Headlines are buzzing that Justin Bieber declined to meet a group of children affected by Gaza rocket fire during his highly-publicized trip to Israel. And that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in response, canceled his scheduled meeting with the teenaged superstar, which was to take place the day before Bieber’s show at Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on April 14.
To which I say: Give Bieber a break. Bibi Netanyahu took advantage of the public relations opportunity offered by his meeting with the global superstar to invite the children to attend, according to haaretz.com. Bieber apparently canceled after learning of this curveball. The singer is just 17, and he’s been burned before—thrust into political hot water when a Rolling Stone reporter—very inappropriately, I might add—asked the then-16-year-old to comment on abortion and other political issues.
Bieber has hinted about his feelings in several recent tweets: ” i want to see this country and all the places ive dreamed of and whether its the paps [paparazzi] or being pulled into politics its been frustrating,” one tweet read.
[Related: Rise of the Jewish Justin Biebers]
Other tweets stated: “i’m in the holy land and i am grateful for that. I just want to have the same personal experience that others have here” and “You would think paparazzi would have some respect in holy places. All I wanted was the chance to walk where jesus did here in isreal.”
While other artists have declined to perform in Israel for political and/or security reasons, Bieber and his mother, Pattie Mallette, a born-again Christian, were excited about visiting the Holy Land, Bieber’s manager, Scott “Scooter” Braun” told me in February, when I spoke to him about the documentary “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. “Justin told me he wanted to rearrange his touring schedule because he wants to do seder in Israel,” Braun—who has become Bieber’s Jewish “father figure” —said in a phone interview.
When I asked if Bieber was going to visit sites such as Yad Vashem, Braun said, “He wants to see it all. And it’s not just him; I want to take the entire crew, put them on tour buses and let them see the country. And can I be clear on something? It isn’t just about going to Israel. If the right situation presented itself and we got invited to go to Egypt [note: Braun said this before the democracy-related unrest] or Jordan or any of these places, we’d go as well, because at the end of the day, music isn’t something that’s supposed to be held to one group or another.”
Bieber’s Tel Aviv concert is expected to draw some 60,000 viewers; let’s hope the experience proves a positive one for the young singer, who seems like a real mensch. He even recites the “Shema” with Braun before every one of his shows, in part, to make the Jewish members of his crew feel at home.
Bieber and his crew had been gathering in “prayer circles” before each performance, led by Mallette: “I felt like if we were going to say a prayer ‘in Jesus’ name, amen,’ that Dan Kanter [the show’s music director] and I, who are Jewish, should be represented as well,” Braun said. “We’d do the same if we had someone Muslim or Hindu in the group – we’re all-inclusive. So Dan and I would say the ‘Shema,’ and after the third show, as we were about to say it, Justin chimed in. I asked him, ‘What the heck was that?’ and he goes, ‘I memorized it.’ He was like, ‘This is something Jesus would have said, right?’ and I said, ‘yes,’ and he’s like, ‘Then I want to say it with you guys.’ I explained that it’s one of our holiest prayers, and that it means the Lord is one and he thought that was cool. He knows it’s in ancient Hebrew; he knows that Jesus would have said it and since Dan and I are every close to him, he wanted us to feel included as well. He’s a very special kid.”