"Everybody cries"

Published date15 January 2024
AuthorEla Levy-Weinrib and Nevo Trabelsy
Publication titleGlobes (Rishon LeZion, Israel)
Since the outbreak of the war, many prominent actors, businesspeople and influencers have arrived in Israel. Each has responded in the same way. "We've run out of tissues at our headquarters," says Dorit Gvili, director of the public relations campaign in Israel and globally for the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, and COO of Publicis One Israel, which is working with the hostage families. "These are very, very difficult meetings. Jerry Seinfeld sat with the family and cried. Debra Messing cried. Everyone cries, because it's impossible not to cry. You can't listen to a mother who hasn't known what has been happening to her son for 80 days, and remain indifferent. So, they -- and we -- fall apart together for five minutes, weep, and get back to normal."

"The phone is bursting with people who want to come to Israel"

The list of celebrities who have visited Israel in recent months is endless. Some are high-flying businesspeople such as Elon Musk, owner of Tesla and social network X; Ivanka Trump, daughter of former US President Donald Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner. A good number of actors and stars have also landed one after another: actor-comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his family, actor-comedian Michael Rapaport and his wife, actress Debra Messing, actor-creator James Maslow, actor-comedian Brett Gelman, and Australian actor Nathaniel Buzolic, star of "The Vampire Diaries". In addition, Scooter Braun, producer and manager of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, arrived in Israel, and Madonna's personal manager, Guy Oseary, was also spotted recently.

So how did Israel find itself as a magnet for influencers during a war? Some stars, like Jerry Seinfeld, came of their own accord, without anyone asking them to enter the "war zone". Others, including Ivanka Trump, arrived after talks with Israeli officials.

Jerry Seinfeld and his daughter in Israel from Instagram page

For example, it was former basketball star, Omri Casspi, who persuaded Musk to come to Israel. Casspi, who currently manages investment fund Sheva VC and leads tech company investments, hasn't stopped at Musk, and is continuing his efforts to persuade senior businesspeople to come and show support for Israel.

Beyond the private initiatives, there are also Jewish organizations working to make sure that stars come to tell Israel's story to the world. One is Jewish-American advocacy organization Maccabee Task Force (MTF) which, even before the war, was engaged in bringing influencers and celebrities to Israel to improve the country's image worldwide. Since October 7, however, the goal has changed.

"Before the war, we didn't really talk about political matters, and that was fine," says Uriel Dison, co-director (with Sarah Granof) of MTF's media department. "Israel had terrible branding around the world, and was not perceived abroad as a country worth traveling to. We brought influencers here on visits to show the appropriate target audience there are things to do here, and that it's fun. Really, that was enough for us before the war.

"But now we don't bring people to travel around. They have to come, and see with their own eyes, the results of the war, and become sort of wartime ambassadors. So, it wasn't easy at first to bring them. There was a kind of dance -- 'Yes', 'Maybe', No', 'In a month' -- back and forth. They'd set a date and cancel it."

But the "dance" has become easier with every celebrity who sets foot in Israel. In the last two and a half months, Dison and his team have brought Rapaport, Maslow, Braun, Messing, Oscar-winning Israeli director Guy Nattiv, and journalist Eve Barlow. They also supported visits by Buzolic, Jewish-American rapper Kosha Dillz, British screenwriter-comedian Lee Kern, and many others.

"At first, it was hard to convince them to come, but now my phone is bursting with requests from people. Influencers connect us to other influencers, and celebrities to other celebrities...

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