When Stephen Hawking announced he was boycotting Israel in protest of their occupation of Palestinian land the ensuing furore was nothing if not predictable.
After a barrage of appeals from Palestinian academics the world-renowned scientist cancelled his appearance at the high-profile Presidential Conference. Hawkings stated in a letter dated 3rd May: “I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
Opposition to the move from Israel was swift, condemning his decision as “outrageous and improper”, with conference chairman Israel Maimon going on to say, “Israel is a democracy in which all individuals are free to express their opinions, whatever they may be. The imposition of a boycott is incompatible with open, democratic dialogue.” Many of Israel’s supporters have attacked Hawkings on the grounds that he uses Intel technology in order to speak – it appears that they believe that the price of this ability is his freedom to speak his mind if it runs contrary to their opinions.
Palestinians living in Gaza and the Occupied Territories see very little of the open, democratic process the Israeli government claims to stand for – instead, they find themselves under fire from extremist Zionist settlers, who attack with impunity alongside IDF soldiers who have a track record of firing on civilians – often children – and detaining and torturing Palestinians in the thousands without charge.
The response from Palestinian academics to Hawking’s decision was understandably different than the Israelis. Samia al-Botmeh, of Birzeit University in the West Bank, said: “We tried to communicate two points to him. First, that Israel is a colonial entity that involves violations of the rights of the Palestinians, including academic freedom, and then asking him to stand in solidarity with Palestinian academic colleagues who have called for solidarity from international academics in the form of boycotting Israeli academia and academic institutions.”
Other public figures have also expressed their objection to the treatment of the Palestinians by the State of Israel. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd earlier this year likened Israel to South Africa under apartheid (a common comparison), and called for fellow musicians to boycott Israel, describing the occupation and illegal settlements as “an impregnable obstacle to peace.” Since then he has stated that he is reconsidering his position. “Assuming that you’re rational and that you care about other human beings, the goal strategically should be a solution of the Palestinian refugee problem, an end to the occupation, security and the right to lead a decent life for all the citizens of Israel.”
A more unexpected supporter of the Palestinian cause is international football star Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently refused to swap shirts at the end of a match against Israel. It was also reported in November 2012 that the world’s most expensive footballer donated €1.5 million to Palestinian children in Gaza.
Calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel for its theft and occupation of Palestinian land are nothing new; equally, accusations of “anti-semitism” have long been a stock response from supporters of Israel, however much they often serve as a distraction from genuine, valid criticisms – conflating anti-Zionism with hatred of Jews has long been the modus operandi of the Israeli hasbara. Similarly, criticism of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were often met with cries of “anti-American!” from the pro-war hawks.
Recently there seems to be an increasing trend in public figures and celebrities speaking out and entering the political arena, sometimes regarding far more contentious topics than the legal/ethical ramifications of the State of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
The film industry is hardly renowned for possessing a political and social conscience; while Hollywood is often perceived as being “liberal”, the number of pro-war, jingoistic movies it produces – often with the assistance of the Pentagon – would suggest that its values are more often than not in line with the ideology of the state. There are few filmmakers working today who bring to the screen the same political and social conscience of, say, British director Ken Loach, whose filmography is somewhat reminiscent of an activist’s itenerary spanning the last few decades. But Loach has always worked on the fringe of the industry – a high profile Hollywood movie about the plight of the Palestinians is unimaginable.
Yet, off-screen, a number of Hollywood figures have spoken out against human rights abuses and the projection of American military might. Woody Harrelson is one of the most vocal of these stars; having spoken out against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he has also supported a number of environmental concerns, as well as advocating the legalisation of marijuana and hemp. More recently he presented Ethos, a documentary which predictably came under fire for its lack of overt criticism of the Obama administration and accusations that it was little more than “left-wing propaganda”.
Other stars have spoken out about the nature of the industry itself. Thandie Newton, star of Mission: Impossible 2, Crash and 2012, recently told CNN of the sexual harassment and exploitation she experienced upon entering the industry as a teenager. While this was hardly a shocking revelation – the casting-couch has long been synonymous with the trading of sexual “favours” in exchange for an opportunity to advance a career in the movies – it is nevertheless rare for high-profile actors to discuss it, never mind slam the industry in such a public manner.
