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Should Celebrities Be Voicing Their Opinions on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict?

By Corey Atad | Think Pieces | August 13, 2014 | Comments ()


A couple weeks ago now Spanish media began circulating an open letter signed by hundreds of Spanish artists and luminaries. The letter was a call for Spain and the EU to formally denounce Israel amidst the latest round of violence in Gaza. It stated, among other things, “Palestinians’ homes are being destroyed, they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools and fields while the international community does nothing,” as well as referring to Israel’s actions as “genocide.” The letter caused controversy, of course, much of it centered on two of its most famous signatories: Penelope Cruz and husband Javier Bardem.

The most vocal response came from Jon Voight, who wrote an op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “You should hang your heads in shame. You should all come forth with deep regrets for what you did, and ask forgiveness from the suffering people in Israel.”

Both stars quickly released clarifying statements, softening their stances and calling for peace on all sides to stem the tide of hatred and violence.
Another story in The Hollywood Reporter, published last week, sensationally speculated whether Cruz and Bardem would face being blacklisted by Hollywood. That’s unlikely to happen, despite at least one anonymous executive claiming he’d never work with the actors again, and the CEO of Relativity Media, Ryan Kavanuagh, voicing his disappointment and anger at the open letter. Kavanaugh himself admits that any “blacklisting” would ultimately only have to do with business, and determining whether the two stars still held caché with audiences in certain parts of the world.

Any talk of blacklisting, though, is disappointing. While the situation in Israel may be complex, the devastation on the ground in Gaza is difficult to stomach. It’s not unreasonable to expect people, including celebrities and artists, to call for the end of aggression by Israel, just as there will be those who support Israel’s actions. Even with the heated rhetoric of the Spanish open letter, the jump to label Cruz and Bardem “anti-Semitic” is worse. Dialogue on this subject is so polarized as to make any attempt to broach it impossible. If that’s the case for celebrities on the Internet, you can only imagine what it does to the state of truce negotiations, currently ongoing in Egypt.

Cruz and Bardem aren’t the only people to have faced wrath over publicly sharing opinions on Israel and Palestine. A Time article last month looked at the backlash against One Direction’s Zayn Malik after he tweeted “#FreePalestine.” He got a lot of support, as well as a lot of death threats. As Time reports, other celebrities, including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and Scarlett Johansson have come in for a lot of ire over comments and stances supporting different sides in the conflict.

While many would say that celebrities should simply keep their mouths shut on issues like Israel and Palestine, that’s a problematic viewpoint, and one that perpetuates the kind of polarization so destructive in these complex global crises. A famous person voicing an opinion has the chance to reach a wider audience than most, and that’s extremely valuable. If they choose to confront us with views we may sharply disagree with, that’s only a good thing. It may spark in us some self-reflection and closer examination of these sorts of issues. Do I personally agree with Cruz and Bardem on that letter they signed? Yes and no. Am I hurting for having been exposed to it? Not in the slightest, and I believe strongly they shouldn’t be punished for speaking out.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • shagan24601

    Thanks for the quality piece Corey. Well reasoned.

  • St

    And at the same time Russia kills ukrainian people everyday. And no one cares. Mickey Rourke wears t-shirt with face of Putin, David Duchovny shots beer commercial about how he loves Russia...And no one shames them in press.

  • wonkeythemonkey

    Everyone should consider themselves obligated to be as informed as possible about a controversial issue before speaking out on it publicly. This applies even more to celebrities, whose public pronouncements will be trumpeted around the world and influence the opinions of thousands of other people.

    The fact that Bardem and Cruz softened their stance in the face of backlash indicates that they did not examine their own opinions carefully enough before signing that letter. It is their carelessness, not their choice to express their beliefs, that is the real shame. It's not a proper dialogue if the participants have to keep insisting that they didn't really mean all of what they said before.

  • lemurlove

    Thank you Pajiba for taking on the Palestine issue in an appropriate way for a pop entertainment site. As far as I have seen you are the only ones to deal with the letter that Bardem and Cruz signed. I for one am glad they did.

    Of course celebrities have the same right--and duties--as all the rest of us plebs to make statements and hold positions about issues. That said, I am disappointed that Bardem and Cruz backpedaled somewhat on the original statement to which they signed on. It is a shame that so many people are still being intimidated away from any support of Palestinians by phony allegations that opposition to Zionism equals antisemitism.

    And genocide is the right word--there is NO equivalency between Palestine and Israel. Not economically, not militarily, and not morally. And am I right that so far the only flack that this couple has gotten, or at least the majority of it, has come from the US?

  • St

    So you support terrorists who send bombs on Israel?

    What do you suggest? Israel should stay quiet and let palestinian terrorists kill Israel citizens?

