Cultural figures consider it dangerous to openly express their views or remain silent about the crisis in the Middle East

In recent years, the negative reactions on social media have become a common phenomenon, as cultural figures and organizations use digital platforms to express their views in response to global events.

However, some of them have also faced real consequences - consequences that go far beyond social media - for their public statements on the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Real consequences of taking sides In the world of talent management, Maha Dahil, from the renowned Creative Artists Agency representing celebrities like Tom Cruise, Natalie Portman, and Madonna among others, left the agency's internal council last Sunday after a series of anti-Israeli comments on social media. Dahil also stepped down from his position as a leader in the CAA's film department.

Then, on Tuesday, Dahil's outspoken stance on the war prompted one of the agency's top clients, the creator of "The West Wing" and "The Social Network," Aaron Sorkin, to leave CAA and return to his previous agency, William Morris Endeavor. "Maha is not anti-Semitic," Sorkin said in a statement to NPR. "She's just wrong."

Dahil is not the only influential Hollywood agent who has felt the consequences of statements about the conflict. On Thursday, Kitty Lang, the head of the comedy department at United Agents, resigned from her position on the agency's executive committee due to her anti-Israeli social media posts. (However, Lang will continue to work with her client list.)

And real consequences of statements about the war are not limited to Hollywood. Cracks are appearing in the cultural landscape.

Cultural center staff in New York resign after canceling a controversial author event At least two employees of 92NY (92nd Street Y), a famous New York cultural center, resigned after the center failed to host a planned performance by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen and suspended the rest of the poetry reading season. Nguyen was among more than 700 writers who signed an open letter published in the London Review of Books, calling for an end to the violence in the Gaza Strip. "I do not regret anything I said or did regarding Palestine, Israel, or the occupation and war," the author wrote on Instagram.

In addition, on Thursday, David Velasco, the editor-in-chief of ArtForum, was fired by its parent company Penske Media Corporation, just days after the international art journal published an open letter calling for an end to violence against civilians during the conflict and humanitarian aid to Gaza. The initial letter did not condemn Hamas's attack on Israel but was later revised.

Then, on Friday and Saturday, several ArtForum employees announced their departure, including deputy editor Kate Sutton and senior editors Zak Hatfield and Chloe Wyma. "David Velasco's dismissal undermines everything I valued in the magazine and makes my work there untenable," Wyma wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

The danger of silence At the same time, as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) recently discovered, the decision not to speak openly leads to similar pitfalls.

The union representing Hollywood screenwriters published a response on Tuesday to a letter sent by more than 300 of its members, including Jerry Seinfeld, the creator of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" Amy Sherman-Palladino, and Gideon Raff of "Homeland," asking why WGA could not make a statement condemning Hamas's attack on Israel.

In WGA's final statement to its members, fully published in Variety, Hamas's attack on Israel on October 7th was called "an abomination," and the union explained why it did not initially make a public statement about the conflict. The union denies "masking hateful views" and being "paralyzed by factionalism" and stated that it is "humbled by the scale of this conflict."

However, WGA's explanation did not prevent some writers from questioning their union membership or, in at least one case, resigning from it. Dan Gordon, who co-wrote "Wyatt Earp" and "The Hurricane" with Denzel Washington, left WGA on Tuesday, calling the union's lack of a statement "horrible."

To speak or not to speak? All of this is happening at a time when much of the public expects and even prefers cultural figures to speak out about global events.

Nearly half of more than 2,000 people who responded to a survey conducted by The Hollywood Reporter last week said that it is "very appropriate" or "somewhat appropriate" for celebrities to speak out about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Less than a third said it is not appropriate, and a quarter had no opinion on the matter.

"There is a growing sense that, as a publicly visible figure, you also bear social and political responsibility associated with the capital of attention you possess, which can be converted into political influence and discursive power," said Sandra Mayer, a literary and cultural historian who works at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and is a co-editor of the recently published anthology "Authorship, Activism, and Celebrity."

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