Tweet and delete: On Gaza, celebrity courage — and cowardice — over social media – Salon.com
What do NBA basketball player Dwight Howard, singer Zayn Malik and actress Selena Gomez all have in common? Each one spoke out on Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip. A flood of celebrities, including Rihanna, Amar’e Stoudemire, John Cusack, Madonna, Mia Farrow, Mario Balotelli, Javier Bardem, Kerry Washington, Rob Schneider and many others have also chimed in, ranging from Malik’s “#FreePalestine” to Schneider’s “the ugly inhuman siege has had its deadliest day.”
There is good reason for the outpouring of support. Over the last three weeks, Israel has massacred more than a thousand Palestinians, wounded over 6,200, struck hospitals, shelled schools, hit U.N. shelters, cut electricity, and bombed media vehicles. The gruesome images of four Palestinian children bombed to death on the beach penetrated a mainstream media that predominantly reports from the Israeli side of the border and ushers in an endless parade of Israeli officials on cable networks.
Israel’s actions prompted a cascade of indignation on social media and it wasn’t long before a long list of celebrities weighed in. Predictably, these celebrity tweets and Instagram posts didn’t go unnoticed. Within eight minutes, Rihanna deleted her tweet. Howard apologized, stating, “Previous tweet was a mistake. I have never commented on international politics and never will,” and Gomez followed up her “Pray for Gaza” Instagram post with, “And of course to be clear, I am not picking sides.”
So what gives? Why be compelled to speak out, then hurriedly delete? The reality is celebrity brands are big business and a rush of criticism instantly catches the eye of P.R. handlers and agents. As comedian D.L. Hughley noted to TMZ, simply saying “#FreePalestine” comes with “repercussions.” These celebrities, varying from concerned to downright outraged, posted their thoughts instinctively. In response, a small group of incensed fans went on the attack, including some who said they would unfollow Gomez in protest and one commenter who proclaimed, “I hope you burn in hell with cancer.” Faced with such controversy, it’s safe to assume that these celebs’ handlers sprang into action and had the posts deleted.
The fact that some celebrities are still at the “tweet and delete” stage doesn’t diminish their heartfelt reaction to Israeli violence being exacted against Palestinians in Gaza. The key takeaway is that celebrities are increasingly disturbed by Israel’s policies and are speaking their minds. That is commendable. Hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, who recently withdrew from a concert in Israel to respect the Palestinian call for boycott, responded to Howard on Twitter, “To @DwightHoward I understand that NBA is a corporation & you have certain obligations. I still appreciate your efforts to be human.”
Despite the backlash, many artists did in fact stand firm. Waka Flocka Flame, John Cusack, Joey Barton, Mark Ruffalo and Eddie Vedder all responded by pushing back on angry fans. After criticizing the U.S. for allowing suffering to take place in Palestine, Waka Flocka tweeted, “Investigate b4 u open your mouth,” while Cusack remarked, “govs bombing innocent people trying to live – resort to murder to solve 0political problems and should be condemned- by all human beings.” Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain tweeted out a now infamous photo of the beach massacre, saying, “Maybe it’s the fact that I walked on that beach – and have a small child that makes this photo so devastating. #Gaza”