A Different Kind Of Ambassador
By Liel Leibovitz - Staff Writer
The battle for Israel’s public relations has a new general. He’s skinny, and is usually draped in the latest designers’ fashion. He’s a pop star whose lyrics often tell tales of young, disaffected Tel Avivians sitting in cafés, blissfully oblivious to the political reality raging around them. And he’s gay.
His name is Ivri Lider, undoubtedly the country’s leading male recording artist. Each of his four albums went platinum or gold, no small feat in a market as small as Israel’s, and he has been chosen as “Singer of the Year” by virtually every major Israeli radio station.
Now, he’s touring the United States, talking to student groups and other audiences about what’s it like being a young, talented, openly gay, Israeli superstar.
About a year ago the idea of bringing Lider to the United States occurred to Joey Low, founder of Israel at Heart, an organization dedicated to bringing Israeli college students on speaking tours to American campuses. Having already sponsored and organized tours for two Israeli artists - the group Shotey Hanevuah and the musician Idan Reichel - Low was looking for a new artist who would resonate with local audiences, someone who could put an attractive, appealing face on Israel. His popularity skyrocketing, Lider was a natural.
“While the gay issue personally is not an issue that is in my heart,” Low said, “the idea of reaching out to a new segment of Jewish and non-Jewish people was appealing.” Low traveled to Israel to meet Lider, and decided to bring him along on an American tour. Next week, Lider will play a concert in New York, after visiting Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco. He is also slated to give talks to several gay student groups.
“For us it wasn’t just about his music or just about gay issues,” said Low. “It was about perceptions, about trying to change the way people think about Israel. Lider comes across as very sincere and likeable, and that was very important to us. He could come and sing and have fans jumping up and down, but in addition to that he can go around speaking to gay groups.”
Touring the Washington, D.C., area earlier on in the week, Lider did just that. In addition to a performance in front of a packed room at the University of Maryland, Lider traveled to the capital to speak to Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, and to the student body at Georgetown University.
At Georgetown, said Efrat Minivitzki, 24, a graduate student at the university and a volunteer for Israel at Heart, Lider drew a crowd of about 40 that was uncharacteristically diverse. In addition to interested Jewish students, she said, some non-Jewish students came in, as did gay students and professors.
The talk, said Minivitzki, was a success, as it allowed many participants to see a slice of Israel’s cultural life not often presented in day-to-day coverage of conflict and warfare.
“I think people got a much better image of Israel,” she said. “To see someone who is Israeli and comes out in public and is candid and straightforward about his life was great. The non-Jews had a good impression, as did the gay
The Jewish Week