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.