Selena Gomez to Howard Stern, celebs share opinions on Gaza in tweets and rants

What do Madonna, Javier Bardem and Rihanna have in common?

Aside from talent and many millions of dollars, they’ve all waded into the maelstrom of public debate over the Gaza conflict — and then had to extricate themselves when the going got tough.

For almost as long as the conflict has been raging, a parallel rhetorical fracas has been taking place among and between celebrities expressing their opinions on the Gaza conflagration. They’ve done so in one-line utterances on Twitter and Instagram, as well as in extensive comments on TV interviews, in advocacy videos and even in Op-Ed pieces.

The result has been the mess one might expect given the collision of social media, foreign policy non-experts and tabloid-style thinking with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On July 18, pop star Selena Gomez urged her Instagram followers to “Pray for Gaza,” then followed up a few hours later to add that she was “not picking any sides.” That was more than enough for Joan Rivers, who capped off a pro-Israel tirade by sarcastically mocking Gomez as “that college grad,” then added, “Let’s see if she can spell Palestinian.”

It all might seem a bit silly except that celebrities have the eyes and ears of ordinary people as few others do, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the battle over public sentiment matters almost as much — some might say more — than the real battle on the ground in the Middle East.

“It definitely has an effect because there are many people who are out there that are not involved in Middle East politics, don’t know anything about it, and they form their opinions on the basis of what their favorite celebrity says,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Is that fair? No, it’s not fair, but that’s the reality of the world we live in.”

Thus when, for example, married celebrity Spanish actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (along with filmmaker Pedro Almodovar) signed onto a letter accusing the Israeli army of “genocide” in Gaza, Hier thought it was important to push back. He urged Jon Voight to publish a letter that the veteran actor had written in response, and the 75-year-old Academy Award winner agreed.

Voight’s reply, which appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, ripped Cruz and Bardem as “obviously ignorant of the whole story of Israel’s birth” and accused them of inciting anti-Semitism.

Whether it was Voight’s letter or the numerous other critiques of the couple, the pushback worked. Cruz released a statement noting that she was “not an expert on the situation” and that she only wished to promote peace. Bardem similarly announced, “My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace.”

In fact a number of the celebrities who have spoken out on the Gaza conflict have followed a pattern similar to that of Cruz and Bardem — a gesture in sympathy with the Palestinians (sometimes paired with harsh criticism of Israel) followed by criticism that leads to backtracking (possibly with the caveat that no bigotry was intended), finally capped off with a vague call for peace.

It was the path taken by Rihanna, who tweeted #Free Palestine, only to delete the tweet eight minutes later and subsequently post a picture of a Jewish and Arab boy walking arm in arm with the message, “Let’s pray for peace and a swift end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!”

Madonna followed a similar path, though more elaborate, posting a picture of flowers with the caption, “These flowers are like the innocent children of GAZA! Who has the right to destroy them? No One!!!” She then quickly turned defensive, tweeting, “I do not support Hamas!” adding “I support Peace!” Then, in a twist, she posted a picture of herself with a pair of bare-topped, muscled back-up dancers — one wearing a Jewish star on his muscled abs, the other a Muslim crescent — proving again that Madonna can turn just about any discussion back to sex.

Of course, some celebrities have been more resolute in their opinions.

Jewish Voice for Peace posted a video of celebrities holding the names of Gazans who had been killed. The video included Eve Ensler, Mandy Patinkin, Roger Waters, Chuck D and Brian Eno. Eno also posted an editorial on David Byrne’s website that was highly critical of Israel.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum, Jackie Mason and Howard Stern cut loose with diatribes aimed at critics of Israel.

“If you’re anti-Israel then you’re anti-America,” Stern announced on his radio show.

A few celebrities have chosen to weigh in more carefully.

Woody Allen, no stranger to controversy, steered clear this time, saying, “This situation remains tragic and terrible, and the leaders in Israel and the leaders in the Arab world have not been able to come to an agreement.” He tipped his hand a little, though, when he added that “the Arabs were not very nice” at Israel’s founding, and “it led to problems.”

The effect of all the back-and-forth is difficult to judge. Omri Ceren, a senior adviser at The Israel Project, a pro-Israel advocacy group, noted that U.S. public opinion had stayed steady in favor of Israel, or in some demographics grown even more supportive, since the start of the conflict.

