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Star power, foreign policy do not mix

Washington – Feted actress Scarlett Johansson is denounced as the ”poster girl of Israeli apartheid,” Dennis Rodman enters rehab after leaving North Korea, Kim Kardashian is the butt of jokes for tweeting her love of Bahrain.

When celebrities wander into complex foreign policy issues, it can be a minefield, leaving diplomats and human rights campaigners scrambling for damage control. To be fair, many stars such as Bob Geldof, Bono, George Clooney or Angelina Jolie have used their fame – and often their personal fortune – to successfully highlight atrocities or abuses flying under the radar.

”Those guys have really got in root and branch and understand the issues in a way that is equal too or better than many human rights or humanitarian professionals,” said Brian Dooley, a director at the advocacy organization Human Rights First. ”They can hold an astute conversation and lobby very effectively and more effectively than NGOs can in certain contexts.” But the problem comes when some stars, perhaps naively, accept big-paying engagements that can be used to shine a more favorable light on controversial companies or oppressive regimes.

With star power comes a great deal of responsibility and we hold our idols to a higher standard than most other people, said Dooley. ”I do feel a bit sorry for them. If you’re a celebrity and you want to use the power of your brand for a good cause, it’s a minefield,” he told AFP. ”So those that do it and do it properly really ought to be applauded rather than sneered at.” But it’s all too easy for things to go wrong.