Russell Brand has been vocal in his criticism of the media coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict. Particularly in his satirical YouTube series, The Trews.
He memorably dissected FOX News reporter Sean Hannity’s pro-Israel bias that appeared not to recognise the disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties and disallowed Palestinian guests on his current affairs show from being able to be an active part of the debate.
He recently took on Bill O’Reilly, also of FOX News, his self-congratulatory reporting of the Islamic State after the beheading of American photo journalist James Foley.
But it was a video he made highlighting an Avaaz.org petition that caused the biggest stir of all. In it, he called for viewers to put pressure on British businesses to sever ties with investments in Israel he says “facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza”.
Using Barclays as an example, he said the bank manages “the portfolios of an Israeli defence company called Elbit, which makes the drones that bomb Gaza.”
The petition has amassed over 1.7million signatures of support. His support of it, however, meant he was labelled an anti-Semite and received death threats.
In response, he’s written a blog for the Huffington Post UK, explaining why he is directly opposed to anti-Semitism. Which starts with a description of him crying at a Passover dinner he enjoyed with a long-time friend Matt when he was 16. He was on acid at the time, he says, and had managed to convince himself that the Holocaust was his fault.
But there was a very serious message lurking just behind the mentally harrowing, though comedic, introduction.
“It is difficult to countenance condemnation when the action for which you have been condemned has been editorialized to be conflagratory,” he writes. “My support of the petition has been attacked as anti Semitic. I understand anti Semitism to be a hatred of Jews, the denial of the right for Jews to have a homeland, the denial of the horrors of the last century and the plight of the Jewish people throughout history. This is obviously not my position, anti Semitism, Islamaphobia and homophobia are all prejudices that I resolutely reject, like any right-minded person. In the context of the accusation that I face, anti Semitism must be taken to mean opposing big businesses making profit from violence against Palestinian people.
He continues: “It is the exclusion of the sane majority that allows extremists to prosper. The insanity across the Middle East is so deeply terrifying and giddyingly futile that most people, despondent and bilious want to look away. We know the US can't be trusted. We know the UN are inactive. We know something has to be done to stop the violence in Gaza and the new medieval horror of ISIS but who can we trust? Our own governments, about who we know nothing for certain except they lie and pursue their own ends, sexing up and dumbing down, arming then attacking, fair-weather friends but perennial weapons suppliers?”
“One of the few ways we, ordinary, uneducated and as yet not directly affected people can participate in a climate where big business and big government do nothing but profit and prevaricate is to let them know that they do not act on our behalf and will not profit from our indifference. Methods like the Avaaz's petition provide a moderate but direct way to tackle extreme problems that we can all participate in.”
He goes on to condemn the removal of kosher and Israeli good from supermarkets as measures that “negatively impact ordinary people who are nothing to do with this extraordinary problem”.
However, he writes, we can “no longer allow arguments and our shared communicative spaces to be dominated by extremist profiteers”.
“We must disavow anti Semitism and all forms of prejudice that lead to exclusion and execution like the people of Palestine now face. All governments and institutions that permit violence and proliferate weapons in order to meet territorial or economic objectives ought be equally condemned and confronted and I, like all of us, welcome any means through which we, the ordinary people, can be empowered to act.”
He concludes by writing that peace can only be achieved when people of all faiths, classes and colours are able to mutually condemn violence in the world – whether it be in Gaza, Iraq or on the streets in Ferguson, US.
“When humble means emerge, such as this petition, which applies pressure exclusively to those who benefit from destruction the rest of us have an obligation to sign it. Small measures like this remind the powerful that they are not free to divide and desecrate, they are accountable to us and when we unite their tyranny is overthrown.”