Do Stern and Voight wield more clout than Eno and Chuck D?

Ceren suggested instead, “It’s much more likely that Americans aren’t going to celebrities for their foreign policy analysis.”

Artists without borders. Or facts.

I am an Israeli, I am an American, and I am an artist. As such, the following topic is especially irritating to me. As the war in Gaza breaks yet again, we have seen an influx of artists and celebrities chipping in with their personal two cents. It can come in the shape  of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz signing an open letter condemning Israeli “genocide”: a curiously indefensible position given the tremendous Palestinian population growth since 1967, not to mention Israeli provision of aid and medical care (even in this present war) to wounded Palestinian civilians. Or it can come in the form of a popular catch phrase such as #FreePalestine,  tweeted from the likes of Rihanna and Selena Gomez.

I do believe in the power of entertainment to shape society’s point of view. Artists such as Bob Dylan,  John Lennon and Bono have made a tremendous difference when it comes to our perception of worldwide injustice.  They followed their conscience while being versed in, let’s say, the facts. They have dedicated their talents to shifting humanity’s perceptions. I don’t believe that I can say the same about, for example,  Selena Gomez.

Tweeting a bumper sticker such as #FreePalestine or signing a letter condemning “genocide” without the mention of the word Hamas, is what German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “Cheap Grace,” which he defined as “Grace, without discipleship.” Discipleship in this case would be knowledge of history and of the facts. I wonder if any of these “spokespeople” would be able to tell me what the Sykes-Picot agreement is and how it is currently affecting the Middle East, or how many border crossings Egypt controls in Gaza. But I could be wrong.

Artists tend to lean towards the underdog, or the perceived underdog. Therefore it is not at all surprising that artists would lean towards the Palestinian people. They are right, the Palestinian people are indeed miserable. My heart goes out to them and the unimaginable pain and suffering they experience. But here is a fact to know prior to speaking out: the Palestinians are under siege by their own leaders.

Much like the whole region suffers now from the rise of Political Islam, Hamas in Gaza is the same as ISIS in Iraq and other violent, fundamentalist groups. If people can’t make that connection, they can’t possibly understand what is very clear to an Israeli such as myself. Those same people, who are hurting their own people and coming after me for now, will come after them as soon as they possibly can.

It is challenging for someone who did not grow up in the region, as I did, to decipher what the hell is going on over there. However I wonder if Cruz and Bardem got a chance to read the Hamas Charter before signing their letter. They would’ve found that when Radical Political Islam reaches Spain – and we all know that it eventually will – Ms. Cruz and Mr. Bardem may find themselves on the very wrong side of history. After all, folk singer Pete Seeger and actor Paul Robeson did find Stalin to be highly admirable at first, and when American POWs claimed to have been tortured by the North Vietnamese, Jane Fonda rushed to publically call them hypocritical liars. They were in fact brutally tortured. And I don’t think I need to get into Stalin.

Media is to blame as well: it covers Israel and Palestine obsessively, largely because Israel, as a flourishing democracy, provides a safe place from which to do that. You won’t see Selena Gomez make fact-finding tours in, say, Syria or Iraq. Skewed coverage results in skewed perception and artists are as susceptible to misinformation as much as everyone else.

Should public personalities choose to get acquainted with the facts, they will also find out that Israel is the only Western Democracy in what is effectively a whole region of failed states. More so, they may actually decipher values from propaganda. What do these people you say you support stand for? What do they want? How naked does Rihanna think she can get if Political Islam achieves its international goals?

And if they do decide to research the facts prior to passionately tweeting, they will realize that the war Israel is waging is not against the Palestinian people, the war is against the ideas of radical Political Islam and its horrific manifestation on Israel’s borders.  Israel is fighting for its peoples right to live free of rockets and terror. But it is also fighting against the forces of fundamentalism that threaten us all.  It is fighting on behalf of Rihanna’s right to get as naked as she chooses.

So if you prefer acting or partying to fact-checking that’s fine, but please just stick to that. With power (and millions of Twitter followers) comes at least some responsibility.

For now I will just comfort myself that there are a handful of  entertainers, like Bill Maher,  calling this conflict for what it is: A war against radical political Islam and for Western values.

A small ray of light in these crazy times, but I’ll take what I can get for now.

