OPINION - Hollywood luvvies only blamed Israel but never talk about Hamas or Sinwar — how shameful

 (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Virtue signalling is as familiar a feature of the annual Oscars ceremony as emotional acceptance speeches. So it was no surprise on Sunday evening that Billie Eilish, Ramy Youssef, Mark Ruffalo and other Hollywood celebrities wore red badges demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

Of greater interest is the Artists4Ceasefire campaign responsible for this new red-carpet accessory, and the letter that the group has sent to Joe Biden, motivated, its signatories say, “by an unbending will to stand for our common humanity”. Most striking of all is the fact that the petition mentions the pogrom that triggered the conflict only once, and in passing (“Since Oct 7…”) Anyone with a shred of decency wants to see an end to the horrors of this war. But it is important to unpack what, precisely, is meant by the “ceasefire” which is so widely and noisily demanded.

It is, for instance, assumed to be more or less within the gift of the US President. “We believe that the United States can play a vital diplomatic role in ending the suffering,” say the letter-writers (who include Annie Lennox, Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Dua Lipa, Florence Pugh, Jennifer Saunders, Juliette Binoche, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy).

Have these creative talents, one wonders, been paying even the slightest attention to the shuttle diplomacy of Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, and the increasingly public calls by the president himself for a sustainable cessation of hostilities? The reason Biden and Blinken have not yet prevailed is because the task is so complex. It requires much more than ethical position-taking.

It was, after all, Hamas that broke the ceasefire five months ago. It was Hamas that killed more than 1,160 people on October 7

In reality, when most people call for a “ceasefire” what they mean is that Israel must end its military campaign — unilaterally. Blame is laid squarely on one side. As he accepted the Oscar for best international feature film, Jonathan Glazer, director of The Zone of Interest, who is Jewish, repudiated “Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation” — an apparent reference to the “occupation” of Gaza, from which, in fact, Israel withdrew in 2005.

Hamas has continued to fire missiles into Israeli territory but is rarely the focus of such pressure. Only very occasionally is Yahya Sinwar, the group’s leader, mentioned as the man who could stop the war today, immediately, by ordering his terrorist army to lay down its weapons.

It was, after all, Hamas that broke the ceasefire five months ago. It was Hamas that killed more than 1,160 people on October 7, deploying torture, sexual violence and sadistic terror in a fashion that was meant to scar the Israeli soul (and succeeded). It is Hamas that still holds 134 hostages, some of whom are believed to already be dead.

The October 7 attacks generated two certainties. First, that no Israeli government could ever again do business with the terrorist group responsible for the slaughter. In which context it is too seldom reported that Hamas remains utterly committed to the annihilation of Israel. As Ghazi Hamad, one of its senior members, has put it, the initial pogrom was “just the first time and there will be a second, a third, a fourth… Israel is a country that has no place on our land”. Which is why, on Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu told Politico: “You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That October 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

The second certainty after the onslaught five months ago was that a great many Palestinians would die in the ensuing conflict. Hamas, after all, had deliberately constructed the warrens and public buildings of Gaza in such a way as to put as many civilians as possible in harm’s way.

Its health ministry claims that more than 30,000 have been killed. What needs to be said more often is that this terrible death toll is a direct consequence of Hamas strategy. If the Israeli bombardment is “disproportionate”, it is only so because Gaza’s Islamist rulers designed the prospective battlefield as they did.

Even if Netanyahu is replaced as prime minister, no Israeli government can countenance an enduring ceasefire until this Islamist death cult has been destroyed as a viable military force. If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. It will take time. It is a bleak task, forced upon the Israelis by what happened to them on October 7.

There will be no peace until Hamas is indeed dismantled. And peace — unlike a ceasefire designed to humble Israel and make Hollywood feel good — is worth having.

Matthew d’Ancona is an Evening Standard columnist