Overwatch fans call for boycott and recast after Pharah voice actor calls to ‘free Palestine from Hamas’

Overwatch fans are calling for the recasting of Pharah—one of the game’s lineup of DPS heroes—following comments on the current situation in Israel and Palestine made by her voice actor, Jen Cohn, in a TikTok and YouTube livestream.

In response to viewers commenting “free Palestine” in the chat of one of her Ask Bird Mom livestreams on February 12, Cohn said “Yes, free Palestine from Hamas.” Cohn, who is Jewish, then expressed her wish for Palestinian “autonomy” and “safety,” but angered some viewers by referring to Israel’s campaign in Gaza as a “war” and saying that “when both sides are able to stop fighting, it will be wonderful.”

Some Overwatch fans were incensed at language that presented the last several months of violence as an equal conflict between two evenly matched sides, and saw it as an attempt to whitewash Israel’s actions.

The comments sparked an intense negative backlash. Cohn has spoken about Israel and Palestine on social media before, which is likely what led to fans commenting “Free Palestine” on her stream in the first place. But although Cohn has done things like criticise the use of “from the river to the sea” chants among “well-intentioned, good young people” at pro-Palestine protests on Instagram, her comments on stream elicited a bigger reaction. Many viewers were angered by what they saw as the drawing of a false equivalence and the use of obfuscatory language.

Israel has drawn widespread condemnation for its campaign in Gaza, with 29,000 Palestinians—two-thirds women and children—reportedly killed and the International Court of Justice finding it “plausible” that Israel’s actions could amount to genocide

At another point in the stream, Cohn remarked “that is not a very ‘values of Overwatch’ thing to say” in response to a comment reading “Free Palestine [flag emoji] new Pharah voice actor > >,” which also caused anger. Cohn noted in a comment to PC Gamer that her remark was directed at “the call to have my role recast” and not the support for Palestine. “When I heard calls for my replacement—because I’m Jewish, because I love and support my people, because the ways I call for peace differ from the ways someone else calls for peace—it seemed to really run counter to those [Overwatch] beliefs,” said Cohn.

But to angered fans, Cohn’s statements don’t read like a call for peace but as an equivocation masking a one-sided campaign of violence. “I hope this is enough to show why fans want Jen Cohn recasted,” said a tweet from an Overwatch fan that attracted nearly 3,000 likes on Twitter, “she is doubling down on her pro-Israel beliefs and this isn’t a joke, this is a genocide happening right in front of us and she supports that.”

Other widely liked and shared tweets call on Blizzard to recast Pharah, accusing Cohn of spreading “Zionist propaganda” using a platform provided by her role in the game and of ignoring Arab suffering while voicing a character of Arabic descent. Numerous other examples of anger at Cohn’s comments can be found across social media, with some calling for a boycott of Overwatch’s ninth season until Pharah is recast.

Meanwhile, a Change.org petition to recast Pharah’s voice actor has attracted over 4,300 signatures at time of writing and its description reads that, “as of now, a beloved Arab and Indigenous Canadian character Pharah of Overwatch is being voiced by a woman with video evidence of her making zionistic statements… Jen Cohn has made countless statements denying the genocide of Palestinians calling it ‘war’ and claiming that the Palestinians must be freed from Hamas not Israel.” It implores signees to take to Twitter with the hashtag #RecastPharah to show support.

When I asked Cohn to clarify precisely what she meant by “free Palestine from Hamas,” she told me that she wanted “peace, safety, and self-determination for the Palestinian people,” but that “the obstacle to that being achieved is Hamas.”

Hamas is a Palestinian nationalist and Islamist group that has de facto governed the Gaza Strip since the mid-2000s, and is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the US and UK (among others). The Israeli Defence Force’s current assault on Gaza was triggered by a spate of attacks and atrocities in Israel launched by the group on October 7 last year, though conflicts between Israel and various Palestinian nationalist groups stretch back long before that, even to before the state’s official creation in 1948.

“Hamas is a terrorist organisation,” continued Cohn, “There are so many articles and videos of Gazans risking their lives by speaking out and begging to be free of their terrorist government.” Cohn’s comments are not out of step with the official stance of the US government, which is committed to “supporting Israel to combat terrorism.” Meanwhile, polling indicates that half of US adults now believe Israel has “gone too far” in Gaza, and 45% of Britons believe Israel’s campaign in the area is not justified vs 24% who believe it is.

Cohn added she believed “Netanyahu and his cronies… need to go,” referring to current right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but that “the horrors and heartbreak aren’t one-sided. The fastest way to get peace is to release the hostages—and for Hamas terrorists to stop holding innocent Gazans captive in the line of fire.”

In a follow-up email, Cohn added that the comments she made to PCG were “my own opinions only. I am not authorized to speak for Blizzard, Activision, or the Overwatch franchise.” The topic of Gaza is a third rail for public figures right now, and many have simply refused to voice an opinion on the topic either way. Those who do, such as actress Melissa Barrera who was fired from her role on Scream 7 for expressing support for Palestine on Instagram, risk reputational and career damage.

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