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New Biden cultural advisers represent mixed bag on Israel

Bruce Cohen and Lady Gaga to co-chair the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Lady Gaga enters the inauguration platform as she prepares to sing a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Department of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II.
Lady Gaga enters the inauguration platform as she prepares to sing a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2021. Credit: Department of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on April 13 his 24 appointees for the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, to be co-chaired by Lady Gaga, and Jewish producer Bruce Cohen, known for films such as “American Beauty” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”

The singer Stefani Germanotta, who goes by Lady Gaga, is not Jewish but has performed in Israel and reportedly told a crowd in Tel Aviv: “You are strong, you are brave, you are confident.” She added, “I love you, Israel,” with an expletive added in the last phrase.

Some of the other 22 members of the committee, which is to advise Biden on cultural policy, have also supported Israel and Jewry. Steve Israel, a former member of Congress, including as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was respected on the Hill, as well as in the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Humanities professor emeritus at Stanford University Arnold Rampersad, an appointee, was one of the faculty members who signed a letter stating that equating Israel with apartheid “displays a profound ignorance of the horror that was South Africa as well as contempt for democracy in Israel.”

But other appointees have different track records.

Bruce Cohen, Academy Award-winning producer of “American Beauty” and Academy Award nominee for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Credit: Department of Defense News Photo by E.J. Hersom.

Harvard University history professor Philip Deloria, according to the Biden administration announcement, studies “comparative histories of Indigenous peoples in a global context.” He was also a signatory with Harvard colleagues of a statement “in support of Palestinian liberation,” which accuses Israel of “state violence” that “has devastated Palestinian life through a combination of warfare, territorial theft and violent displacement.”

The statement also calls Israel an “apartheid” system “that institutionalizes the domination and repression of Palestinians” amid a “decades-long process of dispossession.” It also said Israeli “ethnonationalist violence” was at an all-time high.

Another appointee is actor George Clooney, who has largely remained mum on Israel. His wife Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin), a human-rights lawyer, has said that she is “horrified by the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, particularly the civilian casualties that have been caused, and strongly believe that there should be an independent investigation and accountability for crimes that have been committed.”

The actress Jennifer Garner, who is also an appointee, has a history of condemning antisemitism but also liked a video of National of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan which comedian Chelsea Handler shared.

In 2016, the Zionist Organization of America stated that an episode of “Scandal” written by the show’s creator Shonda Rhimes—an appointee to the new presidential council—used a “veiled reference to religious Jews” as a metaphor for evil. “Up until now, ‘Scandal’ has avoided antisemitic references, and the offending line last week appears to be an isolated incident,” the ZOA wrote.

The actress Kerry Washington, who is an appointee, has voiced support on social media for Palestinians. (A 2014 Salon article, which accused Israel of having “massacred more than 1,000 Palestinians” in the prior three weeks, hailed Washington as one of the “gutsy celebs” that “have tweeted support for Palestine.”)

Other Jewish appointees include Nora Halpern, who is vice president of leadership alliances at Americans for the Arts; Marta Kauffman, co-creator of “Friends”; and producer Ricky Kirshner.

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