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In July 2014, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz signed an open letter accusing Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinians during the Gaza War. Days later, the married A-listers walked back their sentiments, with the No Country for Old Men actor apologizing for both as they faced a Hollywood backlash. “My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace,” Bardem stated at the time.
Fast forward seven years, and the headlines out of the fraught region are similar, with hundreds dead, mostly Palestinians. Unlike with past hostilities in the region, this year’s conflict exposed a fissure thousands of miles away in Hollywood, where public support for Israel is shifting and a counter viewpoint is increasingly finding traction, with notables such as Viola Davis to Michael B. Jordan to Zayn Malik using their social media platforms to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Yet others, like Hollywood mogul Haim Saban, a Democratic Party megadonor who was born in Egypt and grew up in Israel, are criticizing those who, he claims, “have zero understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict” amid the showbiz sentiment shift. “Misinformation spreads like wildfire in our digital era, and unfortunately blatantly distorted, one-sided memes, posts and images paint a completely false picture of the situation in Israel and Gaza,” Saban says to THR. “Whether in Hollywood or elsewhere, uninformed influencers should refrain from posting inflammatory information about issues they don’t understand.”
Hollywood lawyer Marty Singer says he’s found it more difficult to enlist stars to attend events that benefit Israeli causes, even if they privately support any given effort, over fear “they’ll be attacked” online for the sentiment.
While allegiances may be shifting, Creative Community for Peace director Ari Ingel doesn’t feel that Israel is losing support in Hollywood. Ingel wrangled 130 prominent industryites including Diane Warren and Sherry Lansing to sign a May 14 joint statement that urges “our colleagues and friends in the entertainment community to stop posting misinformation and one-sided narratives that only work to inflame the conflict instead of bringing about peace.” But he said many are opting not to get involved on social media platforms. “People who support Israel and their right to defend itself said to me, ‘The situation is just too intense for me to speak up at the moment,’” Ingel says. He says a factor in the change of sentiment recently is Black Lives Matter leadership embracing the Palestinian cause.
Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, credits the social justice movement with bringing needed awareness in the industry to the plight of the Palestinians. “I think there’s an overall consciousness-raising in Hollywood that is helped along by Black Lives Matter,” Abdullah says. “And that means recognizing the plight of oppressed people. And when we think about what’s happening to the Palestinians, there are I think many folks including in Hollywood who feel like they can’t just sit back and allow that to happen without saying something.”
Abdullah says friends like actor Kendrick Sampson, who spearheaded last summer’s BLM protests in Hollywood, have faced “pushback for his support of the Palestinian people. … It’s not that everybody all of a sudden is saying, ‘OK, the violence meted out against Palestinians is unjust.’ There is still some support for the State of Israel. I think it’s not a done deal at this point. When people say that we need to unwaveringly support the State of Israel, I think that part is over, that there’s at least some pushback on that notion that there needs to be unwavering support for Israel. But there is still a challenge that those who want to stand with the Palestinian people face both inside and outside of Hollywood.”
Online pushback has also been aimed at those posting middle-of-the-road views. Gal Gadot and Rihanna were criticized for noting suffering on both sides. The Wonder Woman star and Israel Defense Force veteran disabled comments on an Instagram post that said, “Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation. Our neighbors deserve the same.” In 2019, Demi Lovato was criticized after posting about a “magical” trip to Israel. (Lovato apologized: “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt or offended anyone.”)
Dua Lipa became a target of a full-page ad placed in The New York Times on May 22 criticizing the singer’s critical stance toward Israel. In response, on May 22, the singer wrote on Twitter: “I utterly reject the false and appalling allegations … I stand in solidarity with all oppressed people and reject all forms of racism.”
On May 24, actor Mark Ruffalo, who had been weighing in on the issue during the conflict ahead of the cease fire, noted on Twitter: “I have reflected & wanted to apologize for posts during the recent Israel/Hamas fighting that suggested Israel is committing ‘genocide’. It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here & abroad. Now is the time to avoid hyperbole.”
This story appeared in the May 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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