The United Nations is facing criticism over claims that a star-studded fund raising event hosted by Madonna at its headquarters last night was used to promote the controversial Kabbalah Center and a new Gucci store.
Bloggers and some media reports criticized the use of the UN building in New York for the event because it raised funds for Raising Malawi, an advocacy group administered by the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles.
The project, fronted by Madonna, is predominantly run by staff from the center’s educational arm, Spirituality for Kids (SPK), which teaches a curriculum based on the fashionable faith, which has its roots in Jewish mysticism.
The event, which was attended by Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Demi Moore, Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez, also faced criticism because the chief executive of the fashion house Gucci, Mark Lee, described it as a celebration of the fashion house’s new store in New York, which opens tomorrow.
Gucci, which paid for the celebrity-packed event, said all the money raised would be split between Raising Malawi and Unicef – the children’s arm of the UN.
The celebrities paid up to $10,000 (£5,125) each to dine on grappa-cured salmon, wild striped bass, tart of goat’s cheese, foraged mushrooms, truffled mashed potatoes and sticky toffee pudding with creme fraiche. They also bid for prizes including a private hour playing football with David Beckham and a dance class with Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Lee said yesterday that the event had raised $3.7m (£1.9m).
He added: "It’s a coincidence that we happen to be here and we’re opening an important store on Friday. Really tonight is about the charities and the money we’re raising."
Madonna also rejected accusations that the fund-raising bash, which featured performances from Alicia Keys, Timbaland and Rihanna, was tarnished by commercial interests.
"I don’t really pay any attention to that. I am grateful that Gucci has underwritten this event – that’s all that matters to me – their generosity. There’s always controversy surrounding anything that involves change," she told Reuters.
"I want to put Raising Malawi on the map. I want credibility as a philanthropic organization. I want to inspire people. I don’t want them to just write me a cheque: I want them to give me a piece of their heart."
Philippe van den Bossche, executive director of Raising Malawi and director of development for SPK, said it was "absolutely not true" that any money raised would benefit Kabbalah.
He said the organisation was a non-profit, registered, non-sectarian organization, with the goal of providing support for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who did not attend the event, said on Tuesday that he understood the proceeds would "be used for a proper purpose as agreed between Unicef and the organizers".
Gucci was also denied permission to use the UN logo in its advertising.
But the UN chief wanted to distance himself from the event due to questions about the commercialism and his unfamiliarity with Raising Malawi, according to officials.
The US Fund for Unicef said yesterday there was "no formal relationship between Raising Malawi and UNICEF".
Alicia Barcena Ibarra, Ban’s undersecretary general for administration and management, said her office "should have investigated more fully" before it approved Unicef’s request to hold the event in the grounds of the UN headquarters.
According to Unicef, almost 1 million people in Malawi are affected by HIV/Aids, including 83,000 children. Half of the country’s 1 million orphans have lost one or both parents to Aids.
Madonna’s interest in helping Malawi orphans is personal – she and her husband, director Guy Ritchie, are raising a young Malawian boy they hope to adopt. But the adoption has hit several stumbling blocks since they took him from an orphanage in late 2006 when he was 13 months old.
Human rights groups have accused Madonna of using her fame and wealth to circumvent the country’s adoption rules, although the singer has insisted she is following the law. Malawi’s high court is to hold a hearing this year into whether Madonna and Ritchie are suitable parents and should adopt the child