scene yesterday

Creative Community For Peace honors Eugene Levy and other entertainment industry leaders amid talk of rising antisemitism

The anti-BDS group tries to introduce Hollywood professionals to Israel, as well as connect Black and Jewish entertainers.

Servers passed hors d’oeuvres and Moscow Mules to 500 people who were milling about in a Beverly Hills backyard last night, as a DJ cranked tunes including one of Taylor Swift’s newest singles, “Anti-Hero.” The crowd had gathered to celebrate Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) a nonprofit that mobilizes prominent members of the entertainment community to oppose boycotts of Israel and promote arts as a bridge to peace. 

The gala honored several industry leaders with CCFP’s Ambassadors of Peace Award: Actor and “Schitt’s Creek” co-creator Eugene Levy; Darren Star, an award-winning writer, creator and executive producer of shows such as “Sex & the City” and “Emily in Paris”; Brandon Goodman and Danny Rukasin, co-founders of talent agency Best Friends Music; songwriter and producer Autumn Rowe; and David Zedeck, the co-head of global music at the United Talent Agency.

The event was catered by The Milky Way, the dairy kosher restaurant in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles owned by Steven Spielberg’s late mother, and guests chatted in Hebrew and English about their new projects as well as the rise of antisemitism — including the recent series of comments by Kanye West. 

“As a writer, I strive to tell stories that affirm our individuality, expose prejudice, and illuminate our shared humanity,” Star said in a speech. “And as a Jew in this country right now, at this frightening time, I feel there is no more important moment to affirm and take pride in my own Jewish identity.” 

After joking about how his name had been misspelled on the monitor, Levy also addressed hate in his speech, recalling how he had faced antisemitism in high school. 

“If you can actually get people to a point of feeling shame for their own despicable thoughts and actions, or for following the despicable thoughts and actions of others, then that can be a giant first step in turning heads, and eventually in eradicating hatred and bigotry,” he said. “So one of the things we can do in the entertainment industry is try and show those people what the other side can look like through the stories that we tell, what a world without bigotry can look like.”

CCFP hosts events, organizes trips to Israel for entertainment industry executives, creates coalitions — it helped launch the Black Jewish Entertainment Alliance (BJEA) — and serves as a resource for managers and agents whose clients may come under fire for booking concerts or other events in Israel. 

The group’s Israel trips were suspended during the pandemic and are set to resume in the spring. Because CCFP is an apolitical organization, its trips strive to provide a balanced view of the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by encouraging entertainers to see Israel for themselves. The organization’s goal on the trips is to “maximize the opportunities” to do so, Ari Ingel, CCFP’s director, told eJewishPhilanthropy. One trip was organized around attending the Eurovision competition in Tel Aviv in 2019, while another brought songwriters from the United States to meet for a “writing camp” with their Israeli peers. 

The organization also spearheaded a letter this month against boycotting Tel Aviv’s LGBTQ Film Festival, signed by more than 200 celebrities including Mila Kunis, Mayim Bialik and Neil Patrick Harris.  

The BJEA, which has an executive board that’s half-Black and half-Jewish, has experienced a swell of visibility recently, in light of antisemitic comments made by Kanye West and a namedrop during “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update. Invoking the legacy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, signatories “pledge to work to bring our two communities together in solidarity, to support one another in our struggles, and to better understand each other’s plight and narratives. The Jewish community must continue to speak out against racial injustice and work to effect change, while the Black community must continue to speak out against all forms of antisemitism.”

The Ambassadors of Peace event generates about half of CCFP’s annual budget, which hovers between $800,000 and $1 million, co-founder David Renzer, the former CEO and chairman of Universal Music Publishing, told eJP. CCFP’s supporters include Shari Redstone, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and entertainment mogul Haim Saban, who sponsored the award that went to Zedeck on Wednesday night. 

“Our red line is we don’t believe that boycotts are the solution,” Renzer told eJP in advance of the event. “We talk about that openly. Cultural boycotts are not the solution. In fact, it’s the opposite, right? Let’s use the power of culture and the arts to actually do something positive and bring people together.”

Variety was a media sponsor of the event, and its executive music editor, Shirley Halperin, who is Israeli, was present to support the organization and for “cheerleading our own projects covering Israel and the intersection of Judaism and entertainment,” she told eJP at the event. The forthcoming April 2023 issue of Variety will be a special issue, featuring Israeli entertainment — “cover to cover,” Halperin said.