By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem
THE INDEPENDENT Friday, 15 April 2011
Israeli teenagers were delighted when singing sensation and heartthrob Justin Bieber arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday ahead of a concert last night for 25,000 fans.
After the cancellation of shows in Israel by Elvis Costello, the Pixies, the Klaxons and Gorillaz Sound System due to a pro-Palestinian boycott, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have been expected to treat the pint-sized superstar with care. Instead, Bieber, who at 17 is too young even to vote, found himself in the middle of a petty political spat that sent the singer scuttling for the safety of his hotel room.
Bieber pouted on Twitter that he was "staying in the hotel for the rest of the week" after being "pulled into politics."
"It's been frustrating," he moaned before imposing an uncharacteristic 24-hour Twitter blackout.
The row erupted after the prime minister's office leaked the news that Bieber had refused to meet Mr Netanyahu and young Israelis threatened by constant Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.
Bieber's camp denied he had snubbed the youngsters, saying that the meeting was never finalised and Bieber had already invited 700 children from the region bordering Gaza to be special guests at his concert.
Gadi Yaron, the concert promoter, told Israel Army Radio that he was unaware of any plans for a Netanyahu-Bieber summit, and anyway it was a bad idea. "There is heavy pressure on artists not to come to Israel," he said. "We are working very hard so they will visit Israel, get to know it, and won't view it as a political place."
But Mr Netanyahu, who fancies himself a master communicator, kept digging. "The idea was to do an event, which these kids could enjoy, to do something for the kids in the south who haven't had it easy. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out," an aide told The Independent. "The initiative didn't come from us. It came from people claiming to be representing the Bieber people."
But Bieber's manager Scooter Braun told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, "We never asked to meet with him nor has anyone connected with us asked to meet him."
A committed Christian, Bieber had planned to tour religious sites but complained that his plans were wrecked by the political row and photographers who pursued him around the country.
He began the week upbeat, evading hundreds of teenage girls camped outside his hotel and hitting Tel Aviv on a motor scooter while providing a running commentary on Twitter.
"This place is beautiful... Amazing place," Bieber gushed.
Then he set off for the Galilee and Jerusalem accompanied by his mother and Mama Jan, head of Jan Smith Studios in Atlanta.
"All I wanted was the chance to walk where jesus [sic] did here in isreal [sic]. I'm in the holy [sic] land and I am grateful for that. I just want to have the same personal experience that others have here," he said.
But things turned sour when photographers pursued him into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion.
The Israeli press is notoriously aggressive. They once sent Dallas star Victoria Principal fleeing the country, and forced Jim Carrey to hire a body double. Fights erupted with bodyguards for Madonna and Leonardo di Caprio.
"You would think paparazzi would have some respect in holy places," Bieber tweeted. "They should be ashamed of themselves. Take pictures of me eating but not in a place of prayer, ridiculous. People wait their whole lives for opportunities like this, why would they want to take that experience away from someone. But some people just don't have respect."
He was seen briefly on Wednesday in the McDonalds on Tel Aviv beach.