Recently, Jewish actor Noah Schnapp, who plays Will Byers on the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things,” took to TikTok to clear the air about his feelings on Israel and Palestine.
This came after a video of him showing off “Zionism is sexy” stickers went viral (the source of the video is still unknown,) and after posting multiple times on the war since October 7 urging others to show empathy for Jews and Israelis as well as Palestinians, and for initially posting that “you either stand with Israel or you stand with terrorism,” in a now-deleted post that also decried the rhetoric of choosing sides.
Schnapp, 19, said he wanted to discuss everything that has been “going on online,” referring to multiple calls to boycott the final season of “Stranger Things” because of his and co-star Brett Gelman’s support of Israel, and to the hate that he has personally gotten on social media as well.
“I feel like my thoughts and beliefs have been so far misconstrued from anything even close to what I believe,” Schnapp says in the video, where he sits facing the camera, often bringing his hands to his heart.
He goes on to say that at the end of the day, he “only wants peace and safety and security for all innocent people affected by this conflict.” He recounts that he has had illuminating conversations with friends of Palestinian descent, and that it was important for him to have those conversations.
Of the takeaways he’s had from these important talks, he says, one of the main ones is that “we all hope for the same things — that those innocent people still being held hostage in Gaza be returned to their families, and equally hope for an end to the loss of innocent life in Palestine. So many of those people being women and children… it’s horrible to see.”
“I think anyone with any ounce of humanity would hope for an end to the hostility on both sides,” he adds. “I stand against any killing of any innocent people… And I just hope to one day see those two groups be able to live harmoniously together in that region. And I hope for 2024 online to see people be a little more understanding and compassionate and recognize that we’re all human, regardless of our race or our ethnicity, of our background or our country of birth, of even our sexuality… we are all human and we’re all the same.”
He finishes the video by urging everyone to “stand together for humanity and for peace.”
It was a sensitive, even-keeled, perhaps a bit saccharine but ultimately humanist statement. In very Jewish fashion, Schnapp presents himself as someone who is open to questions and difficult discussions and has a willingness to learn. He seems to make himself vulnerable and speaks frankly to his audience without apologizing for anything.
Still, it didn’t stop the flood of more angry, accusatory comments, more demands for the cancelation of “Stranger Things” and Schnapp’s shunning, and even some fake death threats and other menacing posts directed at the actor. Schnapp has since closed his comments on both TikTok and Instagram, and deleted his post-October 7 posts and all of his posts from his visit to Israel in the summer of 2023.
The backlash against Schnapp was particularly jarring when compared to the moment in early 2023, when he was widely celebrated for coming out in a sweet and sheepish TikTok video. He openly celebrated his first Pride in June of last year, and a month later, confirmed that his “Stranger Things” character was also gay.
This time around, his moment in the spotlight was much more hostile.
While witnessing this go down, I was reminded of the time Schnapp played a character who had to bare the brunt of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on screen. In 2019, the actor, who is of Moroccan and Russian Jewish descent, played the titular character in the film “Abe,” by Brazilian Jewish director Fernando Grostein Andrade and co-written by Palestinian writer Lameece Issaq and Jewish writer Jacob Kader.
“Abe” is about a half-Jewish, half-Palestinian teen who lives in New York. He shuns both the Hebrew and Arabic versions of his full name — Avraham and Ibrahim — for the simple diminutive. His mother is the daughter of Israeli Jewish immigrants to the U.S. — her father is Ashkenazi and her mother was an Egyptian Jew — while his father is of Muslim Palestinian descent, though he shuns his parents’ religion and wants Abe to do the same. Meanwhile, Abe’s mother would like him to connect with his family’s heritage and Jewish traditions.
Abe is torn, his parents are at odds, his grandparents also each have a specific vision for his future, and the family dinner table is always fraught with arguments and mumblings about Israel and Palestine. His Palestinian grandparents hate the term antisemitic because they are Semites, too. His Jewish grandfather wants him to have a bar mitzvah, and Abe wants to fast for Ramadan to appease his Muslim family.
