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Hollywood stars and Israel: Is the relationship fading over Gaza?

Since the Israeli incursion into Gaza began, celebrities have been vocalizing their reaction

Nabila Pathan

Published: Updated:

Since the Israeli incursion into Gaza began more than a month ago, there has been a growing trend of celebrities vocalizing their reaction to the ongoing conflict. Media interest in the “flood of celebrities” and their outpourings has been incessant, provoking a level of scrutiny often reserved for world leaders.

Expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians have emerged from a mix of artists. Rihanna was one of the first names to have tweeted with the hashtag #FreePalestine before later deleting the tweet replacing it with a much more neutral message following Twitter backlash by some of her fans:

Let’s pray for peace and a swift end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! Is there anyhope?.... pic.twitter.com/jHD56KXkcu

— Rihanna (@rihanna) July 15, 2014

Even Penelope Cruz and Bardem, who initially joined more than a hundred Spanish artists accusing Israel of “genocide,” were seen to be partially retreating when they offered further clarification that they respect the people of Israel and “mourned their losses.”

Meanwhile, others pop stars like Selena Gomez, Zayn Malik and Madonna have remained constant with their initial stance, despite the criticisms, not getting caught up in the “tweet and delete” phenomenon.

Comedians like Russell Brand and Jon Stewart and actors such as Mark Ruffalo and Wallace Shawn have also waded in to vocalize outrage at the disproportion of death and destruction inflicted Gazans, seemingly not fearful of the potential backlash. All have experienced some negative reactions on social media.

For some celebrity fans who have grown tired of what they see as the same “rehearsed key messages” by politicians, stars from the entertainment industry represent a more influential voice. Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Amir Paro, a Jon Stewart fan explains that “reaction by celebrities against Israel’s policy towards Gaza is relevant and counts because fans consider them important, whilst most people my age probably didn’t even go and vote for our leaders in power.”

With daily outpouring of images of death and destruction, it’s not so surprising that celebrities have been wading into the Israeli -Palestinian debate. However, the media coverage on celebrity involvement has been polarized.

The online publication Jezebel has been critical: “they are commenting on a very sensitive and controversial subject rather flippantly. There is a lot of depth and history to the conflict that can’t fully be conveyed in an Instagram post”

The article then goes on to offer a set of ground rules for celebrities, such as: showing commitment to the cause, re-tweeting reputable sources like journalists on the ground, and remaining constant to their opinion in critique of the celebrities who have taken back their comments fearful of the backlash.

In contrast, The Salon believes : “The fact that some celebrities are still at the “tweet and delete” stage doesn’t diminish their heartfelt reaction to Israeli violence being exacted against Palestinians in Gaza. The key takeaway is that celebrities are increasingly disturbed by Israel’s policies and are speaking their minds. That is commendable.”

Hollywood’s Israel ties

Criticism of Israel by Western celebrities marks a turning point. Media pundits have likened the celebrity criticism of Israel as the “last taboo in Hollywood” and even “unthinkable.”

This is because of the “close ties to Israel - a cause which tends to unite prominent, liberal Jews such as Steven Speilberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Barbara Streisand” according to a recent article in the Guardian. Pro-Israel support within the music industry also remains prominent. For instance, Simon Cowell donated £90,000 to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces at a fundraiser last year.

It still remains to be seen whether celebrities can help influence direct change in the conflict zone which currently evades most heads of states involved in diplomacy and negotiation. However, with a wide spectrum of celebrities reacting to the visual horrors emerging from Gaza, and the mixture of support or backlash it is provoking on social media, is highlighting a bigger question - do celebrities have a public role or responsibility to take a vocal stand in the conflict? This particularly resonates amongst prominent names who have been noted for their silence on the issue such as Spielberg, Steisand and Katzenberg