Sarah Silverman got slammed for supporting a Palestinian teen — and she stayed strong.

Photos by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Turner, Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images.

Sarah Silverman has never exactly shied away from the outrageous, whether in her comedy or on Twitter. But when she stood up for a teen activist last week, the backlash was intense, even for her.

On Feb. 15, Silverman tweeted out a link to an Amnesty International petition to free 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi accompanied with the following message: "Jews have to stand up EVEN when — ESPECIALLY when — the wrongdoing is BY Jews/the Israeli government."

Pro-Israel advocates tweeted that Silverman should stick with comedy and "stay out of politics,” while others accused Silverman of being complicit in pro-Palestinian terrorism. You read that right: For some, supporting an outspoken young girl = terrorism.


If you’re asking yourself what the big deal is, buckle up: Silverman tiptoed onto the internet’s third rail.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been deemed one of "the world’s most intractable conflicts" and continues to be a polarizing issue among many Americans. While the region is highly significant to three major Abrahamic faiths, to some, the conflict raises questions of who belongs in the Holy Land, as well as the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state in Palestine.

So what does Tamimi have to do with all this? She became the face of the global Palestinian solidarity movement when she was arrested in December 2017 for slapping an Israeli soldier.

Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images.

The moment in question came just minutes after another Israeli soldier shot her 15-year-old cousin Mohammad in the face. He was unarmed and engaged in peaceful protest against President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

After Mohammad was shot, two Israeli soldiers forcefully invaded their home with the intention to use their yard as a base to shoot at other activists protesting. The armed soldiers refused to leave, and when they attempted to force their way into their home, Tamimi slapped one of them. For her, this was an act of resistance.

In addition to her cousin being shot, Tamimi spent much of her childhood witnessing her relatives shot, tortured, imprisoned, and killed by Israeli soldiers and police. Her mother was shot in the leg and imprisoned four times, her father has been imprisoned three times, her 12-year-old brother was choked and beaten by an Israeli soldier, her uncle was fatally shot in the stomach, and one of her other cousins was shot in the head and killed.

Ahed Tamimi, A Teen in Search of Freedom

Tomorrow is Ahed Tamimi's 17th birthday and she will be spending it in an Israeli prison. Her trial is set for February 6th. There are currently more than 300 Palestinian children, as young as 13-years-old in Israeli prisons.

Posted by Institute for Middle East Understanding ( IMEU ) on Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Despite being a teenager, Tamimi has been denied bail and is currently undergoing trial for what some believe was merely defending her home.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for her release. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, there are currently more than 300 Palestinian children detained in Israeli prisons. Furthermore, there are no basic fair trial protections and Palestinians face a 99.7% conviction rate in Israeli military courts. Tamimi is a part of that statistic.

No matter where you fall in the Zionist conversation, the fact is that this is daily life for the native inhabitants of Palestine. And it’s brutal.

Since the War of 1967, Israel gained control and occupied Palestinian land — the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

Under the occupation, Israel has built more than 500,000 illegal settlements, eventually forcing many Palestinians to flee their homes. In fact, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees worldwide and about 5 million of them are eligible for humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

In their June 2017 report, Human Rights Watch said that Israel has violated multiple international human rights laws. These include "forced displacement, abusive detention, the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement, and anti-Palestinian discrimination." It also referred to instances where a child was "imprisoned by a military court or shot unjustifiably," and checkpoints that bar Palestinians exclusively.

Silverman is not alone for standing behind Tamimi. More than 25 celebrities and civil rights icons have signed a letter supporting the imprisoned teen activist.

Dream Defenders, a civil rights group associated with the Movement for Black Lives, released a letter this month condemning Tamimi's detention and their public support for Palestinians "in their righteous struggle." "The Tamimi family stands up to Israel's brutality because they believe Palestinians, like ALL people, should be free," the letter read. "Dream Defenders stands with them and all Palestinians in their righteous struggle."

Some of the signees include entertainers Vic Mensa, Talib Kweli, Jesse Williams, Tom Morello, and Rosario Dawson; scholars Cornel West and Michelle Alexander; and civil rights icons Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Patrisse Cullors, and Alicia Garza.

Image via Dream Defenders.

The letter highlighted the parallels of the Palestinian community and the black community, both of who've notably been on the receiving systemic violence and social injustice:

"While our struggles may be unique, the parallels cannot be ignored. US police, ICE, border patrol and FBI train with Israeli soldiers, police, and border agents, utilizing similar repressive profiling tactics to target and harass our communities. Too many of our children quickly learn that they may be imprisoned or killed simply for who they are. From Trayvon Martin to Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Khalif Browder to Ahed Tamimi — racism, state violence and mass incarceration have robbed our people of their childhoods and their futures."

The letter also endorsed a revolutionary bill introduced by U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum that calls on the protection for Palestinian children from "widespread abuse by Israeli forces." The signees urged congressional members to join the other 22 cosponsors and sign the bill.

If you’re moved to support Tamimi too, there are other ways you can show your support.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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