When Houston Met Israel
With pop diva Whitney Houston today joining the ranks of those who tragically pissed their lives away down the toilet, it seems only fitting that I post about her 2003 trip to Israel.
Luckily, Ha’aretz has made the job easy.
As news of Whitney Houston’s untimely death at the age of 48 sent powerful ripples around globe, Israelis could look back at a brief often eccentric 2003 tour of the Holy Land by the six-time Grammy winner, which, sadly, proved to be her first and last visit to Israel.
In 2003 the U.S. diva, already past the prime of her career and still married to Bobby Brown, made a memorable, if not altogether strange visit to the Holy Land, hosted by the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group centered in the southern desert town of Dimona.
Houston, protected by a ring of publicists and family, rarely spoke to the local media during her trip, even famously evading a hand shake with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon while meeting him with Brown in Jerusalem.
Noting that this was their first trip to Israel, Sharon hoped it would be the first of many, to which Houston replied, “Yes.”
When Sharon asked her how she felt in Israel, Houston said, “It’s home, it’s home.”
Speaking of the awkward encounter, Israeli entertainment reporter Guy Pines remarked in a panel interview to MSNBC at the time that Sharon gave “her his hand, she like pulls Bobby’s hand, very very strongly and she doesn’t want to give the prime minister her hand and she makes Bobby shake his hand.”
“If I had a dollar for every time I said ‘strange’ in this interview, I’d be a rich man by now,” Pines said.
Speaking to the media in the American superstar’s stead, Houston’s sister and acting spokeswoman Patricia Houston said of the visit at the time: “She is loving it.”
“She is a spiritual woman and wanted to come here and touch the land and be around the saints of Dimona,” Houston’s sister added.
This is how CNN’s Anderson Cooper described her meeting with Ariel Sharon.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: One more celebrity item to mention this evening.
A high-level meeting took place in Jerusalem today, a meeting that just might determine the future of the peace in the Middle East. But probably it won’t. Just what when you thought….
COOPER (voice-over): Whitney Houston…
COOPER: Oh, let’s take a look at this. Do we have it?
COOPER (voice-over): Whitney Houston and her husband, Bobby “Sweating” Brown met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.
As photo-ops go, it was down right weird. Sharon seemed confused. The security guards, they seemed confused as well. And Houston definitely — well, she seemed distracted. In fact, she almost wandered off before it began.
Later a confused press corps asked Whitney why she was in Israel and how she liked it. This is what she said:
WHITNEY HOUSTON, SINGER: I love Israel. My land.
COOPER: Just when you thought peace process could not get any more complicated, now you have Whitney Houston claiming Israel is her land.
Well it turns out Houston is in Israel seeking inspiration for a Christmas album. She’s staying with a group call the Black Hebrews, Americans who the Associated Press reports are vegan polygamists who believe they are descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israelites.
Sounds to me like it’s going to quite an interesting Christmas album doesn’t it?
And here’s a video including footage of Whitney avoiding Ariel Sharon’s hand like the plague.
In the meantime, I prefer to remember Whitney Houston as the squeaky clean 80s singer who sung bubble gum tunes like this one I danced to at my Bar Mitzvah disco.