Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Demonizing Israel; Demonizing ScarJo. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

BDS propaganda poster: “Scarlett Johansson represents Oxfam and SodaStream? Human Rights and Apartheid go hand in hand?”

Demonizing Israel; Demonizing ScarJo. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, January 27, 2014.

Will ScarJo Pay a Price for Her Principles? By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, January 30, 2014.


The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:
“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.
In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:
While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.
Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.
This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.
In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.
It is possible that Oxfam’s decision wasn’t entirely based on the anti-Israel bias of its London-based leadership. One of the leading corporate donors to Oxfam just happens to be the Coca Cola Company that has given millions to the group. That tie between a company that can be linked to obesity and bad nutrition and a charity that promotes feeding the hungry is seen as a contradiction by some and only explained by the cash that flows from Coke to Oxfam. But the fact that SodaStream is a competitor that is already eating into Coke’s market share could account, at least in part, for Oxfam’s speed in denouncing Johansson.
But even if contributions from Coke had nothing to do with Oxfam’s decision, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the way this controversy developed is the ease and speed with which a theoretically apolitical charity like Oxfam publicly embraced the BDS stand even though it meant losing the services of such an effective ambassador as Johansson. The decisiveness and alacrity  with which Oxfam’s leaders condemned her ties with an Israeli company may well have come as a rude shock to Johansson after she signed on to appear in SodaStream commercials, including one scheduled for broadcast during the Super Bowl. Though she is an active supporter of many liberal causes who embraced Oxfam because of its apparent compatibility with her personal values, it may not have occurred to her that in international progressive circles such associations with Israel aren’t kosher.
The point here is not simply the factual inaccuracy of Oxfam’s accusations that settlements further Palestinian poverty or deny Palestinian rights. Having seen SodaStream’s operations herself, Johansson knew that charges that it exploited its Arab workers were nothing but propaganda and absurd lies. She rightly understood that its owners were committed peaceniks who genuinely believe that the cooperative and mutually profitable relations between Jews and Arabs that go on at SodaStream are exactly what the region needs. But in the world of Oxfam, opposition to West Bank settlements isn’t about what’s good for the Palestinians. The factory’s location, a few miles from Jerusalem’s city limits in territory that almost certainly would be incorporated into Israel in the event of a peace treaty, is merely an excuse to continue a campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state. And in that struggle, there can be no exceptions or even any grey areas where people of good conscience may differ.
The arrogant moral certainty of Oxfam’s statement simply assumes that the presence of Jews in what is, under international law, disputed territory rather than that of a sovereign state, is repugnant. That is exactly the mindset of BDSers whose purpose is not aiding poor Palestinians but to further impoverish them by destroying businesses that provide them with income and an opportunity to better themselves that is largely denied them by the corrupt governments led by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.
But now that Johansson has rejected the leftist groupthink of Oxfam that assumes the Jewish state to be beyond the pale, it remains to be seen whether there will be a price to be paid for her principled choice. As I noted earlier this week, it is possible that in the future Johansson may become the focus of a concerted boycott by Israel-haters. Though their efforts won’t put even a minor dent in her career prospects in the United States, it is entirely possible that she will be become better known in Europe and Asia as a supporter of Israel than as a gifted A-list actress. The implications of such a development would not be trivial for film producers who increasingly rely on international markets to realize profits, nor for other companies seeking film stars to promote their products.
If Johansson had abandoned SodaStream it would have signaled an immediate and high-visibility victory for the BDS campaign, certainly its most important victory in the United States. But having cast her lot with defenders of the Jewish state, the actress must understand that this isn’t the end of the story. She may have thought her work for Oxfam gave her common ground with progressives in Europe and around the globe. But she may now discover that, from this day forward, they will only see her as a public figure to be rejected and shunned as a principled Jew who stands with Israel.

