent an email and started the application process,” and that the event would have an overriding benefit.   

Satisfied, the council voted unanimously to approve the permit.    

“It was really an incredible thing to see the City Council respond to … people calling really not just from Beverly Hills but from all over Los Angeles, saying this is really important to the people of Los Angeles,” Leshem said. “The whole thing was pretty admirable.”

On the day of the Oscars ceremony, “Every single person that pulled up to the Vanity Fair party was staring at the faces of those hostages,” Leshem said. “You could see it from all around … I think it was quite impactful in that way.”  

The light projection and an installation of thousands of flags across the street at Beverly Gardens Park drew supporters draped in Israeli flags and honking car horns. It also drew counter-protestors waving Palestinian flags and wearing keffiyehs, underscoring the public debate over Israel’s actions in Gaza. There were no arrests, but Beverly Hills Police Department officers filed a battery crime report after unknown suspects used an “unknown type of chemical irritant” against other demonstrators, according to Lt. Andrew Myers.

Ahead of the Oscars ceremony, a coalition of organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace-Los Angeles (JVP-L.A.) and SAG-AFTRA Members for Ceasefire held demonstrations near the Dolby Theatre.
A group of roughly 1000 protestors blocked traffic during an already busy afternoon and delayed arrivals to the show.  

In an emailed statement, Sarah Jacobus, a JVP-L.A. member who rallied before the Oscars ceremony, wrote, “I hold dear the Jewish value of the sacredness of human life. This is what informs my commitment to oppose the bombing and starving of Palestinian civilians done in my name. I will not be distracted by the Oscars while bombs are falling on Gaza and people in Rafah with no safe place to shelter are threatened with a ground invasion.”      

The debate continued into the ceremony itself. Director Jonathan Glazer, who won the Best International Feature Film award for “The Zone of Interest,” about a Nazi official who lives an idyllic life next to the Auschwitz concentration camp, received widespread backlash after he appeared to criticize Israel in his acceptance speech. Glazer said his film showed “where dehumanization leads at its worst” and he refuted “his Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation, which has led to conflict for so many innocent people.”

Councilmember Lili Bosse, the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, was quick to add her own powerful voice to the discussion. In a social media post addressed directly at Glazer, Bosse said, “You ‘refuting your Judaism’ whilst accepting an award in memory of 6 million Jews cremated, shot, gassed and brutally murdered and somehow ‘refute’ Oct. 7 and our second Holocaust that occurred that day. The hostages still not home. Hamas terrorists will not ‘refute’ your Judaism. Jew haters and antisemitism won’t protect you from yourself. You have spat on the graves of your ancestors. I however remain a proud Jew.”

The post garnered almost 282,000 views and more than 4,000 likes, clearly resonating beyond the boundaries of Beverly Hills. 

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