The unlikely celebrities and influencers helping to highlight Gaza

Whether they achieved fame through the football pitch, the recording studio, or the catwalk, many well-known faces are spreading word of wrongdoing to their audiences and fanbase.

The unlikely celebrities and influencers helping to highlight Gaza

On the face of it, Palestinian-American supermodel Bella Hadid has little to do with French football legend Eric Cantona. He, in turn, might appear to have little to do with British-Albanian pop singer Dua Lipa.

Inhabiting different worlds, on different continents, with different audiences, they seem as disparate a trio as possible. Yet they share one important thing in common: Gaza.

Each is an A-lister in their worlds, each has a global reach, and each has taken a very clear, moral, and some might say brave stance on Israel’s war on the coastal strip, and on more than two million Palestinians who live there.

While others may have played safe, these three did not just call for a ceasefire. They condemned the Israeli occupation as having perpetuated a massacre against Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank for nearly nine months.

They are not alone. Hundreds of well-known individuals—including intellectuals, writers, artists, athletes, singers, and social media influencers—have done similar. Some have faced significant consequences in their field for doing so.

The harder option

Those who choose to take a stand and speak out do so for personal reasons. Their decision is taken above and beyond politics, religion, ideology, and race. It is based on ethics. Their concern is a humanitarian one. This breaks all boundaries.

Some of the famous faces calling out the international criminality being perpetrated in Gaza wade into issues, but many make a habit of avoiding political rhetoric.

They are unaffiliated to political movements. Debates over colonialism or resistance are simply not their area or interest. They just felt sufficiently moved to say something here.

Each has taken a very clear, moral, and some might say brave stance on Israel's war on Gaza and its two million Palestinians when they did not need to.

It would undoubtedly have been easier not to. They could have kept quiet, continued with their careers, and focused on their work, without the hassle of scrutiny, criticism, or censure for standing up to Israel over its war-waging.

Bella Hadid, who is of Palestinian descent, could also have chosen the easy option, much like her sister, Gigi.

Even if she had advocated for a ceasefire, she was under no obligation to participate in a recent music video showing solidarity with Gaza, as she did earlier this month. In a week, it garnered 280,000 views on YouTube.

Dua Lipa, who will headline this year's huge Glastonbury music festival in the UK, also operates within a sphere in which there is no pressure for her to take the stand that she did, telling her 88 million Instagram followers that Israel was committing "genocide".

She wrote: "Burning children alive can never be justified. The whole world is mobilising to stop the Israeli genocide. Please show your solidarity with Gaza." 

Likewise, the former Manchester United star Eric Cantona, hero worshipped by millions, could have remained enraged in private only, yet he has issued statements and, most recently, recorded videos of him reading letters from children in Gaza.

Known to muse on philosophy, his corporate sponsorship and advertising deals will be an important source of income for him, and these can always be withdrawn, so like the others, he is taking a risk.

Driven by injustice

Why did they speak out? The sheer extent of the horror is the most likely reason. They are not off-target, either. If the International Court of Justice is looking into charges of genocide, they are more than justified to point to the pain of the impact.

The scenes of death and destruction in Gaza go beyond what any reasonably empathetic person can tolerate. They overwhelm the emotions and are impossible to overlook, not least when you consider that 15,000 children have been killed. What did they ever do to deserve that?

Another factor that has prompted the stand from those with vast armies of fans has been the response of Western governments to this war. At best, it is cowardice. At worst, it is complicity and collusion.

Like millions around the world, this trio of stars and others like them recognise that our interconnected and globalised world cannot have lasting peace while its longest-standing and most severe occupation persists, and even expands.

As long as the Palestinians' plight is perpetuated, there will always be an oppressed people striving to secure their right to independence, freedom, and dignity, and there will be always be people prepared to use their influence to support them.

Today's tech enablers

Technology and social media enable that support. It also turns the pop singer, the supermodel, and the football player into more than just entertainers. It makes them opinion formers. That makes them powerful.

These days, certainly in the West, engagement with vital global issues goes beyond politicians, intellectuals, and philosophers. Increasingly, tech sets the tone. It creates the means and the space for decisions to be discussed by those who are well outside the traditional confines of political power.

Technology and social media turn a pop singer, supermodel, and football player into more than just entertainers. It makes them opinion formers.

It helped Kylian Mbappé, possibly the world's top footballer, urge young French people to vote against "extremes" in the upcoming elections.

He did not name individuals or parties, nor did he have to, since his words were quickly condemned by French presidential candidate and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Across the Atlantic, the presidential election in November is leading the candidates to seek the vocal support of celebrities and stars. This is nothing new, especially in the United States, but the perceived weight these A-listers' support adds has increased.

When, for instance, a global icon like the singer Taylor Swift endorses Joe Biden for president, she does so to her 95.2 million followers on X/Twitter. Voters who do not listen to politicians listen to their idols.

While social media can help spread word about just causes like the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment, or the Black Lives Matter movement, it can also be misused to misinform. Likewise, it can help disseminate hatred and discrimination, which may ultimately lead to violence.

Dawn of a new ethical age

Nonetheless, the reach and impact of these celebrity Gaza warriors shows is that talking about, and taking a position on, the more sensitive and controversial topics is no longer the taboo it once was. Indeed, it is nearing the point of expectation.

While Israel's finely honed PR blitz over its actions in Gaza has no doubt dampened criticism to some extent, it has also failed to understand that those with huge online audiences are far more likely to speak out now, in 2024, than ever before.

As the Israelis continue pushing their misleading narratives in the expectation that no big global stars will put their head above the parapet, they have looked up to find several staring down at them.

This shift is critical, as it means that far more of the world will now witness and hear about events of importance, when otherwise they would not. This largely circumvents the well-greased PR machine.

These souls of conscience, whose voices and faces have graced our radios and screens for years, are now using their scope to amplify the voices of humanity, and social media amplifies their ability to do so. It is, quite literally, a brave new world.

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