The Boycott-Israel Movement Targets Scarlett Johansson. By Seth Mandel. Commentary, January 24, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson’s Defense of SodaStream Factory in Occupied West Bank Fails to Sway Critics. By Robert Mackey. New York Times, January 27, 2014.

Clearing the Air. By Scarlett Johansson. The Huffington Post, January 24, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson & Soda Stream –Peace vs. Apartheid? By Rabbi Shraga Simmons. Aish.com, January 25, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson is “saving the world” in sexy Super Bowl ad for SodaStream. By Zayda Rivera. New York Daily News, January 27, 2014.

Coke and Pepsi Trigger “Ban” of Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream Super Bowl Ad. By Aaron Taube. Business Insider, January 27, 2014.

“Internal revolt” at Oxfam over Scarlett Johansson affair, insider says. By Ali Abunimah. The Electronic Intifada, January 27, 2014.

Why the A-List Shuns BDS. By Michael Dickson. The Times of Israel, January 27, 2014.

Sex, Politics, Scarlett Johansson, and the Middle East. By Michael Curtis. American Thinker, January 27, 2014.

Scarjo and Peace. Jerusalem Post, January 28, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson: “No Guilt” About SodaStream. By Elisheva Goldberg. The Jewish Daily Forward, January 14, 2014.

The Politics of Celebrity Ambassadors. By Emily Greenhouse. The New Yorker, January 16, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson’s pro-Israel master class. By Marco Greenberg. Haaretz, January 28, 2014.

SodaStream boss admits West Bank plant is “a pain in the ass.” By Nathan Jeffay. The Jewish Daily Forward, January 28, 2014. Also at Haaretz.

Scarlett Johansson steps down as Oxfam ambassador amid SodaStream controversy. Jerusalem Post, January 30, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream Super Bowl Ad Followed By Her Oxfam Resignation. By Gregory Katz. AP. The Huffington Post, January 30, 2014.

Johansson quits Oxfam over Israeli settlement trade spat. By Hazel Ward. AFP. Yahoo! News, January 30, 2014.

“Scarlett Johansson has consciously decided to be the new poster girl for Israeli occupation and apartheid,” [BDS] co-founder Omar Barghouti told AFP.

Scarlett Johansson Quits as Oxfam Ambassador as Criticism Mounts. By Greg Mitchell. The Nation, January 30, 2014.

Ali Abunimah on Scarlett Johannson. Twitter, January 29, 2014. And here.

While Scarlett Johansson’s departure from @Oxfam is welcome, she should have been fired long ago, not allowed to quit.
And thanks to #ScarJo, boycott, divestment and sanctions (on apartheid Israel) is now huge international story.

Scarlett Johansson not only abandons Oxfam but throws it under the bus. By Phan Nguyen. Mondoweiss, January 30, 2014.

How Scarlett Johansson got mired in one of the Middle East’s touchiest controversies. By Max Fisher. Washington Post, January 30, 2014. Also here.

Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam, Torn Apart by Israeli Company Deal. By Isabel Kershner. New York Times, January 30, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson Chooses SodaStream Over Oxfam After Dispute About West Bank Factory. By Robert Mackey. New York Times, January 30, 2014.

Palestinian workers back Scarlett Johansson’s opposition to SodaStream boycott. By Christa Case Bryant. The Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 2014.

What You Need to Know About the Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream Controversy. By Tasneem Nashrulla. BuzzFeed, January 30, 2014. With BDS propaganda pictures.

Will boycotting ScarJo end the occupation? By Khaled Diab. Haaretz, January 30, 2014.

A BDS Thought Bubble. By Jonathan Marks. Commentary, January 30, 2014.

“Pro-Palestinians” Versus Real Palestinians. By Evelyn Gordon. Commentary, January 31, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson at Her Least Diplomatic. By Lisa Beyer. Bloomberg, January 31, 2014.

Bad for the Jews: Israeli Annexation of Palestinian West Bank, Scarlett Johansson and BDS. By Juan Cole. Informed Comment, January 31, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson won’t be bullied by activists for Israeli boycott. Good for her. By Robyn Urback. The National Post, January 31, 2014.

