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Breaking a culture of silence, public figures increasingly voice support for Palestinian rights

August 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm

As Israel’s brutal assault on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continues unabated, the number of people voicing their support for Palestinian rights is increasing, including Western politicians and even celebrities. By speaking out for justice in Palestine, public figures also face a harsh backlash from pro-Zionists, but it seems that the longstanding culture of silence about Israel’s continuing war crimes is becoming more and more tenuous.

While the British government is staunchly pro-Israel, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott wrote an op-ed last week for the Sunday Mirror newspaper arguing that Israel’s “military action supposedly targeting Hamas is so brutally disproportionate and so grossly indiscriminate that it makes it impossible not to view Israel’s actions as war crimes.”

Prescott likened the Gaza Strip to a concentration camp, saying: “What happened to the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis is appalling. But you would think those atrocities would give Israelis a unique sense of perspective and empathy with the victims of a ghetto.”

This op-ed sparked a backlash from Jewish groups in the UK, who attacked Prescott for being “deeply offensive” to Jewish people and asked Labour Party officials to investigate his “misconduct”. One conservative peer also labelled him as anti-Semitic.

The situation for celebrities wanting to support Palestinian rights can be just as difficult, but more and more public figures seem to be determined to speak out.

A week into Israel’s current military campaign in Gaza, singer Rihanna expressed her support for Palestinian rights by tweeting the hashtag #FreePalestine, only to delete it several minutes later after receiving a barrage of abusive messages from her followers. She then posted a generic message of “peace” for both Israelis and Palestinians.

The following week, singer Zayn Malik from the pop band One Direction followed suit by tweeting #FreePalestine and he too was bombarded with hateful messages. But even though Malik received death threats, he did not remove the tweet.

More recently, actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, along with director Pedro Almodovar and other notable figures of the Spanish film industry, wrote an open letter in which they described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide”.

The letter called for an end to the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip and urged the EU to condemn the current Israeli military campaign, saying: “Gaza is living through horror these days, besieged and attacked by land, sea and air. 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.”

The actors immediately faced harsh criticism, including accusations of anti-Semitism, forcing them to issue clarifying statements stressing their opposition to anti-Semitism, but at the same time reiterating their strong support for a durable peace in Palestine.

This follows an earlier open letter published by the Guardian newspaper and signed by an array of Nobel laureates, politicians, artists, musicians, writers and others condemning Israel’s “illegal” military aggression in Gaza and calling upon “the UN and governments across the world to take immediate steps to implement a comprehensive and legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during apartheid.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.