It should have been a cause for celebration: Madonna and Jesus were back in Israel. The Material Girl and her Brazilian model boyfriend, however, have not had a universally enthusiastic welcome on their one-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Madonna, who ended her “Sticky and Sweet” world tour with concerts in Tel Aviv this week, began with a reminder of her faith in the kabbalah, or mystical Judaism, by asking that work on her performance stage be halted to respect the Sabbath. One Orthodox rabbi tried to get her to show “respect” for the Jewish faith by wearing “more modest” clothing during her two performances, but the request fell on deaf ears, and the concerts featured the usual skimpy costumes that her fans have come to expect.
“She looked amazing, especially for her age — but not really what I would consider an ‘observant’ Jewish woman’s dress,” said Rachel Homesh, a teenager who attended one of the gigs. “We didn’t really think that she would show up all covered up. She wouldn’t be able to dance. The most she wore was at the very end, when she put on a Jewish flag.”
The decision to drape Madonna in the Star of David — handed to her by someone in the audience — sparked fury from Palestinians. Hania Bitar, director-general of the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation, said the move had led to protests in the West Bank and Gaza. She also criticised Madonna for not meeting with any Palestinian politicians or visiting the occupied territories.
The singer — who has taken a Jewish name, Esther — told her fans: “Every time I come here, I get so supercharged with energy. I truly believe that Israel is the energy centre of the world. And I also believe that if we can all live together in harmony in this place, then we can live in peace all over the world.”
Madonna kept the media away from her political encounters. She met Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, and Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition, and limited access to her visit to the northern Israeli village of Safed, where one of the rabbis who founded kabbalah is believed to be buried. However, her flirtation with politics, her dabbling in the kabbalah — which many rabbis do not approve of — and her trademark concert antics created controversy anyway.
“Madonna has made her career by being provocative. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised that her trip here would be controversial as well,” said Danny Yatom, 23, who attended the first of Madonna’s shows. “It’s why we stay interested, no?”