Boots Riley performing with his band The Coup at the Nakba-60 festival in downtown San Francisco in 2008. (Photo/Hossam el-Hamalawy via Flickr CC BY 2.0 DEED)
Boots Riley performing with his band The Coup at the Nakba-60 festival in downtown San Francisco in 2008. (Photo/Hossam el-Hamalawy via Flickr CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Boots Riley and Hadar Cohen join artists’ call for cease-fire

Drake, Jon Stewart, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson and a number of other Jewish artists, including two with ties to the Bay Area, have joined more than 200 other non-Jewish celebrities in signing a letter urging President Joe Biden to support a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The letter, which demands “an end to the bombing of Gaza, and the safe release of hostages,” is being supported by the nonprofits Oxfam America and ActionAid USA, both of which are running donation campaigns for Gaza humanitarian aid. It is one of several open letters addressed to Biden about the war that American writers, academics and others in various professional fields have signed in recent weeks.

“We believe all life is sacred, no matter faith or ethnicity and we condemn the killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians,” the letter reads. “We stand for freedom, justice, dignity and peace for all people — and a deep desire to stop more bloodshed.”

Hadar Cohen, a Mizrahi artist and teacher of Jewish mysticism who lived in the Bay Area for four years and is now based in Los Angeles, signed the letter on Sunday after receiving the link from a friend.

Hadar Cohen (Photo/Courtesy)
Hadar Cohen (Photo/Courtesy)

“It’s not just about persuading Biden, but also the American public,” she told J. “When they’re seeing people who they admire, actresses and artists and musicians who are signing onto that, hopefully this helps people trying to understand where they stand and encourages them to also take a stand.”

Cohen, who was born in Jerusalem and has relatives there, said she was disappointed that some in the American Jewish community had described their fellow Jews’ calls for a cease-fire as an act of betrayal against the community.

She said defending innocent people is part of Jewish tradition and cited the coming weekly Torah portion, Vayera, in which Abraham pleads with God to spare Sodom from destruction if he can find a certain number of righteous people in the city. “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” Abraham asks in the portion, which is in the book of Genesis.

“We don’t want this to escalate anymore,” Cohen, 31, said of those who support a cease-fire. “We want to be able to mourn, we want to be able to grieve, to pick up the pieces somehow and create a different reality.”

The Oakland-based film director and rapper Boots Riley also signed the letter. He did not respond to requests from J. for an interview, but he has been actively posting about the Israel-Hamas war on X (formerly Twitter).

In a series of posts on Oct. 24, he called the war a “historical nightmare” and wrote that both Hamas and Israel are guilty of war crimes.

“Grief cannot be the excuse for killing thousands of civilians that are trapped in an area, half of them children,” he wrote, referring to Palestinians in Gaza. “No electricity or fuel. Many now homeless. This is the murder and torture of innocent civilians.”

Riley is the creator of the Amazon Prime comedy series “I’m a Virgo,” which follows a 19-year-old African American giant living in modern-day Oakland. He noted on X that he is Black and Jewish, and that his maternal grandmother fled Germany during World War II and her brother fought in the French resistance.

“And I’ve known many other radical, proud Jews growing up,” he wrote. “The ones I knew/know closely, and my family, taught me that ‘Never Again’ means never again for anyone.”

Dozens of X users responded to Riley’s posts to thank him for speaking up.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.