When Pope Francis makes his historic visit to Israel this May as an invited guest of the Knesset the press coverage will surely be pearly, because the government is paying a journalist $61,800 to do just that. Portuguese-Israeli correspondent Henrique Cymerman will receive the sum for producing reports in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Israel’s Government Advertising Agency (the actual name of the state-owned department) commissioned Cymerman to cover the trip.
In a departure from procedure the state’s advertising arm sought out Cymerman to film 14 reports, rather than calling for bids on the contract, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. The agency’s website hosts copies of bids won, however Cymerman’s is not listed.
The Government Advertisement Agency spends millions each year on tourism plugs for Israel displayed all over the world, and public service announcement. If you’ve ever watched Israeli television, you’ve probably seen overly dramatic commercials on childbirth benefits, or drunk driving and look both ways before crossing. That’s their work, soon to add to their repertoire the Pope’s visit to the holy land.
Israel Government Advertising Agency commercial for the Ministry of Transportation, a warning against drunk driving.
The Pope’s visit will come just a few weeks after a row between evangelical Christians and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) over the Christ at the Checkpoint conference held in Bethlehem earlier this month. Speaking to Israel Hayom, an Israeli daily owned and bankrolled by Republican casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the MFA lamented the conference was “particularly problematic, because it is designed for the evangelical Christian leadership – an extremely important audience to us.”
Of course the Pope is not of the evangelical, but courting Christian leaders and communities has become a staple of Israeli tourism. Both Pope John-Paul and Benedict also visited Israel early on during their tenures as heads of the Catholic church. And there is even a Knesset Christian Allies Caucus designed to “build direct lines of communication cooperation and coordination between the Knesset and Christian leaders around the world.”