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Blockout campaign targets local celebrities on Palestine as politicians given notice, too

The social media campaign that started in the US targets influencers and celebrities accused of directly or indirectly undermining the Palestinian struggle.

5 minute read
The #Blockout campaign aims to remind artists, celebrities and influencers of their humanitarian duty to show solidarity with the people of Palestine.
The #Blockout campaign aims to remind artists, celebrities and influencers of their humanitarian duty to show solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Well-known personalities from prominent businessmen to entertainers have been increasingly vocal in their support for the Palestinian cause in the wake of a new campaign against influencers seen as indifferent towards the events in Gaza.

Recently, actress Kasih Iris Leona, known for her controversial antics on social media, distanced herself from her actor father Azhar Sulaiman's cynical statement against artists who support Palestine.

She then appeared on a talk show and recounted her experience of witnessing the mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers during a visit to the occupied territories.

Meanwhile, Khairul Aming, who is known for his viral recipe videos and his "Sambal Nyet" brand, teamed up with graphic designer Sofyank to produce a video that educates the public about the Palestinian conflict.

These actions would save them from becoming a target of #Blockout, the online campaign that aims to name and shame famous people and celebrities whose actions and speech directly or indirectly undermine the struggle of the Palestinian people.

Unlike the global anti-Israel boycott campaign, which is based on the guidelines of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, #Blockout is a new way to send a message to those with influence in the public sphere.

The campaign, which is not led by any organisation, is based on the observations and perceptions of the actions of influencers and celebrities.

#Blockout originated in the US as an online protest during the Met Gala night in New York on May 6.

The fashion show was accompanied by protests from pro-Palestinian groups who saw it as a kind of vanity indifferent to the suffering of Palestinians and the genocide in Gaza, where at least 35,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israeli bombardments since October last year.

The protest was dismissed by influencer Haley Kalil, who uploaded a clip of her lip-synching "Let them eat cake", the famous 19th-century phrase used by the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette, to disparage the poor in the run-up to the French Revolution.

Shortly after Kalil's video sparked anger, an online movement emerged seeking to call out celebrities seen as mocking the Palestinian cause.

Celebrities targeted

Targets of #Blockout include celebrities and influencers who have contracts as brand ambassadors for companies with close ties to the Israeli economy.

It also targets those who support or remain silent about the policies of the Zionist regime.

Messages conveyed in conversations and presentations can also put a person in the firing line.

This is what happened to singer Ning Baizura, who was accused of being indifferent to the situation in Gaza.

Ning had asked "Who is this?" during a live session with her fans "when a user in the accompanying chat wrote "All eyes on Rafah", referring to the border town in the southern Gaza Strip under attack by the Israeli army.

Following criticism and accusations of ignorance of current events, Ning explained herself and asked her fans not to victimise her.

So far, #Blockout in Malaysia has identified more than 20 personalities, including prominent actress turned hijab businesswoman Neelofa Mohd Noor, actress Sheila Rusly, as well as Hasmiza Othman, the flamboyant business owner better known as Dato Seri Vida.

They are among dozens of people named by various social media users who have actively campaigned for #Blockout.

"Even though some of them are people I have idolised, I have no choice but to block them. I can not compromise with someone who has no common sense when it comes to the plight of our brothers in Gaza," Liena Bunkerz wrote in a post on May 13.

Also on the list is Malaysian-born Hollywood star Michelle Yeoh, who was criticised for not speaking out against the bombing of Gaza.

Neelofa was named because of her association with the handbag brand Dior, which she promotes on her social media pages.

Dior is one of the companies being boycotted for alleged links and investments in Israel.

Sheila Rusly has been targeted because she is an ambassador for Maggi, the popular instant noodle brand owned by Nestle, which is often the target of anti-Israel boycott campaigns.

The Swiss-based food company owns Osem, one of Israel's largest food manufacturers, which is also listed on the Tel Aviv stock exchange.

Meanwhile, Dato Seri Vida has been targeted for flaunting luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, which activists consider inappropriate at a time when a genocide is taking place.

MalaysiaNow contacted the trio above for a response but has received no reply.

Politicians next?

One social media user who actively promotes #Blockout said that politicians could also be targeted.

"Whether they are on the side of the government or the opposition, they are always on our radar. Just follow the BlackRock controversy and people are wondering who is the mastermind behind it," he said, referring to the involvement of a company owned by global investor BlackRock in a consortium with government agencies to manage airports nationwide.

"Politicians and policy makers will think twice before trying to defend the indefensible," he added.

The social media activist, who declined to be named, said #Blockout should remind everyone that they cannot turn a blind eye to the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.

"The genocide that is happening should always be in our consciousness. Even the worst of human beings cannot ignore it."

#Blockout and cancel culture

The effectiveness of the #Blockout campaign is demonstrated by the fact that model Scha Alyahya has lost 100,000 followers from her Instagram account.

Scha became a target after criticising the campaign and calling it a senseless act that spreads a bad image of celebrities.

#Blockout has sparked a debate about whether it is a form of "cancel culture" where a person is repeatedly attacked in cyberspace.

One New Zealand academic said there was nothing wrong with "cancel culture" being used as a means of scrutinising a person's response to a humanitarian issue.

Sabrina Moro, who teaches media studies at the University of Otago, said celebrities and influencers become targets because they have the power to draw media attention to certain issues.

"Celebrities can orient our attention towards certain issues. They can also encourage forms of political actions or inactions," she said in a recent podcast.

"The responsibility lies in how they can legitimise or further draw attention to already existing forms of activism."

However, the absence of a body managing #Blockout raises the question of whether the unsupervised campaign could be used as a weapon to attack innocent people.

Aware of the risks involved, one Instagram user promoting the campaign, blockout2024my, wrote: "Don't write hateful comments here. Our mission is to stop ads (that support brands with ties to Israel)."