While Arsenal's many Jewish supporters attend synagogue for first-day Rosh Hashana services this Saturday, their absence at the club's new Emirates Stadium will be filled by the presence of billboards promoting Israel, as the much-anticipated Israel Tourism Ministry sponsorship finally gets underway.
A ministry spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post that the advertising campaign had been cleared and would start at Arsenal's home game against Sheffield United on Saturday, Arsenal's first game of 5767.
The launch was delayed from the scheduled August 19 start of the season, as the ministry feared that a campaign promoting Israel might spark a negative reaction in the UK after the war in Lebanon.
A London-based ministry official said at the time that, given the way Israel was portrayed in the British media during the war, the Tourism Ministry and Arsenal mutually agreed it would be better to wait until the cease-fire agreement was secure and Israel was out of the limelight for a while before starting the promotions. Over a month after the cease-fire took effect, the advertising, billing Israel as a safe and fun place to visit, will fill the new 60,000 seat stadium.
The spokesperson declined to comment further about the launch. Previously, the official said that the government would be compensated for the lost time on the campaign.
In February this year, then-tourism minister Avraham Hirchson and Arsenal managing director Keith Edelman, signed a 350,000 pounds sponsorship deal whereby Israel was to be featured on digital billboards and LCD screens around the stadium as well as on the club's Web site and in its magazine. The campaign formed part of the Ministry's efforts to boost tourism from the UK. It took on greater significance after the war dramatically slowed foreign tourist arrivals and industry professionals called for increased activity abroad to promote the country.
Arsenal's involvement with the ministry came under the spotlight, as the deal pairs Israel with the club's main sponsors, Emirates Airlines. The Dubai-based airline reportedly paid $100m. for the naming rights at the stadium, and Israel's association with the club sparked controversy over their speculated dissatisfaction with the deal.
Arsenal was not available to comment for this story before press time.