Stars trek to Israel in the name of peace

Celebrities are signing up for a peace-promoting concert that is certain to garner world-wide attention.

laurence fishburne 88 29 (photo credit: )
laurence fishburne 88 29
(photo credit: )
Oscar-nominated actor Laurence Fishburne and best-selling author Deepak Chopra are among the celebrities already involved in plans to stage a major peace concert in Israel this summer, according to Los Angeles-based producer Traci Szymanski, who is in Israel this week to solicit support for the project. Tentatively billed as the "One World Concert for Peace," the event is loosely based on 1985 charity recording "We Are the World," which brought together dozens of major musicians and raised tens of millions of dollars to fight famine in Africa. The concert in Israel will focus on boosting peace efforts in the Middle East and other global flashpoints, said Szymanski, a 14-year entertainment industry veteran and one of the event's key organizers. Planners say the the concert will feature top American and Middle Eastern entertainers, as well as other performers from around the world. Pakistani pop star and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Salman Ahmed is among the foreign celebrities involved in the event, while Israeli musicians including Idan Raichel, Sarit Hadad and Subliminal will "probably" be among the performers, Szymanski told The Jerusalem Post. Efforts to reach Fishburne and Chopra before press time were unsuccessful, but Szymanski said that Fishburne would likely be one of ten or twelve international hosts of the event, and that Chopra was involved in its planning. An Academy Award nominee for his performance in 1994's What's Love Got to Do with It?, Fishburne is perhaps best known to international audiences as Morpheus, one of the central characters in the billions-grossing Matrix trilogy. Chopra, a motivational speaker and the author of 42 books on spirituality and other topics, has drawn public praise for his work from world leaders including former US President Bill and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. And Ahmed, a UN Goodwill Ambassador and anti-AIDS activist, is the lead guitarist of Pakistani pop band Junoon, which has sold 25 million records in southeast Asia. A practicing Sufi Muslim, Junoon has raised millions of dollars to aid victims of last year's Kashmir earthquake - and drew attention in the disaster's aftermath by criticizing the Pakistani government for not accepting aid from Israel. With the peace concert still in its early planning stages, Szymanski declined to provide major details about the event, though she said the date and venue had already been secured. The concert is envisioned on a major scale, however, with an initial budget set between five and seven million dollars. Planners hope to air the event live on television networks around the world, with a simultaneous broadcast to take place on the Internet. Szymanski said that a deal is in the works to broadcast the concert live to stadiums in five major cities across the globe, and that a DVD distribution deal is also under discussion. A talent booker and the vice president of the Hollywood Knights charity basketball team, Szymanski said she's been in contact with dozens of American entertainers about the event, and that the response has been "amazing" from both celebrities and potential financial contributors. The Hollywood Knights 2004-2005 squad included multi-platinum pop singer Ashlee Simpson and Desperate Housewives co-star Jesse Metcalfe, with past team members ranging from Oscar winner Denzel Washington to a former Miss Universe and members of the Backstreet Boys. While she declined to answer questions about which stars she had contacted about the event, Szymanski wrote in an e-mail that she had "no doubt" that stars affiliated with the Hollywood Knights would join her at the concert if asked. She said that once a roster of American celebrities had committed to the event, entertainers from around the world would be recruited to appear, and that the show will feature an international team of hosts. "We would like to have people of all races, religions and cultures represented," she said. A participant on the Birthright Israel program in the summer of 2003, Szymanski said the concert idea was born not long after she met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and a group of Jewish philanthropists during a subsequent trip to Israel in December 2004. She says she hopes Sharon or the next Israeli prime minister will attend the event, adding that "it's important that the Palestinians be represented as well." Efforts are underway to draw support from Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian authorities, Szymanski said. "People follow celebrities," she said. "With all the chaos, violence and terrorism going on in the world, it made sense that this had to be not just about Israel, but about peace around the world." Pausing, she added, "I want this to be as important and historical as it needs to be to ignite change."