  • Chatty Penguin

    I really don't understand this "but...but...terrorist rockets!" line of argument. Israel have been brutalising and bombing Palestinians for pretty much all of my living memory. All it has achieved is entrenched hatred, and to make the prospect of voting for Hamas as a huge "FU" to Israel incredibly appealing to the average Palestinian. It has not stopped the rockets. Why would this time be any different? Why on earth does anyone think more Israeli bombing is going to achieve a different outcome? As they say, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

  • EhabQ

    Great Zionist propaganda 101 there, demonize the occupied people to justify everything. Here is a suggestion since you asked for one:Israel should end its settlement enterprise, declare it will act in full compliance with international law in the occupied territories, begin removing settlers and the matrix of control that enables their presence in the west bank. it should declare an immediate and unilateral ceasefire, which it far more than hamas has violated innumerable times since 2012. It should establish a truth commission about the entire occupation, and it should end its economic control over the occupied territories. it should lift the siege as well. it should release all political prisoners, stop torturing people, stop extrajudicial executions, stop destroying infrastructures, home demolitions, land thefts, destruction of agricultural property and livestock, attacks on civilians (over 20 killed in the West Bank last month where there are no rockets or hamas). That would be a good start.

  • Maddy

    Pretty sure Joan Rivers should stop though.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Are we limiting that to this particular conversation or is it a general 'Cease and Desist' request?

  • Maddy

    Well this conversation and a few other things. I fully admit her comedy isn't really my cup of tea though.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    If Kelly Osbourne is on side, you have some self-appraisal to do.

  • Maddy

    Lol for a second there I was like what Kelly Osbourne doesn't even know me!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Celebrities can come to the side of whomever they want.

    Except Dennis Rodman. That dude should shut the fuck up.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    But...but...He fixed North Korea!

  • wonkeythemonkey

    No, my friend. North Korea fixed *him*!

  • Joseph Finn

    Yes. They're humans and have the right to express their opinion. Do I have to give their opinion any further weight than any other human? Not especially. (But for pete's sake, if you're going to talk about the apartheid and genocide, stand behind your convictions and don't retreat.)

  • John W

    Of course they should be allowed to express their opinions. And we will be there to agree or disagree.

  • _Alexander_

    I am not sure if we can really call it a conflict. Under conflict we usually understand two sides are at least on some level equal. This has been the case ever in Palestine. It's not so much a conflict as much as Israel curbstimping Palestine for decades and forcing them to eat shit

    Which granted they are constantly asking for.

    My personal view point on the isssue is that both sides should go fuck themselves. Palestine should lose it's independence and come under the direct control of the UN or some other international body for at least twenty thirty years and regain any semblance of independence only once they start behaving like a goddamn civilized country and stop supporting terrorists

    Meanwhile the world should stop coddling Israel. All it's forces should be back in it's own borders, no international attacks, they should give back the land they are stealing with the settlments, they nuclear program that we all pretend we don't know about should come under closer scrutinity and we should also take a serious look at the discrimination inside their country and so on

    Goddamit world and so called great powers. This conflict is because of you. Take responsibility

  • Chatty Penguin

    "Palestine should lose it's independence"

    Palestine isn't independent to begin with - that's the problem.

  • JustOP

    >once they start behaving like a goddamn civilized country and stop supporting terrorists

    When they stop supporting terrorists, what do you think happens to them?

    The UN isn't gonna do shit. The U.S sends insane ammounts of money Isreal's way for a host of reasons. There's no way the U.S's 'coddling' of Isreal is going to stop.

  • _Alexander_

    Hence why I said they should lose their Independence. Turn it into a goddamn western colony and rebuild it, educate the population and eliminate the terrorists. All while making sure Isarel doesn't cause trouble and sticks to their side

    Well duh. Of course it won't. None of this is ever going to happen just like most political discussion. All we can do is dream on and rant

  • rio

    Yay, because colonialism has worked wonders. WESTERN COLONY? seriously?

  • _Alexander_

    Actually it has. My grandparents have lived for a while in Algeria both during the time under French rule and afterwards. And the change is enormous and for way way worse. I know that we are all supposed to be oh so open minded everybody deserve self determination blah blah but that's bullshit. Some people just can't rule themselves and if the western country gives half a crap yeah. It's much better to be a colony

    Hell I would gladly say fuck you to my politicians and have my country become a german colony for a few decades

  • rio

    the things are worse because the french disrupted the natural evolution of the country for their own benefit, its like kidnapping an healthy baby, abusing it for years and then leave them alone and get pissed if they have difficulties living a fucking normal life!

  • _Alexander_

    And this wisdom comes from your vast personal experience with Algeria?

    .The French build a wonderful foundation but religious primitives came and ruined it all. But hey I know. It's so popular and hip to bash the evil west. Why bother with actual facts.

  • lemurlove

    @_Alexander_: So your grandparents were/are Algerian Muslims? funny, because if not, then your comment sounds similar to white Rhodesians who've told me how wonderful it was in Zimbabwe when they were in control, and how rotten it is now. Same with white South Africans who you also hear making the exact same comments. "Some people just can't rule themselves" you say. Hmmm, that's quite a statement.

    The French had concentration camps--oops, excuse me, strategic villages--in Algeria, and slaughtered countless Algerians to maintain their power there. Brush up on your own wisdom and do some reading.

