Hollywood takes on Israel

 

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza and the mounting toll of civilian casualties has become a divisive issue in Hollywood as well as in Washington.

Film, music and sports celebrities have stepped up their criticism of Israeli military strikes, which have led to the deaths of more than 1,800 Palestinians.

Actor John Cusack over the weekend re-tweeted an article comparing conditions in Gaza to those in Soweto, a black township in South Africa, during apartheid.

Cusack, who starred in “High Fidelity” and “Bullets Over Broadway,” also declared on Twitter, “Mass bombing of civilians is wrong no matter who does it - ok?”

Actors Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz signed a letter published in a Spanish newspaper that denounced the Israeli offensive as “genocide.”

Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk in “The Avengers,” has used Twitter to highlight the destruction of the el-Wafa hospital in Gaza and called “blowing up” hospitals something he thought “all human beings could agree was off limits.”

Actress Mia Farrow questioned why Israeli forces are bombing homes in Gaza while claiming a primary objective of their campaign is to shut down tunnels used by Hamas fighters. She has suggested the offensive will spawn more violence.

“What is Israel’s long-term plan for Gaza? They can’t kill everyone. Those who survive can never forget. They will want to be martyrs,” she wrote on Twitter.

Jonathan Demme, who won an Oscar for directing "Silence of the Lambs," has spoken up for Palestinians caught in Israeli air strikes.

“I don't see this as being politics or statehood for Palestine or Hamas,” Demme told The Associated Press. “I think it's about taking innocent lives and the destruction of a culture. ... I've never been ashamed of my pacifist point of view of things at any time since I became a card-carrying hippie back in the '60s.”

Singer-songwriter John Legend said he was “so sick of watching our secretary of State have to grovel so hard to tell Israel how much he loves them while Israeli cabinet sh—ts on him.”

Rob Schneider, a veteran of "Saturday Night Live" who went on to play Deuce Bigalow, tweeted, “To not be outraged at the killing of children is to risk your very soul. #Gaza.”

Members of Congress have generally been quick to back Israel’s war as justified, and the Obama administration has repeatedly underlined Israel’s right to defend itself.

Still, there has been some sharp criticism in recent days from the Obama administration over Israeli strikes that have killed civilians.

On Sunday, the State Department issued a statement criticizing as “disgraceful” an Israeli strike outside a United Nations-operated school and shelter that killed 10 Palestinians.

President Obama, who has received campaign contributions from many of the stars criticizing Israel's actions, said Friday that “innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience.”

Many of the celebrities who have criticized the military offensive in Gaza have given campaign contributions to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks fundraising.

Other celebrities have defended Israel’s actions and slammed fellow stars who have suggested Israel has shown little regard for civilian casualties.

Jon Voight slammed Bardem and Cruz in a guest column for the Hollywood Reporter.

“I am heartsick that people like Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem could incite anti-Semitism all over the world and are oblivious to the damage they have caused,” he wrote.

“You should hang hour heads in shame,” he added. “You should all come forth with deep regrets for what you did and ask forgiveness from the suffering people in Israel.”

Bardem and Cruz, who are married, have backed off their public criticism since it was published.

Bardem said his decision to sign the letter was “solely meant as a plea for peace.”

“Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction,” he added.

Cruz conceded, “I’m not an expert on the situation” and said her only wish in signing it was “the hope that there will be peace in both Israel and Gaza.”

Charlie Barrett, the founder of The Barrett Company, a publicity firm based in Los Angeles that represents television and motion picture industry clients, said celebrities who weigh in on Gaza won’t likely see any negative impact on their careers. 

“If a film producer wants to cast someone in a film, I don’t think they think so much about their politics, they think about the kind of artist they are,” he said.

Barrett said the publicity from speaking out on Gaza or another highly charged political issue does not have any benefit but it likely doesn’t cause damage either.

“I don’t think it’s good probably, from what I’ve read and heard but I frankly don’t know of any case where someone’s career was destroyed by their politics or something they may believe in,” he said.

Schneider, however, tweeted on Monday that he suspects some powerful Hollywood players might want to retaliate against actors and directors who have spoken out against the military campaign.

“Jon Voight is proof that Hollywood is always ready to start a new Blacklist!” he wrote.