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Despite critics, Conan O’Brien visits “fantastic” Israel for first time

American comedian and late-night host Conan O’Brien toured Israel recently and had nothing but high praise for the Jewish state, uploading candid videos of his adventures to social media on a daily basis.

Critics of Israel, however, slammed the visit as unbalanced, claiming O’Brien did not spend enough time with the Palestinians, and that he helped to promote Israeli “propaganda” designed to downplay or hide the “occupation.”

Born in Massachusetts in 1963, O’Brien has an Irish Catholic background. He gained celebrity status through a career in show business, which took off when he became a writer and producer of The Simpsons in 1991. Among many other projects, he also spent time hosting the Late Show after Jay Leno left the production.

O’Brien was filming an episode of his show “Conan Without Borders” for the TBS network. While previous episodes of the show have focused on Mexico, Armenia and Cuba, this one will feature his tour of Israel in an episode to be broadcast in the U.S. later this month.

O’Brien reportedly refers to himself as a political moderate, but has also been described as a “staunch democrat.” To the anger of some critics, O’Brien apparently had a most enjoyable time in Israel — a visit which he documented prolifically on social media.

O’Brien happily posed with female IDF combatants, socialized with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and fed his dog), sang Hava Nagila while floating in the Dead Sea, and visited the set of the hit Israeli TV series “Fauda,” which he says is a favorite show of his. He also became an honorary “hacker” at the Tower of David Hackathon, an event in which teenagers brainstorm and join designers and developers to come up with interactive solutions that will help young people get the most of out their experience of Jerusalem.

On a more sober note, O’Brien also visited the Safed Ziv Medical Center where medics treat wounded Syrian civilians who are brought over the border into Israel for treatment.

After having spoken with staff and Syrian patients, O’Brien concluded that the medics doing this work at the Ziv center should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“I am amazed and excited by what is being done here at Ziv for the sake of people from a neighboring country and an enemy,” he told medical staff.

O’Brien also visited Palestinians in a refugee camp in the West Bank and Bethlehem. However, for many Israel critics, his visit was unbalanced and ignored the conflict. Haaretz, for example, stated that O’Brien’s encounters with Palestinians were “stereotypical” meetings in market places where he learned to haggle, was sold a fake hookah and drank tea.

The paper accused  Israel of “laundering the occupation” and presenting itself as “small, attractive country with unfortunate PR.”

Regarding O’Brien’s portrayal of his tour, Haaretz described him a “patsy” for Netanyahu’s agenda.

“O’Brien has amplified Israel’s positive propaganda apparatus more efficiently than the state itself could have dreamt someone of his stature would ever do,” the paper reported.

Undeterred by the negative backlash, O’Brien gave a positive report to Israel’s Channel 2 TV station last week.

“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 said.

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Karen Faulkner
Karen Faulkner recently completed a Master's degree in Human Rights and Transitional Justice at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She made Aliyah in 2006 and lives in Jerusalem.

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