Noa Tishby ( is a producer, actress and model. She was co-executive producer of the HBO series, In Treatment and founder of ActForIsrael. ( Follow Noa on Twitter and Instagram @noatishby

Rihanna tweets and deletes #FreePalestine: A new trend?

Another celeb has tweeted, then promptly deleted #FreePalestine.

The tweet was on Rihanna's account for, wait for it….eight minutes!

But in the age of screen captures, that was plenty of time for everyone to see it.

This comes just a few days after NBA star Dwight Howard did the same thing, except he apologized.

Rihanna has not yet commented on the tweet and delete.

Miley Cyrus to play Israel

Bust out the foam fingers, Israel! Yep, Miley Cyrus is coming to town.

The large-tongued woman who got the term twerking into the Oxford Dictionary will perform in the Holy Land this summer, Channel 2 reports.

The details are still thin, but it looks like the show will be slated for June in a to-be-determined venue.

While the performance is expected to be on a smaller scale than Rihanna’s recent performance, we have a feeling Miley won’t let RiRi outdo her on the controversy front.

And who knows, she might just meet a nice (older) Jewish guy.

In Israel’s local (re)elections, implications for the national scene

The international press may have paid less attention this time around, but Israel held its second set of elections within one year yesterday – this time voting for mayors and city councils.

Israelis, for their part, seemed to share the rest of the world’s apathy for this ballot. While two-thirds of the country turned out to vote in January’s Knesset election, only 42 percent made it to their polling places yesterday.

In Tel Aviv, more people showed up at Rihanna’s concert last night (50,000) than voted for the mayoral runner-up, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz (48,000).

But even with Rihanna’s numbers, Horowitz still would have lost. The story of Tuesday’s election was reelection. The mayors of the country’s four biggest cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Rishon Letzion) won another five-year term. For Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, it will be the fourth; by the end of this term, he will have governed the White City for two decades.

Incumbency even trumped concerns about corruption, as three mayors facing criminal charges won at the ballot box.

The Huldai-Horowitz race, along with a couple of others, held national implications.

Jerusalem: More than any other race, the capital city’s mayoral campaign captured Israel’s attention. Jerusalem has, during the past several years, had a growing Charedi Orthodox population and a shrinking secular and modern Orthodox sector – a trend combatted by first-term secular Mayor Nir Barkat. Barkat has increased the city’s job opportunities and cultural offerings, and oversaw the launch of the Jerusalem light rail system.

Barkat defeated a Charedi opponent in 2008, and faced a modern Orthodox challenger in this round, Moshe Leon – who actually lives in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim. Leon had the backing of a couple of powerful national politicians – former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party Chair Aryeh Deri – and he campaigned for the allegiance of Jerusalem’s Charedi voters.

Barkat’s reelection, 51 percent to 45, was a rejection of Charedi influence by the city’s voters. It was also one more setback for Liberman – whose corruption trial comes to a verdict soon – and Deri – whose spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef, died earlier this month.

Beit Shemesh: But the Charedi community showed its strength in Beit Shemesh, a central Israeli city also featuring a tense divide between a growing Charedi sector and a shrinking secular/modern Orthodox community. The secular/modern Orthodox sector united in a fierce campaign behind candidate Eli Cohen to unseat the city’s Charedi mayor, Moshe Abutbul, but Abutbul won reelection with 52 percent of the vote.

Tel Aviv: Rather than revolving around Charedi influence, the race in Israel’s secular mecca focused in part on ongoing discontent in the city’s (and country’s) middle class – a tension that consumed Israel’s attention in 2011 with the social justice protests in Tel Aviv. Horowitz, a member of the left-wing Meretz Party, tried to reignite that energy with a campaign that chided Huldai for focusing on improving the lives of the rich, at the expense of Tel Aviv’s poor and middle-class citizens. Had he won, Horowitz also would have been Israel’s first openly gay mayor.

But the voters chose Huldai, 58 percent to 41, who touted a record of making Tel Aviv a global destination and a vibrant, youthful city – with active boulevards, café culture, a busy beach and a range of cultural events. Huldai also rode to victory (pun intended) on the city’s popular bike-sharing program and expanded bike lanes, which his administration initiated. Huldai’s street ads simply featured an illustration of the mayor riding a bicycle above the slogan “A good leader.”