Film star and social activist Vanessa Redgrave was born January 30, 1937 in London, England. Her father, the Shakespearean stage actor Sir Michael Redgrave, and her mother, film and television actress Rachel Kempson, had three children — Vanessa, Lynn, and Corin — all of whom pursued careers as actors.
Vanessa Redgrave’s acting career began in 1958 when she played the role of Pamela Gray in the movie Behind the Mask. Since then, she has played roles in nearly 90 films, including As You Like It (1963), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Camelot (1967), Julia (1977), and _Mission_: Impossible (1996). She has won numerous prestigious awards for her work, including the English Academy Award, the Cannes Best Actress Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the Emmy Award.
In 1967 she took out a full-page ad in a United Kingdom publication, denouncing the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam.
In the 1970s, Redgrave and her brother Corin were active in England’s Workers Revolutionary Party, whose website says: “We are Marxists and fight for the principles founded by Marx, Engles, Lenin and Trotsky.” She left the Party in the course of a Trotskyite split and helped establish another proletarian vanguard, the Marxist Party.
Redgrave has been a longtime, outspoken hater of Israel, condemning the Jewish state for its alleged crimes against the Palestinian people. In 1977 she funded and narrated a documentary film titled The Palestinian, which championed the creation of an independent Palestinian state and showed showed Redgrave in a PLO training camp, dancing as she waved a rifle over her head. The following year, when she received an Oscar for her role in the 1977 movie Julia, Redgrave used her acceptance speech as a forum for bashing Israel and making a political statement. Specifically, she thanked Hollywood for having “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” “And I salute that record,” Redgrave added, “and I salute all of you for having stood firm and dealt a final blow against that period when Nixon and McCarthy launched a worldwide witch hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believed in.”
Around this same period, Redgrave frequently spoke out in support of Yasser Arafat‘s PLO, described Israel as “a brutal racist regime,” and condemned Zionism as “a brutal, racist ideology.” In 1980 Redgrave proclaimed, “The State of Israel must be overthrown, there is no room for such a state.” In December 1981 she told the publication Arab Perspective, “The Zionist state is the cause of conflict and violence in the Middle East.” On at least one occasion, she warmly embraced Arafat.
When Redgrave was in Jerusalem as a UNICEF “Goodwill Ambassador” in July 2004, she told reporters that Israeli soldiers routinely used the heads of Palestinian children for target practice. “An Israeli sniper will shoot at a classroom full of Palestinian children who are in their uniforms and scarves,” Redgrave said. “Any Palestinian mother or schoolchild knows that a schoolchild who is dressed in a uniform can be and is frequently shot in the head — not in the chest, not in the legs, in the head.” When asked to name her source for this claim, Redgrave cited a documentary by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Huda’s Story. According to UNWRA’s spokesman in the Gaza Strip, the film’s featured child, who lived in Gaza, “was indeed wounded in the head, but by a ricochet bullet.” No one knows whether that shot was fired by an Israeli or a Palestinian.
Redgrave has condemned Israel’s security fence in the West Bank, calling it “a barrier higher than any wall I’ve seen and even higher than the Berlin Wall.” “I see a government [Israel’s] that is deliberately trying to destroy the peace,” she adds.
In the 1980s Redgrave was active in the nuclear freeze movement (a Soviet-sponsored initiative that would have frozen Soviet miltary superiority in place), and she protested American policies in Central America — especially U.S. opposition to the Communist Sandinistas.
Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Redgrave demanded the “withdrawal of U.S., British, and all imperialist troops from the Gulf.” She also called for the withdrawal of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but was prepared to allow that occupation to continue indefinitely rather than apply force.
In September 1998 Redgrave was a signatory to a public statement — co-signed by such feminist leaders as Betty Friedan, Patricia Ireland, and Eleanor Smeal — opposing the possible impeachment of President Bill Clinton. “Some of those leading the charge against Clinton are among the worst foes of women’s rights,” the statement said. “The opponents of the President have a political agenda that will harm women long after the scandal has faded.”
In 2002 Redgrave made a £50,000 bail payment for the Chechen separatist Akhmed Zakayev, who had helped plan a Moscow theater hostage-taking by armed Chechen rebels earlier that year — an event that resulted in the deaths of at least 129 innocent people.
In 2003 Redgrave appeared regularly as a featured speaker at antiwar protests in London. Said she of the proposed effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power by military means: “The British and American governments are about to destroy all hopes for peace anywhere in our world, forever.”
In 2004 Redgrave and her brother, Corin Redgrave, founded the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission (GHRC) — a prisoners’ rights group that advocates on behalf of enemy combatants who were captured by U.S. troops during the war on terror and were transported to prison camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In June 2004 Redgrave charged that President Bush was operating a “concentration camp” in Guantanamo, where prisoners were routinely subjected to “torture.”
Also in 2004, Vanessa and brother Corin co-founded the Peace and Progress Party, a British political entity professing a commitment to “conflict resolution, fair trade and economic and social justice.” Chief among the Party’s concerns are: ending “the occupation of Iraq”; closing all nuclear bases leased to the United States; canceling all debts owed by poor nations; ending internment without trial; freeing all Guantanamo detainees; fighting “global warming”; and ending the “humanitarian crisis” facing the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel.
In the 2005 British general elections, Redgrave’s Peace and Progress Party nominated British Muslim and suspected terrorist Babar Ahmad, who had been arrested in August 2004 on charges of raising funds for Islamic terrorists in Chechnya and Afghanistan.
In 2005 Redgrave was a signatory to a letter addressed to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, charging that “the U.K. Government and the U.S.A. in coalition partnership” were guilty of: (a) “planning and conducting an aggressive war using deceit, including deliberately falsifying reports to arouse passion in support of this war”; (b) “political persecution by initially sacking all Baath party members, thereby very severely reducing the administrative and professional class who had been obliged to be members”; and (c) “failure to treat P.O.W.’s humanely, especially those held in the open in the sun.”
In 2006 Redgrave lamented the New York Theater Workshop’s decision to “postpon[e] indefinitely” My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play honoring the late International Solidarity Movement activist, due to public criticism about its anti-Israel themes. Redgrave,who was one of the production’s financial backers, called the cancellation an “act of catastrophic cowardice,” and urged producers at the Royal Court Theatre, where the play was first performed, to sue the New York Theater Workshop for “censorship of the worst kind.”
In December 2007 Redgrave donated £25,000 to cover half of the bail payments for two terror suspects who were being released from Guantanamo Bay — Jamil el-Banna (who was accused of producing extremist propaganda for Osama bin Laden) and Omar Deghayes (who has been linked to a terrorist cell called the Islamic Alliance). “It is a profound honor and I am glad to be alive to be able to do this,” said Redgrave. “Guantanamo Bay is a concentration camp. It is a disgrace that these men have been kept there all these years.”