Roseanne Barr went considerably further than Newton in her critique of the industry when she appeared on Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set on Russia Today. In the interview, she explains how government mind control programs are associated with the movie industry, stating, “MK Ultra mind control rules in Hollywood,” a notion that regular readers of Vigilant Citizen will be all too aware of. In an interview with Larry King on CNN, Barr went so far as to say, “I believe the government has implanted some kind of a chip into my head … ”
Mind control programs have been more frequently associated with the music industry, with a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the use of occult Satanic/Freemasonic imagery in music videos by the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyonce and Jay-Z. Accused of being part of the Illuminati, these and other megastars have sometimes spoken of selling their soul to the devil in order to achieve fame – whether they mean this literally, or simply as a metaphor for the cutthroat nature of the industry, is open to debate. Dancing with the Devil by Ke$ha is to some a prime example of whistleblowing music, with the lyrics “I keep on dancing with the Devil/I sold my soul, it’s a dead-end road/But there ain’t no turning back/I keep on dancing with the Devil” – is this a coded message for her experience of the music industry?
Tila Tequila corroborated the view held by some when she spoke out quite openly about “popstars that worship satan” and the Illuminati. Writing on her blog, she stated, “Right now I can honestly tell you a gripfull of people who have signed their soul away to the devil: Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Xtina Taylor Swift, Nichole from PussyCatDolls, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and the list goes on and on and on. For those of you who are fans of these people, I am sorry, you don’t have to believe me, but it is TRUE!”
You don’t have to be a celebrity speaking out about the alleged involvement of Satanists and secret societies operating at the heart of the industry – discussing other conspiracies can land the famous in hot water, as Lauren Hill discovered. After facing jail time for tax evasion, Hill was instructed to attend counselling for her “conspiracy theories”. The offending remarks to the court included the statement, “I am a child of former slaves who had a system imposed on them. I had an economic system imposed on me.” Hardly an outlandish statement – and her views on the music industry certainly seem more reasonable than the suggestion that it is driven by occultists:
“It was this schism and the hypocrisy, violence and social cannibalism it enabled, that I wanted and needed to be freed from, not from art or music, but the suppression/repression and reduction of that art and music to a bottom line alone, without regard for anything else. Over-commercialization and its resulting restrictions and limitations can be very damaging and distorting to the inherent nature of the individual. I Love making art, I Love making music, these are as natural and necessary for me almost as breathing or talking. To be denied the right to pursue it according to my ability, as well as be properly acknowledged and compensated for it, in an attempt to control, is manipulation directed at my most basic rights! These forms of expression, along with others, effectively comprise my free speech! Defending, preserving, and protecting these rights are critically important, especially in a paradigm where veiled racism, sexism, ageism, nepotism, and deliberate economic control are still blatant realities!!!”
While Hill’s statements hardly fall into the category of outlandish conspiracy, Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, came under fire recently when she appeared on BBC Radio 4 and selected Human Race Get Off Your Knees by David Icke as her desert island book. Describing the book as “the ultimate reading adventure” and comparing Icke to Malcolm X, the author was instantly attacked by the mainstream media for her association with one of the world’s preeminent “conspiracy theorists” (Icke’s detractors are quick to jump on the shape-shifting lizards but are often silent on other matters on which he has since been proven right, such as Jimmy Savile and the paedophile networks).
Another celebrity endorsement for David Icke came from Russell Brand, who featured him on his show Brand X – Noel Gallagher from Oasis appeared alongside Icke and stated that he too was an admirer, a sure sign that conspiracy views from the fringe are permeating the mainstream. And while the media’s response is unilateral derision and contempt, perhaps it is also a sign that some of Icke’s theories – at least, some of the more palatable challenges to orthodoxy – are being considered by an audience previously completely out of reach.
It is an interesting trend to witness, and while you can’t draw direct comparisons between Hawking and his position on Israel and musicians and actors speaking out about devil worshipping and brainwashing in their respective industries, such pronouncements are at the very least curious in how they affect our perception of public figures. Whether or not what they say has any “truth” to it, when celebrities speak out a refreshing new take on the cultural landscape emerges which reflects on some of the broader – and more challenging – issues of our times.