Navigate to News section

Russell Brand: The Next Mahmoud Abbas?

The British comedian wants to run for London mayor. He’s a better fit to run the Palestinian Authority.

Liel Leibovitz
October 28, 2014
Comedian Russell Brand speaks to a crowd of demonstrators in Parliament Square in London, England on June 21, 2014 . (Mary Turner/Getty Images)
Comedian Russell Brand speaks to a crowd of demonstrators in Parliament Square in London, England on June 21, 2014 . (Mary Turner/Getty Images)

As if terrorism, global warming, and the fact that one of this year’s hottest Halloween costumes is a sexy Ebola containment suit weren’t bad enough, this week brought rumors that Russell Brand may be running for mayor of London on an “anti-politics” ticket. It’s the right idea, but the wrong town: if Brand really wants an elected office that suits his worldview, he should succeed Mahmoud Abbas at the helm of the Palestinian Authority.

It’s no joke. Brand and Abbas have a lot in common.

Like Abbas, Brand doesn’t really believe in politics. As his new book, subtly named Revolution, makes clear, he has no use for the pesky, gradual processes by which polities are governed. Instead, he believes in the stunt theory of history, by which ideas and desires are
communicated not around negotiation tables or on parliament floors but by coming to work dressed as Osama bin Laden on September 12, 2001, or dropping his knickers in public. He’ll feel right at home in the Palestinian Authority, for which unilateral declarations of independence, last-minute appeals to international organizations, and other grand and pointless gestures have long replaced any serious attempt at reconciliation.

Like Abbas, Brand does not believe in the economy. His plan, which is the funniest thing about his book, calls for the abolition of any corporation with revenues larger than the nation with the world’s slimmest GDP—Tuvalu, with $37 million—which means a complete collapse of the modern financial model. Abbas has already achieved such a utopia in the territories under his control: as a 2013 report by the European Court of Auditors has found, Abbas and his lieutenants have successfully squandered more than $3 billion in EU aid alone, creating the type of broken-down economy Brand is advocating.

But the similarities between the two men go even deeper. Like Abbas, Brand is fond of conspiratorial theories that explain even history’s best documented developments. For the Palestinian leader, it’s the Holocaust, which, Abbas argued in his 1982 dissertation, happened in part because “the Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule, in order to arouse the government’s hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them, and to expand the mass extermination.” For the British comedian, it’s 9/11: “the relationship that the Bush family have had for a long time with the bin Laden family” is interesting, the comedian said in a recent interview, before noting that he was open-minded about the possibility that the attacks on the Twin Towers were orchestrated by the American government.

So Russell, if you’re reading this, forget London. Go to Ramallah. You’ll fit right in.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.