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Canceling Celebrities While the Holy Land Goes to War

Canceling Celebrities While the Holy Land Goes to War

On October 7, at 6:30 a.m. local time, on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War that pitted Israel against its Arab neighbors, the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas launched a devastating land, air, and sea attack that killed and injured thousands and seized nearly 200 civilian hostages, who are now believed to be in the Gaza Strip.

On October 12, at 8:49 a.m. PST, Gal Gadot, an Israeli Jewish actress, model, military veteran, and granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, tweeted a missing persons information form for people to report knowledge of civilians whose loved ones cannot find them in the wake of the attacks.

This message, fairly apolitical on its face, garnered some support but also a vast number of unsympathetic, even outright antagonistic responses. “Israel is a terrorist state,” reads one. “Resist, Palestine!” cries another. Plenty refer to Gadot’s words as “Zionist propaganda.” Some go so far as to openly defend the Hamas attack:

More and more lies of the Zionist occupation. How do you justify killing civilians and children, arresting women and minors, stealing land and homes? We have come to a time that describes defending the right as [sic] terrorism and settlement and killing as legitimate defense!

Gadot is not the only performing artist to inadvertently call down the wrath of the armchair warriors that call Twitter (now X) their home. Star Wars star Mark Hammill received dozens, if not hundreds, of replies associating him with the villains of his own breakout franchise after simply tweeting, “America stands with Israel.” One such comment reads, “What you are supporting is the genocide of the people of Palestine. You’ve taken the side of the empire.”

Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman retweeted a post commenting on the NYU Law School student president’s public message explicitly supporting the Hamas attack. The retweeted post reads, “Imagine being a Jewish student at NYU Law School who doesn’t know if their kidnapped grandmother is alive and seeing the head of your equivalent of the student council saying ‘grandma had it coming.’” One of the numerous unfriendly replies says, “I have so much totally real empathy for that totally fictional person. Also, some grandmas do totally have it coming.”

What motivates this impulse to respond to sympathetic messages from public figures with antagonism and hatred? What makes a Jewish celebrity’s solidarity with her own people so odious to this mob, which perennially seems never to have anything better to do in a time of tragedy than seek out actors, musicians, and artists to “cancel”? These individuals who tried to cancel J.K. Rowling due to her concerns about transgender ideology, who successfully lobbied Disney to commit the politically motivated firing of Gina Carano from multiple Star Wars projects, have now turned their ire toward those who speak out against an assault on a civilian population. Why? What could they hope realistically to accomplish?

I hypothesize, nothing. That’s the point.

This behavior does not require action, only typing. It does not incur the threat of social consequences, since the typists will be patted on the back by everyone who agrees with them for signaling their virtue so clearly. It does not affect their reputation in the real world, as many of them use profiles without their names or photos. It removes any need for critical thinking or the perception of nuance.

What such behavior really does is give the cancelers an illusion of control over the events of history that they witness. Control is a natural human desire; we want mastery over our destiny and, often, the destinies of others. We become frightened when we perceive that life is not within our sphere of influence. Things we cannot control intimidate us.

Online virtue signaling, however, enables people to forget that they are sitting insignificantly behind a cell phone or keyboard, and not on the front lines. Signing a petition to get an author unpublished, tagging movie studios in tweets calling for the removal of an actor, and bullying Jewish models and comedians makes them believe, if the desired cancelation is achieved, that they played a part in effecting it. They might even convince themselves that it was their signature or tweet, and theirs alone, that finally altered the world in their favor. They might congratulate themselves that transgender Harry Potter fans are safe from imaginary Rowling-inspired violence, that Disney+ subscribers can watch The Mandalorian without being “triggered,” and that Hamas controls the Holy Land through their efforts, not the turning tides of history that transcend any action which a single mortal could take to radically alter social systems, especially such an “action” that consists solely of a simple inflammatory hashtag or mean comment.

The behavior of these cancelers makes it easy to adopt a “holier than thou” attitude for those who choose more active, more principled means of getting involved in world events, but it should not. Rather, it should inspire self-reflection about where our priorities lie when tragedy or controversy strikes.

Do we, too, resort to mob mentality and armchair advocacy when we see something happen that we feel is morally wrong? Or do we take meaningful steps to influence our society, by voting with purpose, writing eloquently to our leaders, and above all else, respectfully entering into reasoned discourse with those who see the world in different ways? In an age where reason is radically uncommon, it may be the most important thing we can do to stand up for what is right.

Image credit: “Gal Gadot,” by Gage Skidmore on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0. Image cropped.

Ethan J. Connor
Ethan J. Connor

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  • Avatar
    Mary Poindexter McLaughlin
    October 19, 2023, 4:00 pm

    I was with you until the very last paragraph. I used to believe that "voting with purpose, writing eloquently to our leaders" were "meaningful steps to influence our society," but I've seen far too many instances where those steps rang hollow. In New York State, I learned that
    elected officials at a certain level simply aren't listening to their constituents anymore. They don't have to. That's not who butters their bread, and they know it.

    However, the last recommendation, "respectfully entering into reasoned discourse with those who see the world in different ways" is, at this point, the only way I can see to gather our power together. From there, we begin.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, well-written article.

  • Avatar
    Kalikiano Kalei
    October 19, 2023, 4:06 pm

    Fortunately for me, Ethan, I spare myself the needless aggravations of social media (more aptly renamed 'anti-social media') by staying well away from anything that permits clueless intellects to spew verbal diarrhea freely, via the internet… Life is too short and there are so many much better paragons of true human wisdom to focus on than the ignorant opinions of teeny-weeny brain-cell people who dwell excessively on smartphone-time. Social media is one of the substantive principal degraders of 'quality of life', of course, and this deleterious dynamic took a steep dive into even deeper regions of whacko when the internet enabled everyone and the family dog to express their opinions via a 'blog', on-line…regardless of whether or not they can connect more than two dots contiguously on any given subject.

    Might I suggest that we start encouraging people to read books like Christopher F. Rufo's illuminating recent work, titled 'America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything' (Barnes & Noble) instead of reading the unintelligible shorthand of mouth-breathing internet social media friends?' Perhaps that would help restart their lapsed critical thinking capabilities once again?

    Another good starting point might be Sarah Bakewell's "How to Live", or 'A Life of Montaigne." And while they're at it, enjoy a modest glass of Montaigne's prized wines as well.

  • Avatar
    Bill Howard
    October 20, 2023, 6:00 am

    I have to admit I find the phrase "the holy land" a contradiction when compared to what happens there. Who can possibly call that place "holy" with any sincerity?

    If anything the murderous feelings of so many there and around the world when referencing it render it unholy and a place better described as one of hellish levels of mutual hatred.


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