Recently, actress Scarlett Johansson signed on to be a global ambassador for SodaStream, a company that manufactures at-home soda makers. A SodaStream ad featuring the “sexiest woman alive” will be broadcast during the Super Bowl.
One of SodaStream’s factories is over the 1949 armistice line, often referred to as “the green line.” That factory employs hundreds of Palestinian Arab workers alongside Israeli Arab and Jewish workers, earning the same wages, eating in the same cafeterias, and enjoying all the same benefits. But its location has made SodaStream a target of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) to isolate and defame Israel.
Johansson has been an Oxfam celebrity ambassador since 2007, helping raise awareness of and donations for victims of natural disasters and global poverty. Since Oxfam supports BDS, this has created a conflict. So, Johansson has resigned from Oxfam:
A statement released by Johansson’s spokesman said the 29-year-old has “a fundamental difference of opinion” with Oxfam International because the charity opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights.
“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 to the criticism, Johansson said last week she was a “supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”
Apparently, she is not alone. Palestinian workers at the SodaStream factory feel the same way. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, “Palestinian workers back Scarlett Johansson’s opposition to SodaStream boycott”:
Omar Jibarat of Azzariah, [a Palestinian] father of a newborn, is one of those who works in Israel, leaving home well before 6 a.m. for a construction job in Tel Aviv. Though he makes good money, he spends four hours in transit every day and would rather work at the SodaStream factory 15 minutes away.
“I would love to work for SodaStream. They’re quite privileged. People look up to them,” Mr. Jibarat says. “It’s not the people who want to boycott, it’s the officials.”
That’s a common refrain among the SodaStream workers who show up after Jibarat catches his ride.
Leaning up against the cement half-walls of the bus stop, jackets pulled up over their cold hands and faces and cigarette butts glowing in the dark, they blame the PA for failing to create jobs while taking a political stand against Israeli business that do.
“The PA can say anything it wants and no one will listen because it’s not providing an alternative,” says one man, a 2006 political science graduate of Al Quds University bundled in a jacket bearing the SodaStream logo. As for reports that the company doesn’t honor labor rights, that’s “propaganda,” he says. “Daniel [Birnbaum, the CEO of SodaStream,] is a peacemaker.”
Mr. Birnbaum told the Jewish Forward this week that the West Bank factory has been a “pain” due to all the criticism. But he says he’s committed to his Palestinian employees, and sees the company as providing a haven of coexistence that can boost prosperity and prospects for peace.
“I’m not going to throw them to the street. I have an obligation to these people,” he said in a video made by the company last year. “My hope, my prayer, my belief, and my responsibility at SodaStream is that we will fulfill the prophecy from the book of Isaiah: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore. Instead of learning war, let them learn how to make a sodamaker.”
One of the founders, Omar Barghouti, is himself a graduate student at Tel Aviv University. As CAMERA has previously reported:
When challenged about this blatant double standard, Barghouti dismisses it as irrelevant. “My studies at Tel-Aviv University are a personal matter and I have no interest in commenting,” he answered a Maariv reporter who questioned him about it. “Oppressed people don’t have a choice of where they go to school,” he responded to a student during a recent Q&A session at Loyola Law School.
But Barghouti is hardly an “oppressed” Palestinian with no choices. Born in Qatar, he grew up in Egypt and attended Columbia University in New York before moving to Ramallah as an adult. He could have continued his studies in Qatar, Egypt, or New York, or he could have attended either Bir Zeit University or Al Quds University near his home and thus support a Palestinian academy. Instead, he chose to take advantage of the educational opportunities at an Israeli institution (which he presumably supports through fees) – one which he demands everyone else shun.
Barghouti does not merely call for sanctions against supposed racist policies; his professed goal in calling for boycott, like that of other BDS supporters, is to permanently end Jewish autonomy in the region. He advocates for a Palestinian state to replace a Jewish one within all of historic Palestine.
Barghouti’s many unscholarly lies and deceptions are easily refuted. But perhaps what best belies Barghouti’s apartheid chargeis Tel Aviv University Rector Zvi Galil’s measured response to petitions (bearing tens of thousands of signatures) demanding the expulsion of the radical student:
A university campus should be a place that encourages and tolerates free speech, no matter how offensive the expressed opinions may be to the majority of students and faculty at that institution, or indeed to the public at large. Our university has adopted a similar policy also in previous occasions….The University cannot and will not expel this student based on his political views or actions. He will be assessed only on the basis of his academic achievements and excellence…
In other words, even Barghouti—who seeks not only the boycott of the very institution he attends, but also the destruction of the Jewish state – is not discriminated against on any level, not racial, not national, and not political.
Furthermore, if indeed BDS is concerned with human rights, it is notable that activists focus none of their attention on known human rights violators and oppressive governments such as exist in Iran, North Korea, China, Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, and others. In examining BDS, CAMERA has asserted:
Upon any serious consideration, it becomes clear that BDS actually has no problem with oppression, no problem with oppression of Arabs, and no problem with the oppression of Palestinian Arabs.
It becomes clear that BDS actually has a problem only with Israel and it can only be deduced that their problem is truly with Jews. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., incisively stated, “When you are talking anti-Zionsim, you are talking anti-Semitism.”
This is the reality behind BDS: the BDS movement is simply a smokescreen for the delegitimization of Israel and an effort to undermine the self-determination of the Jewish people. As BDS proponent Ahmend Moor said, “Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.”
Johansson is not the first celebrity to be targeted by BDS and she will likely not be the last. An opinion piece in the Financial Post asserts:
The BDS movement occasionally succeeds in bullying celebrities into boycotting Israel – Elvis Costello is one performer who cancelled an appearance in Israel under pressure. But most stars stand up to the bullying to play in Israel, which has become one of the world’s premier venues – they include Barbra Streisand, Alicia Keyes, Elton John, Rihanna, Bob Dylan, Madonna, and Costello’s wife, Diana Krall. Later this year Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the Rolling Stones are expected to come.
They come from the business world, too – Apple, Microsoft, Intel and dozens of other industry icons. After completing a purchase of Israel’s Iscar last year, Warren Buffett said it “will stay in Israel as long as I’m alive. We’re the world’s fifth-biggest investment firm, but for me, the number-one country is Israel, which is far ahead of larger and richer countries…. Israel reminds me of the United States after its birth. The determination, motivation, intelligence and initiative of its people are remarkable and extraordinary.”
Fears that a boycott of Israel could succeed are not entirely unfounded. Anti-semitism, the chief fuel for the boycott of the sole Middle East country that is democratic, empowers gays, and respects religious diversity, is enduring and today resurgent in much of Europe. Just this week, Israel’s finance minister warned that Israel’s largest trading partner, the EU, could turn against it, leading to a 1.1% reduction in GDP. Under “a European boycott, even a very partial one, the Israeli economy will retreat, the cost of living will rise, budgets for education, health, welfare and security will be cut [and] many international markets will be closed to us,” he said.
But even a partial boycott could not stick, not when Israeli products and services in medicine, defense, computers and electronics have become central to advanced economies, not when A-list celebrities are willing to challenge death threats to share in the allure of Israel.
Paul McCartney, a determined opponent of the seal hunt, was just as determined in opposing the Israeli boycott. “I got explicit death threats, but I have no intention of surrendering. I refuse to cancel my performances in Israel,” he said prior to playing to 40,000 fans in a mutual love-in. “I do what I think and I have many friends who support Israel.”