Through it all, Abe finds solace in food and in his friendship with a local Brazilian chef, played by iconic actor Seu Jorge, who takes him under his wings at his restaurant and teaches him the ropes. He hopes to bring his family together through his love for the culinary arts, researching Jewish and Palestinian foods and cooking a fusion Thanksgiving dinner for all of his loved ones which he dubs “Abe’s Thanksgiving Semitic pop-up.” But even that blows up in his face.
In one scene, Abe rants to his mom about the impossible weight on his shoulders: “I don’t win in any situation — if I do anything on the Muslim side, then the Jewish side is going to be mad. If I do anything from the Jewish side, then the Muslim side will be mad. If I do anything from either side then Dad is going to be mad. If I do nothing from either side then you’re going to be mad.”
“Abe” isn’t a perfect movie, but it tackles a lot of the common tropes and beliefs in the Palestinian, Israeli and Jewish existence, humanizing an Israel-Jewish-Palestinian family and paying loving tribute to the food from both cultures. It’s ultimately about a group of people who learn what it means to be a family, and about the importance of seeing our vulnerability and humanity beyond the things that keep us apart.
The movie was a 13-year labor of love for its director. Grostein Andrade grew up in an interfaith home with a Jewish mother, who urged him to have a bar mitzvah to honor those in his family who survived the Holocaust, and a Catholic/agnostic father. After October 7, on his social media, he urged his followers to keep having compassion for the marginalized, and shared that despite this dark moment, he still has hopes in a younger generation of new artists.
Watching the movie now, I can’t help but think that the pressure Abe’s family puts on him is unreasonable. No one person can solve this kind of conflict. And it’s also made me think about the kind of pressure we’ve put on celebrities like Schnapp in the past few months.
It seems a lot of people have been taking their feelings of rage and helplessness about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza out on Hollywood stars. It makes sense in some ways: These people have big platforms, and their voices echo far. Schnapp himself still has dozens of millions of followers on social media, despite the backlash from his support for Israel.
I also get that when celebrities don’t say or believe in the things we want them to — and these are people who sometimes have an outsized place in our hearts and minds — the betrayal feels personal, and in this time of heightened emotions, even unforgivable. I’ve heard a lot Israelis say they can’t listen to certain music or watch certain TV shows anymore because the stars in them “hate us.” And then of course, Jewish actors who voice support for Israel are deemed as complicit in the killings of innocent Palestinians. Even though Schnapp never spoke in favor of the war in Gaza, his support of the existence of the state of Israel is enough to make some people consider him “pro-genocide.”
But keeping tallies of who is “for” and “against” your cause, as if the past few months and the storied history of the conflict is just a sports game with “sides,” feels to me like such a hopeless pursuit at such a hopeless time.
For years, I’ve written about Jewish celebrities and their relationship to Judaism, how they speak about antisemitism and when they share opinions about Israel and politics. I know that some people in Hollywood are truly committed activists, and that there’s wisdom to be gleaned from what they do and say, even if they are not always perfect (who is?).
I’ve also seen a lot of faux-pas from celebrities speaking out about current events, especially since October 7. And I sometimes wonder if the wisest ones are those who are staying silent on their social media platforms right now, regardless of how they feel or what they may or may not be doing in their off-line lives.
It’ll be interesting to see how these social media avalanches of rage actually affect the careers and the successes of the projects these actors are in. Aside from the firing of Melissa Barrera from the “Scream” franchise, there hasn’t been any real impact on specific individuals on the entertainment industry that we can tell so far.
I too wish, like Schnapp and Grostein Andrade, that we could see each other as human and reach out to each other across whatever might divide us. Right now, a lot of us are busy yelling at each other — our rage feels like the most important thing in the room, and perhaps that’s fair. But I wonder, at the end of the day, if it really will lead us to a better place.