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By: Lisa Matkowsky
Has it become trendier to express anger about the Palestinian situation in the Gaza conflict than to support, or even take time to understand, Israel’s standpoint? This is the crusade of the bullies of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a movement whose intimidation tactics include threatening the careers of celebrities in a drive for a cultural boycott of Israel. The zealous measures taken to pressure celebrities into taking extreme positions against Israel works because celebrity statements strongly influence popular opinion. After all, who wants to disagree with their heroes? Tactics range from online coercion to threats to damage sales or reputation, to sabotage, and even violence and death threats.
Celebrities who have followed the fashionable trend of raging against Israel include Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Russell Brand, Meg Ryan, Wallace Shawn, Eddie Vedder, Emma Thopmson, John Cusack, Cynthia Nixon, Jonathan Demme, Sinead O’Connor, Rosie O’Donnell, Brian Eno and Anthony Bourdain. Bullies beget more bullies.
There are Hollywood bigwigs standing up for Israel and against such “thought control” (nod to Waters), and the counter-trend is picking up thanks in part to social media campaigns like BINTA (Bullying is not the Answer), whose mission is to stand up to these bullies and show support for public figures and businesses who do the same. Using viral social media promotions and traditional media tactics designed specifically to garner communal support for artists with the courage to buck the trend, BINTA has created well-known and highly-trafficked Facebook pages to specifically thank Scarlett Johansson, Neil Young, Justin Timberlake and Jay Leno for their pro-Israel stances in the face of tremendous hostility. To date their efforts have reached over two million people including the very celebrities they set out to support.
Additional A-list entertainers are adding their voices to the resistance. Most recently, nearly 200 celebrities signed a petition organized by the Creative Community For Peace (CCFP) in support of Israel, including Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Aaron Sorkin, Ivan Reitman, Seth Rogen, Kelsey Grammer, Ziggy Marley, Roseanne Barr, Mayim Bialik, Tom Arnold, Sarah Silverman, Minnie Driver, Omri Casspi, Josh Charles, Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun, Benji Madden, Joel Madden, Bill Maher, and Kathy Ireland.
Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), recently condemned a request by a group of actors led by Danny Glover for an all-out cultural boycott of Israel. “It is time for Hollywood – actors, producers, and others – to speak out against those within their own ranks who demonize Israel and thus fan the flames of anti-Semitism in America and beyond,” Lauder said. “We call on America’s film industry to speak out against the growing campaign to boycott the Jewish state. Just like anti-Semitism, unfair criticism of Israel should be condemned. “It is time that those in Hollywood who stand with Israel come forward and speak out against the calls to boycott the only democratic country in the Middle East,” Lauder said.
Actor Jon Voight, who has been a consistently staunch supporter of Israel for years, wrote in an open letter in the Hollywood Reporter : “My name is Jon Voight and I am more than angry,” he said. “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.” Voight was responding to a letter from more than a hundred Spanish artists, including Cruz and Bardem, accusing Israel of “genocide” in its assault against Hamas militants.
Fortunately, there have been more and more superstars brave and critical-thinking enough to defy the cultural discrimination both by performing in Israel such as Paul McCartney, Aerosmith, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keyes, David Guetta, The Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake. Others such as Robert DeNiro, Howard Stern, Ashton Kutscher, Jon Lovitz, Joan Rivers, Simon Cowell, Ellen DeGeneres, Gene Simmons, Jackie Mason, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jesse Eisenberg, Russell Simmons, Vanessa Williams, Tom Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and Mark Pellegrino and have expressed their support in myriad other ways.
For example in Mr. Jackson’s case, it included visiting this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade and tweeting a picture of himself there. Despite the innocence of his action, he was immediately subjected to thousands of nasty comments on social media. However, in this case the response from his supporters was overwhelming to the point that he did not even feel the need to address the negativity.
The growing counter-movement, as evidenced by the success of organizations like BINTA and CCFP continue to be there to answer the nastiness and generate the kind of grassroots support that is increasingly saying to these bullies that their behavior will no longer go unanswered.