The 'Carla Effect' Comes to Israel

Carla Bruni, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's supermodel wife, was the star of this morning's edition of Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. Bruni's photogenic, smiling face is front and center.

"Stealing the show," the caption underneath the photo reads.

Her husband and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are in the background of both the picture and the interest on Israel's streets.

Arriving Sunday for a three-day visit in Israel, the French president affirmed his country's positive relations with Israel, as his wife affirmed her positive relations with the media. Termed as the "Carla Effect" in Paris, Bruni brings her husband more attention when the two travel on diplomatic visits.

"It's just entertainment," David Peretz, a 20-year-old from Jerusalem, said of the presidential couple's visit. "It's fun for the media."

Sarkozy needs to draw the media focus back to himself as president, Peretz said. "She came here as his wife, but she happens to be very pretty," he said. "The media should be focused on Sarkozy. He has a lot of good things to say but, instead, everyone in Israel is talking about her."

Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, said that the coverage is completely out of proportion. "There was an opening to a radio segment that announced, 'Carla Bruni is coming with her husband,'" Keinon told ABC News.

"When he came off the plane yesterday, Israeli reporters were talking not about Sarkozy and his legacy but about how Carla looked and what she was wearing," he said.

Sarkozy and Bruni were scheduled to tour the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi by helicopter with Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday. They cancelled the tour, along with Bruni's scheduled float in the Dead Sea.

"All of Israel's paparazzi are already waiting for the president and his wife on the banks of the Dead Sea," an official at Sarkozy's office said, according to Reuters.

Correspondent Keinon called that no surprise, noting that Israel doesn't have many celebrity visits. "When they do come, it's always a big thing," he said.

"It's the People magazine culture," Keinon said. "Everyone else in the world is just as affected by the celebrity cycle, which, to a large extent, is more interesting to the masses than what Sarkozy says in his Knesset [the Israeli parliament] speech."

The star quality of the couple brings positive attention to the political aspects of the visit, David Greenberg, a 22-year-old visiting Israel from London, said. "His wife is a top model and Sarkozy is a modern guy," he said. "By saying that they are friends of Israel, people's image of Israel also will go up."

For some, however, Bruni is a little too inappropriate in her modern thinking. Itamar Goldstein, wearing a kippah, a Jewish religious head covering, said that Bruni brings negative attention to the president.

"She has taken naked pictures and does all sorts of things you wouldn't expect from a president's wife," Goldstein said. "You would expect someone in her position to be more serious."

Correspondent Keinon says that the celebrity fixation is "natural" for the times. "But it is detracting from what is a very important state visit," he said.

Sarkozy's visit comes at a very important time. Sarkozy has made it clear he is a "true friend of Israel," while also calling for political changes on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"There can be no peace without stopping settlement," Sarkozy said today in his speech to the parliament, calling for an end to Israeli development in the territories.

Sarkozy also said that Palestinians needed to make changes. "There can be no peace if Palestinians themselves do not combat terrorism," he said.

Just as President Bush did in his visit last month, Sarkozy has allied himself with Israel. "Anyone trying to destroy Israel will find France blocking the way," Sarkozy said told the parliament. "Israel must know she is not alone."

By opposing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons and calling for talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Sarkozy hopes to establish himself as a mediator of peace in the Middle East.

In his remaining time in Israel, Sarkozy has a full schedule. He will meet with the family of captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. He will hold an economic conference and participate in more political meetings.

But judging by the photos on the front pages of the newspapers, wife Bruni makes the news.