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Is Biden Losing Hollywood Democrats Over His Gaza Stance?

As Joe Biden continues to face outrage from some Democrats in the latest primaries over his stance on the war in Gaza, his Hollywood support has also begun to take some heat — especially from younger voters.

“People are pulling away — one million percent,” said a leading agent and active Democrat in a conversation with TheWrap. “I was with a bunch of young executives and producers, a group of very progressive people. The Israel issue – it’s shocking to me – but everyone under 30 at that table said they were not voting for Biden or had serious reservations.”

The tension among Hollywood Democrats over Gaza seems to reflect a distinct generational split. Older donors such as media mogul and Israeli-American Haim Saban — who hosted a fundraiser for Biden in February with music industry leader Casey Wasserman – continue to firmly support Biden, and are grateful for his vocal support for Israel. They raised $2.5 million for Biden that evening, according to an individual close to the campaign.

Saban told TheWrap ahead of the fundraiser that “if it wasn’t for Biden, Israel would be fighting this war with stones and sticks.” He added: “There’s never been a president as supportive in facts, not only in words, of Israel.”

Several other leading Democrats in entertainment said as much. “Hollywood is still fully behind Biden and his Middle East policy, but he’s still got to f**ing win,” said one top executive.

A Democratic strategist who spoke to TheWrap on background said this was the tenor among most Hollywood donors. “If anything I’d say this has cemented resolve among people (in Hollywood) who could have gone in the other direction,” the person said. “I’ve not heard any of my friends still in Hollywood saying they’re going away over Gaza. In fact people are blown away by how steadfast he’s being, instead of these idiots protesting in the streets.”

But some of those street protesters are themselves from Hollywood. “Scream” star Melissa Barrera has doubled down on her support for Palestinians after being dropped from the horror franchise for condemning Israel’s actions. Barrera posted a link in her Instagram bio in early February soliciting donations to the controversial United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to benefit “all the martyrs in Gaza and the West Bank.”

Progressives at the Sundance Film Festival in January chanted “Free Free Palestine” on Main Street in Park City, while documentarians including the artistic director of the International Documentary Film Festival applauded protestors in Amsterdam holding banners “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.”

And music legend Annie Lennox called for a ceasefire during a memorial tribute at the Grammys in February.

Michigan Democrats send a message

The awkward split comes as Michigan Democrats sent Biden a clear message in last week’s primary that many potential supporters don’t approve of his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza: 100,000 voters across the state chose “uncommitted,” 10 times the goal set by organizers.

On Super Tuesday, the uncommitted vote kept on rolling, with 19% of Minnesota voters choosing the option, according to CNN election data. Because the language on ballots varies per state, 13% of North Carolina voters opted for “no preference,” while 8% were “uncommitted” in Tennessee and “non-committed” in Colorado.

Former “CSI: NY” actor Hill Harper, who is running for a Senate seat in Michigan, also backed the uncommitted campaign. Although he wants Biden to be re-elected, Harper highlighted the growing frustration some voters are feeling. “Folks are suffering, folks are angry” about the continued suffering of Palestinian civilians, he said last week.

The Gaza issue has divided the country and the entertainment industry since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, as Biden has repeatedly declined to demand that Israel cease fire, at least not in the absence of a demand for the release of some 130 remaining hostages.

Hill-Harper
Hill Harper in “The Good Doctor” (ABC/Jeff Weddell)

On Sunday Vice President Kamala Harris called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza but reiterated that Israel has “a right to defend itself.”

In November, more than 200 celebrities, including Jon Stewart and Joaquin Phoenix, signed a petition urging Biden to call for a ceasefire.

“I think at this point that Biden is in serious danger of losing this election,” Ronald Stockton, a Professor of Political Science and a research associate at the University of Michigan Center for Middle East and North African Studies, told TheWrap. “I don’t think he realizes how at risk he is. If he does not carry Michigan, I’m not sure how he can win the presidency.”

Fervent pro-Israeli sentiments have also gotten some celebs in trouble. Selma Blair was blasted for an anti-Islamic comment she made on social media in early February. The “Cruel Intentions” actress issued an apology a week later and now has a new management team.

In January, “Stranger Things” star Noah Schnapp apologized for sharing a video of himself with the message “Zionism is sexy,” saying his intentions had been “misconstrued.” (Newsweek later ran an article titled, “Can Noah Schnapp’s Career Survive?” that concluded he was likely safe from the fallout.) It remains to be seen if “Euphoria” star Hunter Schafer will face repercussions for protesting Biden’s “Late Night” appearance this week and calling for a ceasefire.

Although the Grammys featured Israeli and Palestinian musicians playing together as a hopeful token of peace, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. was criticized on social media  for mourning the lives lost during the Hamas attack on Nova Music festival on Oct. 7, but not the lives of Palestinians. As one social media user put it at the time, “Not a word for 30,000 exterminated Palestinians, but you have words for Israelis killed?”

Grammy Nominations 2022 Harvey Mason Jr.
Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. (Getty Images)

Even the Eurovision Song Contest became a proverbial battleground, with celebrities including Boy George and Helen Mirren arguing to keep Israel in the competition, despite calls for boycotts from Finland, Iceland and Norway. (Russia was banned from the 2022 competition after invading Ukraine.)

The global music competition has little chance of avoiding the Israel and Gaza conflict. This week, the European Broadcasting Union ruled that Israel’s second entry, like the already disqualified “October Rain,” was “too political.” UK contestant Olly Alexander is among the LGBTQ artists who signed a Voices4London ceasefire petition last year.

Stewart managed to put a comedic spin on the ongoing war recently on “The Daily Show,” presented via a “Middle East Conflict Disclaimer Cam.” He suggested that the Israeli prime minister, who says the final stages of the war are within sight, borrow George W. Bush’s much-mocked “Mission Accomplished” banner from the Gulf War. But Stewart sincerely expressed his wish for “a safe and free Israel and a safe and free Palestine.”

But within the tight world of Hollywood, with its strong Jewish constituency, Biden mostly remains the choice, despite — or because of — his support for Israel during this war that has taken so many lives of Palestinian civilians.

“I didn’t perceive this as really undermining Biden in Hollywood,” said Stephen Galloway, the dean of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. “That’s a very strong base. You won’t really know until you see the fundraising taking place. If Trump becomes the nominee, the priority of 90% of people in Hollywood will be to get Biden reelected. They’ll do anything to keep Trump out.”

Emily Smith contributed to this report.

The post Is Biden Losing Hollywood Democrats Over His Gaza Stance? appeared first on TheWrap.