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Madonna, Mr. Big and Richard Gere

The Israeli Tourism Authority has taken to luring Hollywood stars to Israel to boost tourism.
Madonna, Mr. Big and Richard Gere

-Am Johal

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 Haaretz 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.