UPDATE, THURSDAY 3:34 PM PT: Following a statement yesterday by his wife Penelope Cruz, Oscar winner Javier Bardem has weighed in with his own clarification of an open letter to which both were signatories earlier this week regarding the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Bardem says his signature on the controversial letter accusing the Israeli military of “genocide” “was solely meant as a plea for peace. Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction.” The letter the couple signed, along with director Pedro Almodovar and other luminaries of the Spanish industry, has made headlines, and in some cases elicited harsh criticism of the filmmakers for their stance.
Said Bardem Thursday (see full text below), “While I was critical of the Israeli military response, I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses. I am now being labeled by some as anti-Semitic, as is my wife – which is the antithesis of who we are as human beings. We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war. I was raised to be against any act of violence, and the consequent suffering of humanity for it, regardless of religions, ethnicities and borders. Too many innocent Palestinian mothers have lost their children to this conflict. Too many innocent Israeli mothers share the same grief.”
UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 1:35 PM: Penelope Cruz has issued a statement to clarify the open letter that she, husband Javier Bardem and director Pedro Almodovar signed yesterday, which called for an end to “the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army in the Gaza strip against Palestinian civilians.” The comments were bound to be regarded as incendiary and polarizing, taking sides in a most controversial issue. Today, Cruz explains that her reaction was not motivated by politics as much as humanitarian concerns.
“I don’t want to be misunderstood on this important subject,” she said. “I’m not an expert on the situation, and I’m aware of the complexity of it. My only wish and intention in signing that group letter is the hope that there will be peace in both Israel and Gaza. I am hopeful all parties can agree to a cease fire and there are no more innocent victims on either side of the border. I wish for unity, and peace. … I believe in a civilization that can be capable of bringing the courage to have a world where humans can live side by side.”
PREVIOUSLY, July 29: The Gaza conflict touched the film business this month when dealmakers and filmmakers ran for a bomb shelter as shelling got too close at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and when Israeli filmmakers Ronit Elkabetz, Keren Yedaya, and Shlomi Elkabetz urged their government to seek a truce with Hamas. The attention on the world stage spiked today when Spanish Oscar winners Pedro Almodovar, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz put signatures to a statement expressing outrage over “the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation army in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian civilians.” Stars who take political positions on world issues do so at their own peril and at the risk of hurting their business by polarizing potential audiences.
The strongly worded open letter (Spanish text here), is harsh, accusing Israel of practicing “State terrorism.” Others have chimed in about the Arab-Israeli tensions, like Miral director Julian Schnabel, who told Deadline he was shocked when traveling in Israel with that book’s writer (and his then-girlfriend) Rula Jebreal and how she was degraded as a matter of course in settlement areas. “It was an epiphany,” he said. “I was totally naïve, totally in the dark and I believe so many of the American Jewish population are totally in the dark. We cannot believe that a Jewish person would behave like that. It’s not the Jewish way. We have suffered so much that if anybody should understand the Palestinian problem, it should be Jewish people. It was so disappointing and ashamed at certain moments. I was at the airport one day, leaving with Rula. I respect the security, when they check your bags. But they took her bags and put them through an X-ray machine not once but three times. We went to a second checkpoint and they made her strip and, the last minute, let her come on the airplane Jon Kilik and I were taking. And it felt just like apartheid, there was absolutely no reason for it. It was pure racism and prejudice. It was cruel and I was ashamed of everybody in that airport.”
There is a tradition of stars speaking out on everything from the Hollywood Blacklist to Vietnam (Jane Fonda will never be known as anything but Hanoi Jane by a certain segment of the population), and the pros and cons of gun control. Some stars just don’t seem to care about polarizing audiences. Like Sean Penn, a patron saint of Haiti for his tireless humanitarian work there raised hackles when he defended Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and called on the U.S. government to end sanctions; or Jim Carrey, who has made bold appeals for gun control each time another school massacre occurs.
What makes today’s declaration by Bardem, Cruz and Almodovar daring is that it comes at a time when the stakes are particularly high for taking a position on anything provocative. And these are not loudmouths; they are classy, thoughtful and elegant members of the film community. We know the price paid by Mel Gibson for his drunken anti-Semitic rants, but that shrapnel recently hit Gary Oldman for simply trying to describe Gibson’s dilemma. Suddenly, Oldman was on the apology tour for saying that Gibson had bitten the hand that fed him; the remark was condemned by the ADL for perpetuating the notion that Jews control Hollywood. This after Jonah Hill fell on his sword for angrily using homophobic language towards intrusive paparazzi when he was promoting 22 Jump Street. It’s hard to find an issue right now as polarizing as the Hamas-Israel standoff. It will be intriguing to see if the stance by Almodovar, Bardem and Cruz coaxes Hollywood to speak up, or whether the provocative position harms the trio and its standing among moviegoers around the globe.
This week, along with a number of artists in my home country of Spain, I spoke out about the conflict in Gaza urging all governments to intervene in this escalating crisis. My signature was solely meant as a plea for peace. Destruction and hatred only generate more hatred and destruction.
While I was critical of the Israeli military response, I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses. I am now being labeled by some as anti-Semitic, as is my wife – which is the antithesis of who we are as human beings. We detest anti-Semitism as much as we detest the horrible and painful consequences of war.
I was raised to be against any act of violence, and the consequent suffering of humanity for it, regardless of religions, ethnicities and borders. Too many innocent Palestinian mothers have lost their children to this conflict. Too many innocent Israeli mothers share the same grief. There should not be any political reason that can justify such enormous pain on both sides. It’s my hope that leaders involved in this complicated struggle will heed the call of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “In the name of humanity, the violence must stop.”
Palestinians and Israelis in the region deserve to have their safety and human rights recognized and respected so in the near future they may find peace and co-existence, for themselves and their innocent children. So generations to come could bring hope, forgiveness and compassion for each other. This is the most basic and necessary way to peace for all of us.