JERUSALEM >> Justin Beiber’s trip to Israel is off to a rocky start — tentative plans to meet the prime minister have fallen through under contentious circumstances, and the teen heartthrob says he has holed himself up in his hotel to escape the country’s notoriously aggressive paparazzi.
Bieber, adored by young fans worldwide for hits like “Baby,” arrived in Israel on Monday and was planning to spend the week sightseeing ahead of an outdoor concert in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
The 17-year-old Canadian artist has set off a wave of excitement, with young females camped outside his hotel and photographers aggressively following him at every stop.
Even 61-year-old Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have been caught up in the hype. Officials in his office said the Israeli leader had hoped to meet the singer, but hinted that Mideast politics had scuttled the visit.
A spokesman for Netanyahu said Bieber’s representatives had initiated the meeting, and the prime minister thought it would be a good idea. He said Netanyahu hoped to bring children from Israel’s embattled south, which has absorbed dozens of Palestinian rocket attacks in recent weeks, and give them a “happy experience.”
“Unfortunately it has not proved feasible,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. He refused to elaborate, but Israel’s Channel 2 TV said Bieber had told Netanyahu’s office he did not want to make the visit political.
The Yediot Ahronot tabloid headlined its coverage “Bibi vs. Bieber,” using the prime minister’s nickname. “Furious Bieber,” wrote the Maariv daily.
Ronit Arbel, an Israeli spokeswoman for Bieber, denied the reports. She said there were never any plans — or even discussions — about a meeting with the prime minister.
But in a Twitter post — one of many offered by the singer in recent days — Bieber acknowledged the difficulties of Israeli photographers and the country’s diplomatic minefield.
“I want to see this country and all the places ive dreamed of and whether its the paps or being pulled into politics its been frustrating,” he said.
Israeli leaders have an informal tradition of meeting with visiting celebrities. Netanyahu hosted Madonna for a traditional Friday night Sabbath dinner two years ago. More recently, he met the Chilean miners who were rescued after two months underground when they visited the Holy Land earlier this year.
Celebrities ranging from Elton John to Sarah Palin to Leonardo DiCaprio have also had a long history of trouble with Israeli paparazzi.
A practicing Christian, Bieber complained on his Twitter page that paparazzi were pursuing him everywhere, even at sensitive holy sites.
“You would think paparazzi would have some respect in holy places. All I wanted was the chance to walk where jesus did here in isreal,” he wrote, misspelling the name of the country and failing to capitalize Jesus’ name.
Israeli media showed footage of what it said was the young star trying to escape photographers on a scooter. One of them later lodged a complaint with police saying Beiber had tried to run him over, media reported.
In another post, Bieber wrote Tuesday that he wouldn’t go outside anymore: “’Staying in the hotel for the rest of the week u happy?”’
But he later implied a change of mind: “im just excited at this pt to get on stage and perform. gonna take a little break from twitter and enjoy this time with my family until then.”