Of ScarJo, Soda, Settlements, and Super Bowls. By Michael M. Rosen. National Review Online, January 31, 2014.

Occupation belies the Hollywood mind. By Rami G. Khouri. The Daily Star (Lebanon), February 1, 2014.

“FT” blast on settlements will strike fear at Hasbara Central (if not among liberal Zionists and “glitzy blondes”). By James North and Phil Weiss. Mondoweiss, February 1, 2014.

5 things I learned from the Scarlett Johansson/SodaStream affair. By Noam Sheizaf. +972, February 2, 2014.

The real SodaStream commercial they don’t want you to see. By Katie Miranda. Mondoweiss, February 2, 2014.

Yes, Scarlett Johansson’s Defense of SodaStream is Problematic. By Bernard Avishai. TPM, February 3, 2014.

SodaStream accuses Oxfam of funding BDS. By Tovah Lazaroff. Jerusalem Post, February 3, 2014.

Both Sides Declare P.R. Victory in Skirmish Over SodaStream Super Bowl Ad. By Robert Mackey. New York Times, February 3, 2014.

Scarlett Johansson row has boosted Israeli settlement boycott, say activists. By Ian Black and Harriet Sherwood. The Guardian, February 6, 2014.

But, according to Omar Barghouti, founder of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, “the political atmosphere has changed towards enforcing international law. Israel’s impunity is being eroded. BDS is growing tremendously and that is affecting decision-makers everywhere. We are changing the discourse.”
BDS, insisted Barghouti, was “no coalition of lefty intellectuals” but was supported by Palestinians across the political spectrum, including nationalists and Islamists. Many advocate a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, while others, including Barghouti, argue for a “secular democratic state” that would replace “apartheid” Israel – though how that would happen given the balance of forces remains unclear. According to the sociologist and writer Salim Tamari, an advocate of two states, “the problem is that among many BDS people, there is no endgame.”
A weakness of Palestinian strategy is that a boycott of Israel on the ground has never made much headway. Shops in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are crammed with Israeli produce even when Palestinian goods are available at equivalent prices. “If foreign banks are standing up for our rights, what are we doing?” asks Mahdi Abdel-Hadi of the Passia think tank.
Barghouti counters this by speaking of the “colonisation of the mind” and sheer dependence on the occupation. “We don't expect the criteria that we ask in Britain, Johannesburg or New York to apply in Ramallah or Jerusalem. We are a captive economy. Israel has over decades destroyed our industry and agriculture and confiscated our water resources. We do not expect our economic institutions to completely boycott Israel. That’s unrealistic.”
Barghouti described his own attendance at Tel Aviv University, where he did an MA in philosophy and ethics, as a “private matter.”

Scarlett Johansson, War Criminal? By Daniel Schwammenthal. Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2014.

SodaStream is a model of cross-cultural collaboration.

What’s a Responsible, Progressive Position on an Israeli Settlements Boycott? By Matthew Duss. The American Prospect, February 5, 2014.

Frankly Scarlett, You Should Give a Damn. By Gershom Gorenberg. The American Prospect, February 6, 2014.

BDS Movement is Harming Itself. By Hussein Ibish. The National, February 8, 2014.

John Batchelor and Malcolm Hoenlein on the Scarlett Johansson SodaStream controversy. Audio Podcast. The John Batchelor Show, January 30, 2014, Hour 3. Runs from 4:33 to 10:51.

Scarlett Johansson is 2013’s Sexiest Woman Alive. By Tom Chiarella. Esquire, October 7, 2013. From the November 2013 issue.

Sorry, Coke and Pepsi (with Scarlett Johansson). Video. SodaStreamGuru, January 27, 2014. YouTube.

SodaStream: Building Bridges. Video. StandWithUs, February 27, 2013. YouTube.