Barbra Streisand courts controversy in Israel before Shimon Peres party
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, The Guardian, 18 June 2013
As birthday parties go, it has a stellar guest list: Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, Sharon Stone, Robert De Niro, to name a few—and global diva Barbra Streisand to deliver her own version of Happy Birthday Mr President more than 50 years after Marilyn Monroe’s ode to JFK.
But for the world’s oldest head of state, Shimon Peres—who will be 90 in a few weeks—Tuesday’s bash isn’t just a frivolous celebration, but the start of the Israeli Presidential Conference, a gathering of global figures in Jerusalem to discuss weighty issues such as leadership in tomorrow’s world.
Despite the furore over physicist Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the conference in protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, around 5,000 politicians, diplomats, academics and cultural figures are attending Facing Tomorrow, the name of the three-day event.
Streisand, 71—who is also performing at two concerts in Tel Aviv later this week during her first visit to Israel—promised that she had “something special planned” for Peres’s gala celebration.
A life-long supporter of Israel, the legendary Jewish singer and actor described the country as “a shining beacon of hope in the world” after landing at Ben Gurion airport in her private plane on Saturday night, accompanied by her pet dog and a 150-strong entourage.
However, she quickly courted controversy by criticising ultra-Orthodox attitudes to women after being awarded an honorary doctorate from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
"I realise it’s not easy to fully grasp the dynamics of what happens in a foreign land, but it’s distressing to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus, or when we hear about Women of the Wall having metal chairs thrown at them when they attempt to peacefully and legally pray, and that women can’t sing in public," she said. "To remain silent about these things is tantamount to accepting them."