Analysis: What BDS movement? Conan O'Brien defies critics on Israel tour

O'Brien enjoyed an immersive experience during his stay here, with a joy that far surpassed most celebrity visits.

September 3, 2017 15:55
3 minute read.
Conan O'Brien touches the Western Wall, August 28, 2017.

Conan O'Brien touches the Western Wall, August 28, 2017. . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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When most celebrities come to Israel, they have a photo-op or two, give a performance where an occasional “Shalom!” is called out, and then are quickly whisked away to go back home.

But late night TV host Conan O’Brien raised the bar – the brazen, red-haired funny man spent a week collecting footage for a special episode that will highlight all the high jinks that ensued while he was here.

This is far from the first time O’Brien has traveled the world to joke around with locals.

Armenia, Mexico, Cuba have all been featured in his TBS show Conan. However, when he travels the world speaking to political officials, entertainers and regular everyday folks, he doesn’t get weighty accusations like “apartheid apologist” or “enabler of an occupation” leveled at him. But Israel is a unique place, where every move is seen as a political statement.

The most interesting aspect of the his visit, though, is that he is defiantly ignoring his critics and treating Israel like it’s an attractive (and normal) tourist destination.

That’s because it is.

Take a look at all of Conan’s stops here: A visit of the set of the Israeli hit TV show Fauda (what O’Brien referred to as a favorite of his); floating and singing “Hava Nagila” in the Dead Sea; meeting doctors from Ziv Medical Center who are saving the lives of Syrian refugees; and hitting up an Israeli hummus restaurant.

By all accounts, it seems like O’Brien enjoyed an immersive experience, with a joy that far surpassed most celebrity visits.

We saw a mere glimpse of a love for Israel when Steven Tyler of the rock band Aerosmith jokingly declared that he was “making aliya.” But O’Brien went a step further. He joked around with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and fed Netanyahu’s dog cucumbers.

He posed with IDF female combatants of the Caracal Battalion. And he posted everything on social media for his 25.4 million followers to see.

He is, essentially, Roger Waters’s worst nightmare.

“[His visit] demonstrates that Israel is a great country. And when someone like Conan says all these nice things about Israel – nobody is forcing him to do it – it’s really a great feeling,” a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post.

Nobody can accuse O’Brien – a Harvard graduate with a deep love of history – of ignorantly wading into this conflict zone. He must have been warned of the consequences prior to his departure, and it seems as if every attack against him only emboldened him.

He didn’t ignore the conflict either.

Posts showing him touring Bethlehem and meeting Israeli Arabs in Jaffa show that he is well aware that Israel is a complex place where coexistence is possible.

“I think there are a lot of people who think of Israel as a tense place, but that’s not the impression that you get,” he told Channel 2 in an interview last week.

This visit could be a harbinger of how future celebrities enjoy their stay here, and an indication that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – the big, bad wolf threatening Israel – is really a feeble dog with a lot of bark but little bite.

Despite the millions the government is pouring into fighting this battle, perhaps it is really visits like these that can help change hearts and minds when it comes to people’s impressions of Israel.

“I don’t really understand the politics, but I see many good people in these pics and videos. I don’t understand why there is so much negativity,” one commentator wrote on O’Brien’s Facebook page.

It is that exact sentiment that can eradicate the BDS movement once and for all.

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