British comedian Russell Brand has waded into the Israeli-Gaza Strip battle in a big way, backing an online petition calling for six companies to divest holdings in Israeli military operations that “support and facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza.”
Brand posted a 4:42-minute-long video, the latest installment in his online show The Trews, that focuses on Barclays, the big British bank, which provides financial services to an Israeli defense contractor called Elbit. The other companies targeted by the petition on Avaaz.org include bulldozer maker Caterpillar, surveillance-tech company HP, transportation company Veolia, Dutch pension fund ABP and security-tech company G4S.
In the video, Brand says Barclays engages in “scurrilous financial duplicity” by managing Elbit’s portfolio while it runs feel-good ads like one for “digital eagles,” bank employees who work with the elderly to ease their path into online banking.
“You wouldn’t be invested in bombing other people’s nephews, would you?” Brand says, mimicking the bank ad’s aging protagonist. Later he says, “if we’re aware of the reality of what they do, we do have the power to influence them. We’ve forgotten that we have any power or control. What we can do is aggravate them into doing things differently.”
The petition, which already has gathered nearly 1.7 million signatures, says pressuring the companies will help pressure Israel to end the “hellish cycle” by making the “economic cost of this conflict too high to bear:”
“Although Hamas deserves much pressure too, it is already under crippling sanctions and facing every kind of pressure. Israel’s power and wealth dwarfs Palestine, and if it refuses to end its illegal occupation, the world must act to make the cost unbearable.”
Israel invaded the Gaza Strip on July 18, trying to close underground tunnels and to punish the anti-Israel group Hamas, which the United States and others have called a terrorist organization and which has been firing dozens of rockets into Israeli territory. The invasion killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians and fewer than 100 Israelis before the Israel military withdrew Aug. 5. It also displaced about 520,000 residents from “no go” areas along the Gaza perimeter, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency. A fitful ceasefire has been in place since.
Brand previously had been critical of media coverage of the invasion. He also isn’t the first entertainment notable to sound off, at their public-relations peril, on the complicated and controversial politics surrounding the invasion.
Oscar-winning spouses Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz along with director Pedro Almodovar issued a statement in July calling for an end to the Israeli invasion. In the resulting tsunami of controversy, both Bardem and Cruz walked back some of their statement, saying they were not experts but also were not anti-Semitic (as some critics charged). Instead, they said, they were concerned by the large number of deaths to Palestinian civilians, especially children, and other hardships caused by the invasion. A group of Korean filmmakers also joined in protesting the invasion. In turn, actor Jon Voight lashed out at Bardem and Cruz, (as did many others on social media and beyond) saying they were “oblivious to the damage they have caused.”