As Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov pressed a button from his podium at the open-air Azrieli amphitheater, the top of Tel Aviv’s Crown Plaza City Center building lit up with a golden “616:45:38” on Sunday night.

There are 616 hours, 45 minutes and 38 seconds until the international vote for the New Seven Wonders of Nature draws to a close.

Meseznikov was partaking in the official inauguration event of a huge projection countdown clock that will tick away the remaining days, minutes and seconds until the competition’s end on November 11.

Israel is one of the 28 remaining contestants, in what will be narrowed to a final seven that day, through votes gathered from every corner of the world on www.new7wonders.com. The Tourism Ministry has invested millions of shekels in its worldwide campaign to push the Dead Sea forward.

“We are using something positive to explain the State of Israel,” Meseznikov explained to a group of journalists seated in the amphitheater, emphasizing that Israel must be depicted as a “normal state” and “a state that stays here.”

Two years worth of time and money has gone into his ministry’s efforts to advance the Dead Sea, both in Israel and all over the world, on the Internet and through other modes of publicity, he added.

While the minister continued to praise the historical and tourism value of the great salty body of water, he also acknowledged the importance of the coming days and paid tribute to the impending release of Gilad Schalit, calling this time “a really critical week” and concluding his speech with words of hope for his return.

Before Meseznikov spoke and officially started the counter, singer Layla Malkos sang an emphatic “Yam Hamelach (Ish Eir)” by Yehuda Ofen and Eli Kaniel.

“It’s the biggest natural spa in the world,” said Channel 10 Foreign News Desk Editor Nadav Eyal, who served as the master of ceremonies for the evening. “There is no place like it.”

The Tourism Ministry insists that despite the large investment that went into the entire campaign, it will definitely pay off in the end.


“The positive exposure of the Dead Sea throughout the entire contest has reached millions of people all over the world, and through the Dead Sea in this contest they got the opportunity to see what Israel is about in a pure, positive context without the conflict,” a spokesman for Meseznikov told The Jerusalem Post after the ceremony.

“We do hope that the Dead Sea will be one of the seven wonders, but we are satisfied with the results and there are three weeks left.”

From Israel, interested voters can send an SMS message to 2244 with the words “Dead Sea” in either English, Hebrew or Arabic, or vote by logging onto www.votedeadsea.com.

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