Gaza and Instagram make an explosive mix in Hollywood

PARIS – Hollywood celebrities are paying the price for taking sides in the Gaza war — plastering their social media accounts with slogans such as “Free Palestine” or “I stand with Israel”.

Israeli actress Gal Gadot, best known for starring in “Wonder Woman”, has expressed unyielding support for her country since October 7, when Hamas fighters burst out of Gaza, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostage, according to Israeli officials.

“I stand with Israel, you should too,” she declared to her 109 million Instagram followers.

She has continued to regularly publish or share posts demanding that Hamas release the civilians it is holding — earning her both approval and criticism.

“While you’re at it, can you use your platform to share all the missing and killed innocent Palestinians too?” a user on X, formerly Twitter, wrote in response to one of her posts.

In reprisal for the October 7 attacks, Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip and launched a ground invasion, killing more than 17,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas government.

The Instagram account of American model Gigi Hadid (picture), who is of Palestinian descent and followed by 79 million, has spent less attention on fashion in recent weeks.

She cited the “systemic mistreatment of the Palestinian people by the government of Israel”.

“Stop spreading lies. You and your sisters are antisemitic,” said one comment, with many others expressing similar views.

Famous stars can generate equally strong admiration and repulsion from the public, especially if they comment on divisive issues.

Well before social media, boxer Muhammad Ali, the actor Jane Fonda and singer Bob Dylan were adored or hated over their opposition to the Vietnam War.

More recently the actors Ben Stiller, Angelina Jolie and Sean Penn showed their support for Ukraine by visiting the country, in moves that were approved by most of their Western fans.

Insults

But the Israel-Palestinian issue is more divisive than most, exposing celebrities to even fiercer backlashes.

Kylie Jenner, the half-sister of socialite Kim Kardashian, shared a pro-Israeli post with her 399 million Instagram followers shortly after October 7, which according to US media she deleted an hour later after being hit with insults.

The Oscar-winning actor Susan Sarandon was dropped by her talent agency in November for comments she made at a pro-Palestinian rally, for which she later apologised.

Melissa Barrera, star of the fifth and sixth instalments of the “Scream” franchise, was cut from the cast of the seventh by the producers, who said they had “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred”.

The Mexican had denounced what she called “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza.

Celebrities who take sides in the conflict have “a lot to lose and little to gain”, said Nicolas Vanderbiest, founder of the public relations firm Saper Vedere in Brussels.

Producers and sponsors have little appetite for mixing geopolitics and business, he said.

In this issue, two “extremely organised” communities are on the lookout, creating a “herd affect”, Vanderbiest added.

Tom Cruise prevented his own agent from losing her job after she had referred to “genocide” on her Instagram account, according to the cinema trade press.

Celebrities could just stay quiet, but with this conflict there is “pressure to pronounce” and no immunity from criticism, said Jamil Jean-Marc Dakhlia, a professor of information and communication at Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris.

“Silence is seen as taking a position,” Dakhlia said. “So we are in a situation where you are forced to take sides, and not necessarily with much nuance.”

American singer and actor Selena Gomez, with 429 million Instagram followers, has been criticised for not taking a stronger stance on the issue.

Along with hundreds of others, including Hadid, singer Jennifer Lopez and actor Joaquin Phoenix, she took a middle road, signing a petition calling for a ceasefire and the safe release of hostages.

Earlier, hundreds of celebrities, including Gadot, had signed an open letter thanking US President Joe Biden for supporting “the Jewish people” and calling for the release of all hostages held by Hamas. 

Very few signed both. – AFP