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Stars willing to risk opinions on Gaza clash

By Chris Talbott

When director Jonathan Demme was approached to show support for all victims of the conflict in Gaza, he didn't hesitate to sign on. Actor Wallace Shawn is willing to put up with jeers on the street for his opinions about the violence. And Mark Ruffalo is determined to air his views about the fighting on Twitter, no matter the cost to his social media numbers.

The Israel-Palestinian debate was once considered so delicate a topic, it was pretty much off-limits to celebrities. But in another sign that social media is intensifying how we wrestle with sensitive global issues, stars of all stripes are taking to the Internet to openly discuss the conflict that has killed more than 1,300 people. The result is a high-profile divide rarely seen within the predominantly liberal entertainment community.

"I don't see this as being politics or statehood for Palestine or Hamas," Demme said. "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."

Demme is among dozens of musicians, actors, filmmakers, authors and sports figures who have chosen to speak out about the conflict. Yet some, like pop star Rihanna and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, had second thoughts and erased their messages of support for Palestinians soon after they were posted.

And Penelope Cruz and husband Javier Bardem quickly clarified their stand on the issue after they joined 100 Spanish signees of an open letter calling the Israeli attacks genocide. Later, more participants sought to tone down the rhetoric.

Others, though, haven't backed away from their commentary. Demme, Shawn, Chuck D and dozens more, including Nobel Peace Prize winners, participated in a Jewish Voice For Peace video in which each held up a sign with the name and age of a conflict casualty. The video attracted 100,000 views in two days on the Web.

Shawn, who is Jewish, narrates the video and said he's been criticized on the street in New York because of it. He said he understands the Jewish community's need for Israel to exist, but he would like to persuade those who support Israel's actions - including such notables as Scarlett Johansson, Joan Rivers, Howard Stern and Bill Maher - that violence is unnecessary.

"We're involved as American taxpayers, so, you know, I'm involved," Shawn said in an interview. "I'm actually paying for these cruel assaults on innocent civilians. So I am balancing out my own crimes to some very small extent by lending my voice and my face to a video protesting what I myself am doing."

Celebrities airing views on social or political issues is nothing new, said "Reinventing Yourself" author and former presidential campaign spokeswoman Dorie Clark. "But there are some issues that are far more controversial than others."

Wiping out hunger or eradicating disease are issues most people, including celebrities, can get behind, she noted. But Israel is a topic that's very personal to many people, and one that almost always causes friction - and in the case of the current Mideast clash, an unusually sharp difference of opinion among entertainers.

"If I were a publicist advising Hollywood celebrities, if your conscience absolutely compels you to speak out, then do it," Clark said. "But there are serious risks and people have been trying to figure out this situation for millennia and your voice or support one way or another may not be helpful to the overall debate."

In some ways it may be harmful, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean at the pro-Israel Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Hier, who has close ties to the Hollywood community, sees celebrities misinterpreting events and journalists ignoring history when describing the current conflict. He believes comments like those first issued by the 100 Spanish luminaries are irresponsible.

Hier believes some condemning Israel are doing it to gain fans in a climate of growing anti-Semitism in Europe.

"I think they think they're going to be more popular," Hier said. "Look around the world. I'm not talking about the United States; in the United States polls show two to one that people understand how the war started and they back Israel. But it's not so around the world."

How each star chooses to broach the issue has varied. Many acts have canceled concerts in Israel. Some cite safety concerns. Others are actively calling for a boycott, such as Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. And some try to distance themselves from the political debate, staying with a message of peace.

Ruffalo has tweeted on the issue frequently and said he's seen his following fluctuate because of it. But he's committed to using his social media voice for more than just laughs.

"When you're talking to a million people, even in 140 characters, if you get 5 percent or 2 percent or 1 percent that actually think differently for a moment or see something differently for a moment, I think you've done an enormously positive thing," he said.


AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report from San Diego.

Join the discussion

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topazmee August 01 2014 at 8:07 PM

Who cares what Hollywood celebs think or say? They live in an elite world with no worries of the average joe.

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11 replies
evacal2 August 01 2014 at 8:14 PM

The majority of actors are uneducated. Their sole job is to read someone else's words. If they knew anything about Israel's history they wouldn't be making these ridiculous comments supporting terrorists and the people who voted them in. It is also a clear masking of anti semitism. Let's stop seeing their movies, and then watch them change their opinion.

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22 replies
Sal August 01 2014 at 9:31 PM

Any actors or actresses...who voice their support for terrorists who put their ammo near children and hospitals for the photo ops to get world support...are idiots that the American audience should boycot.

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6 replies
jgesselberty August 01 2014 at 8:31 PM

These people obviously don't read or know little about the situation beyond their own sense of self-importance. Of course people want peace, and that peace has been broken 4 times now in this single conflict, and NOT by Israel, but by the Palistinians and Hamas. Where in heavens name are they getting their information. Frankly, I think they take these positions for the publicity like the attention ****** that they are and have always been.

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12 replies
bnapoli August 01 2014 at 8:33 PM

The world according to Hollywood.....who the hell cares what they think besides themselves ??
If they didn't have script they couldn't speak.

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3 replies
maggwheels August 01 2014 at 8:27 PM

Who cares what the idiots in Hollywood think. These are really ignorant, uneducated people that for the most part claim to be liberal so they continue to get acting jobs. Every time an actor speaks out politically they sound so STUPID and I tend to not want to see their movie or tv show. If they were smart which they aren't they would keep their opinions to themselves.

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5 replies
hcduley August 01 2014 at 8:28 PM

Useless bastards wouldn't lift a finger to defend this country in a pinch. After the Muslims these people should all be lynched.

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12 replies
jgesselberty August 01 2014 at 8:33 PM

With a little luck, computer graphics will replace these no-talent boobs in another decade.

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1 reply
jsm422 jgesselberty August 02 2014 at 12:30 PM

Heh-heh, you said boobs.

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vincentpricehowell August 01 2014 at 8:21 PM

Maybe Hollywood should concentrate on making better movies, instead of no acting and nothing but effects. 3/4 of the people out there can't even act. Hollywood today is nothing but body doubles and stunt doubles. The stars do nothing today, but criticize. They don't care about anything, but themselves. I'm sure Paris Hilton, stays up every night, wondering if this country is going to the sh****r.

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3 replies
Stanley August 02 2014 at 11:00 AM

These people should live in an area of conflict before judging Israel. Everyone has the right to protect their property and their lives! Hamas are cowards hiding behind women and children!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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