    @rio: great analogy, though I'd add more contemporary interference in Algerian affairs to it. Natural gas, dontcha know :(

  • _Alexander_

    Nope. Europeans. And that doesn't change the fact that everything was absolutely objectively better during the French time.

    And you examples go both ways. You really want to tell me that Saudi Arabia where they treat women worse then cattle is better off ruling itself then it would be under European rule with European laws? Or that some of these lovely villages where they mutilate little girls because of their own precious traditions? They wouldn't be better off under European "tyrany"

    You may whine all you want about imperialism about explotation about all the crimes Europe has done blah blah. But that doesn't change the fact that there are still the lesser evil then a lot of those assholes who "rule" themselves. Yeah sorry to break your world but just because someone is weaker, minority, foreign culture or whatver doesn't make them a good guy. They can be are often much much worse then horrible westerns

    So yeah you bet your ass some people can't and shouldn't under any condition rule themselves

    And you might brush up on your own reading and read what kind of horrible crimes your precious heroic rebels who over threw the "horrible" french did

  • lemurlove

    I think the US would be better off under Swedish tyranny. Or maybe Danish tyranny would be better? Think of all the horrors going on in the US: blacks being assassinated by cops, women being brutalized and raped non-stop by male "primitives" (your term), the poisoning of our food and environment by corporations, the constant bombing of other countries by our military.... I think the more civilized Scandinavians could run our country much better than we can. Right? Right?

  • _Alexander_

    Agreed. And not just the USA. I would love it absolutely love it if Sweden or preferably Germany since I have a weakness for it took control over my country as well for a few decades. Fuck self determination. I would much rather have someone competent running the show then having the "choice" to vote for the three of four corrupt assholes options I have now

  • lemurlove

    Then we would only have to follow orders. Excellent idea. Sieg Heil, Alexander!

  • _Alexander_

    Well from what I see in the USA you only have a choice between two parties anyway and they both suck. And in my country literally the politcians are hugely corrupt and incompetent and just make everything worse all the time

    So yes. I would rather get rid of the election farce for a few decades and have someone competent succesful people in charge who will fix my country even if they are foreigners then continue on with the same bullshit that has been going on for decades

    But hey. If you are so in love with your congress by all means keep it. I am sure your "democracy" works great for you

  • JustOP

    They have the right to, and if they feel strongly enough about it, I don't see any reason not to. A celebrity voicing their opinion is unlikely to have any political effect in the region - but is likely to cause waves of unfiltered idiocy (like the "death threats" you mentioned) to come pouring in on social media.

    People are outraged now because of the complete decimation Gaza faced over the past few weeks - including but not limited to Isreali's slaughtering children on beaches, blowing up UN hospitals, and so forth. Hamas thrives on the attention those sort of things bring, and suffer when the situation isn't in the political spotlight. The fact that social media is bringing us many instances of things happening swifty and easily is also swaying opinion - especially is you're unafraid of subscribing to those who publish the unflltered, brutal reality of what's happening.

    The fact that dialogue is so restricted/penalized when it comes to criticizing Isreal is also a problem.

  • guest

    if they're going to say someone is committing genocide they should have enough conviction to stand behind it. that is not something to just throw around. so if celebrities are not as familiar with the complexity of a subject like this, i would rather they wouldn't react.. but of course they have the right to..

  • Halbs

    I agree with the article and the commenters (so far) that everyone can express their views. Personally I would love it if everyone (even us plebeians!) were more civilly involved. The only bummer to me is when I am trying to take a break and AVOID all of the sad stuff happening in the world for a moment and I can't get away from it through entertainment or sports.
    Is there a "fluff only" filter for my browser?

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Well, I would suggest not clicking on an article with Israeli/Palestine in the title for the time being.
    But there has been a lot of sadness this week, so here's a duck with a pizza:


  • JustOP

    I want to be uplifted by this gif, but I have a minor concern about what that ducky is eating.

    Because, if it's chicken, then, well... we're watching a little ducky cheerfully commit cannibalism.

  • Dulce et Banana

    Silence of the Quackers!

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    No clue about ducks, but my best friend's birds LOVE chicken. They will stalk her when she's eating it and steal it from her plate. So...yay animals!

  • NateMan


  • logan

    Do celebrities have the right to express their viewpoints? Of course they do. It's a free society.

    However we have the right to disagree with them and if we feel strongly enough about it we can stop giving them money by not seeing their movies or tv shows or not buying their music.

    Their counterparts in the industry they are in have the right to not work with them if they so choose as well.

    That freedom thing works both ways.

  • Dulce et Banana

    Indeed. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but they're obligated to accept the consequences of that opinion.

    That's part of being an adult.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Exactly. It's kind of (vaguely) like the Paula Dean incident. Did she have a right to say what she did? Yes.
    Do I have the right to never ever give her the time of day again? Yes.
    I think Cruz and Bardem should have been prepared for a backlash, because when you use words like genocide, people are going to be upset.

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