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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Gloria Oladipo in New York

Prominent US figures face backlash and firings for pro-Palestinian statements

A 30- or 40-something white man with dark hair, black blazer, pink shirt without a tie stands with bright white setting sun over his right shoulder, in a white outdoor hallway.
David Velasco of Artforum was reportedly fired after the magazine published an open letter in support of Palestinians. Photograph: Pietro S D’Aprano/Getty Images for Fondazione Prada

A rising number of prominent US figures have faced discipline over controversial public comments they have made about the Palestinian cause, as attacks by Israel on Gaza after the 7 October massacre of Israelis by Hamas fighters intensified.

David Velasco, the editor in chief of Artforum magazine, was reportedly fired after the magazine published an open letter in response to the war.

Celebrated US photographer Nan Goldin and other artists have said they will no longer work with Artforum after the magazine’s termination of Velasco, the New York Times reported.

“I have never lived through a more chilling period,” Goldin, who is Jewish and had signed the open letter, said to the Times. “People are being blacklisted. People are losing their jobs.”

At least four editors have resigned in response to Velasco’s dismissal, the Times reported.

Zack Hatfield, a former senior editor for the magazine, announced online that he had left Artforum and called Velasco’s firing “unacceptable”.

“David Velasco’s firing is unacceptable and bodes ominously for the future of the magazine,” Hatfield wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

On 19 October, the top art magazine posted a letter entitled: “An open letter from the art community to cultural organizations”. The letter, signed by thousands of artists and cultural workers including Goldin, called for an immediate ceasefire, humanitarian aid into Gaza and broader Palestinian liberation.

An older white woman with dyed red hair sits in the rays of the setting sun on a chair on a back stairway of an apartment building, looking seriously at the camera.
Nan Goldin, the US photographer, and others have protested the termination of Artforum’s David Velasco. Photograph: Ali Smith/The Observer

We support Palestinian liberation and call for an end to the killing and harming of all civilians, an immediate ceasefire, the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the end of the complicity of our governing bodies in grave human rights violations and war crimes,” the letter read, in part.

Velasco was fired shortly after the letter’s publication. He had served as Artforum’s editor-in-chief for six years.

“I have no regrets,” Velasco said in an email to the New York Times. “I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.”

In addition to Velasco, another prominent editor was fired after making a Twitter post about Gaza.

Michael Eisen was removed as editor-in-chief of eLife, an academic science journal, Eisen confirmed in a post to X.

“I have been informed that I am being replaced as the Editor in Chief of [eLife] for retweeting a piece [from satirical US website the Onion] that calls out indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians,” Eisen wrote.

Eisen’s dismissal was confirmed in a 24 October statement from eLife and its board.

Eisen was fired after retweeting an article from the Onion entitled: “Dying Gazans Criticized for Not Using Last Words to Condemn Hamas”.

Eisen, who is Jewish and has family from Israel, praised the Onion as having “more courage, insight and moral clarity” than the “leaders of every academic institution put together”.

An open letter to eLife and its board, which criticized Eisen’s dismissal, has circulated and garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.

White man in tux waving
Aaron Sorkin dropped long-time agent Maha Dakhil after she shared pro-Palestinian Instagram posts. Photograph: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

A top executive at the talent agency Creative Arts Agency (CAA) has also faced backlash and is stepping back from leadership roles after reposting an Instagram story on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Maha Dakhil, a co-head of the motion picture department with CAA, has stepped down from the agency’s internal board and will be stepping back from her position at the agency, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Dakhil will still work with her top roster of clients, which includes actress Anne Hathaway, director Ava DuVernay and others, the LA Times reported.

But screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has dropped Dakhil, who served as a long-time agent for the writer of The Social Network, and left CAA over the remarks, Variety reported.

“Maha isn’t an antisemite, she’s just wrong. She’s a great agent and I’m very proud of the work we did together over the last six years. I’m excited to be returning to WME [William Morris Agency-Endeavor],” Sorkin said in a statement to Variety.

The Guardian could not reach CAA or Dakhil directly for further details on Dakhil’s tenure.

The latest row comes after Dakhil reposted an image on Instagram that read, in part: “You’re currently learning who supports genocide”.

Dakhil added the caption: “That’s the line for me.” She then posted a second image, which read: “What’s more heartbreaking than witnessing genocide? Witnessing the denial that genocide is happening.”

Dakhil has since deleted both images and made a public apology.

“I made a mistake with a repost in my Instagram story, which used hurtful language. Like so many of us, I have been reeling with heartbreak. I pride myself on being on the side of humanity and peace,” Dakhil said in a statement to Variety.

“I’m so grateful to Jewish friends and colleagues who pointed out the implications and further educated me. I immediately took the repost down. I’m sorry for the pain I have caused,” she said.

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