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Madonna, Mr. Big and Richard Gere Do Israel
by Am Johal
September 28, 2004

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The Israeli Tourism Authority, thinking of creative ways to lure visitors back to the Holy Land, has taken to organizing the high profile visits of Hollywood stars and pop divas to mixed reaction.

Earlier this year, Richard Gere arrived for a film festival, attended a seminar, had posters of his face plastered all over Israel and generally left with rave reviews especially from the female human rights activists.  They didn't question the intentions of his visit or give him too much flak for not taking any public positions on human rights.  They work on human rights every day of the year, but he was RICHARD GERE!

A few months later Chris Noth, Mr. Big, was on the pages of Ha’aretz being whisked away by helicopter to see the sights of Israel all paid for by the good folks at the Israeli Tourism Authority. In fact, they were even armed with pro forma statements about how much the visit would boost Israeli tourism. 

Then came "Esther", pilgrim Madonna, donning the latest Kabbalah outfit, raising a storm for visiting Rachel's Tomb, having her cab mobbed by fans resulting in her planned visit to the Old City of Jerusalem being cancelled - such is the price of fame in the Holy Land.

Fresh off the "Reinvention Tour," Madonna is reportedly wearing a red thread to ward off the evil eye and refuses to play on the Sabbath.  She has received rough treatment by religious Jews and Palestinian activists questioning the intentions of her visit.  A security team of 1,000 police officers were drafted to protect her entourage of 2,000 from the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles.

Madonna's visit to Rachel's Tomb was particularly drawing the ire of human rights activists as the Separation Barrier annexes the shrine and because the Palestinians are under full closure for the entire month of the Jewish High Holidays.  Next to Rachel's Tomb is Ayda Refugee Camp, which has 5,000 residents residing there who are refused entry into Israel.  Her willingness to come to the West Bank with security forces and not comment on human rights issues there is particularly drawing criticism.  Unlike her former husband Sean Penn who has visited Iraq and spoken out against the war, Madonna never been one to take political positions for fear of hurting her celebrity status.

With all her moves from Sex Goddess to Yoga diva to children's author to British den mother to an endorser of Wesley Clark didn't dim the willingness of the "Israeli street" to question her newfound Kabbalah addiction and for religious Jews to dismiss her use of Judaism as a cheap marketing ploy.  For her efforts on her five-day tour, "Esther" received an ancient oil lamp and a coin from the Byzantine period from the Israeli Tourism Authority.

Am Johal is a Canadian freelance writer living in Israel. Email:

Other Articles by Am Johal

* Breaking the Impasse
* Hell in Hebron
* Israel Splitting Families Apart
* Anatomy of a Home Demolition