Why do we care what celebrities think about Israel and Gaza — or anything else?

Selena Gomez, Amy Schumer and Gigi Hadid. (Alexandra Picco/STAR MAX/IPx via AP, Mario Anzuoni/Reuters, Kristy Sparow/WireImage via Getty Images)
Selena Gomez, Amy Schumer and Gigi Hadid. (Alexandra Picco/STAR MAX/IPx via AP, Mario Anzuoni/Reuters, Kristy Sparow/WireImage via Getty Images)

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

  • As Israel’s assault on Gaza continues, it can seem as if just about everyone has a strong opinion on the situation. Many of the country’s biggest celebrities have weighed in, with some expressing their support for the Israeli campaign to defeat Hamas and others calling for a ceasefire to put an end to the deadly bombings that have killed thousands of people within Palestine.

  • Some celebrities have found themselves facing intense criticism for their social media posts. Comedian Amy Schumer, for example, has received strong pushback — including from Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter — after backing Israel. Model Gigi Hadid was rebuked by the Israeli government’s official Instagram account for posting a graphic that read, in part: “Condemning the Israeli government is not antisemitic.” Actress/singer Selena Gomez, the most followed woman on Instagram, was even condemned for being too “neutral” after she expressed a desire to “protect ALL people, especially children” in the conflict.

  • Celebrities speaking out on politics, and courting controversy for doing so, is nothing new. But social media platforms empower their views to spread to millions of people in an instant, and critics have a venue to repudiate and mock them directly like never before.

Why there’s debate

“I wish I could change the world, but a post won't.”Selena Gomez

  • Polls suggest that Americans are largely split over whether stars should weigh in on political issues. It’s unclear if their statements are persuading anybody. It is clear, however, that they have the power to spark social media firestorms, some of which focus on whether celebrity nonexperts should just stay quiet.

  • Many fans want to believe that they have a connection with stars as human beings, rather than just through their work. This can create a desire to know whether their worldview matches ours, and a sense of betrayal when it doesn’t. Some people may also feel that policing celebrities’ statements may be the best way for them to personally have influence on issues they care deeply about, since they don’t have enough reach to make an impact with their own posts.

  • There’s also the question of why celebrities feel compelled to comment on controversial issues when anything they say is bound to upset somebody. Many stars may simply be expressing themselves on matters they’re passionate about just like anyone else, or they may feel that their fame gives their statements extra weight. But some may also feel pressured, or even obligated, to weigh in to avoid accusations that they’re “remaining silent” on such a critical subject.

A raised fist at a large demonstration.
Protesters raise their fists as they gather for a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)


Our culture mistakenly equates fame with authority

“Of course, some celebrities have used and will use their platforms to express opinions about global crises, which is their right. But we as a culture need to stop asking them to make statements, which are often hurried and uninformed. Celebrities aren’t experts. … We don’t have to treat them as anyone other than regular citizens, people whose social media output on serious issues deserves a critical eye.” — Aamina Inayat Khan, Teen Vogue

Stars speak out because they really can make a difference

“I think celebrity influence is more important in terms of issues … in terms of voter turnout, I’m not sure it has any impact at all. If Leonardo DiCaprio speaks in front of the United Nations about climate change and makes films about climate change … that has an impact.” — Mary Murphy, USC journalism professor

Fans unrealistically view celebrities as their friends, and expect them to share their views

“With fandoms, in terms of the relationship between musical artists and actors and their fans, there is this sort of mutual love that fans and artists have for each other, which sort of can approximate that sense that they’re looking out for each other.” — Ellen Selkie, public health researcher at the University of Wisconsin, to CNN

Everyone, not just celebrities, faces pressure to let the world know where they stand

“Social media pressures us to make statements of support, condemnation or sympathy in moments of social and political turmoil. The kind of statements in question were historically reserved for those with social or political power, like politicians and world leaders. Then celebrities, athletes and even influencers began making such statements. … In recent years, the expectation to say something has somehow been extended to all of us. And the pressure includes getting it exactly right.” — Rachel E. Greenspan, MSNBC

It is important for people with outsized power to speak out, but they often miss the mark

“That those with power aren’t silent in the face of inequality and oppression is, of course, important. But there’s a limit to how helpful their statements actually can be, and they have the potential to be hollow or even harmful, depending on the person saying them — especially as our definition of a public figure has broadened.” — Kate Lindsay, Embedded

Like anyone, stars have a hard time not commenting on something so heartbreaking

“It is difficult to watch thousands of innocent people die without wanting to say something, and everyone is, of course, entitled to share their opinions, express outrage, offer historical context or point out what they consider to be bigotry. Even celebrities.” — Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

Silence isn’t an option for many prominent people

“Gone are the days of keeping mum on what were considered taboo topics. The pressure to speak up has intensified, because, for some, silence equals condoning bad behavior. Silence can speak louder than words, but fumbling through a rushed response often does more damage than staying silent.” — Eden Gillott, communications expert, to the Washington Post