Commentary Magazine


The Boycott-Israel Movement Targets Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson is used to being on what liberals consider the “right” side of an issue. She was supportive of Barack Obama and even joined the “celebrity army,” as Politico characterized it, to get Americans to board the leaky ship of ObamaCare. But now she is finding out what it means to be on the other side. No, she hasn’t risked the new Hollywood blacklist to become a conservative. She has merely undertaken a professional association with an Israeli company.

In early January, SodaStream announced it had hired Johansson as a “global brand ambassador,” to include a commercial to air on Super Bowl Sunday. To the emerging boycott-Israel crowd, the partnership was infuriating: SodaStream has a plant in the West Bank. Johansson probably thought this was a win-win: she can proudly promote an Israeli company (Johansson is Jewish) that also helps the Palestinian population by offering them jobs at higher wages as well as benefits and an on-site mosque.

But if so, Johansson misunderstood Israel’s critics: they do not seek the improvement of Palestinian lives, only the harassment of Israeli ones. And the SodaStream controversy is a case in point. The New York Times reports on it today, and notes that Oxfam International, an anti-poverty charity for which Johansson is also an “ambassador,” took a shot at the actress for her association with the Israeli company. From the Times:

In a statement added Wednesday to a web page on Ms. Johansson’s work for the charity, Oxfam said that while it “respects the independence of our ambassadors,” the group also “believes that businesses 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.” For that reason, the statement concluded, “We have made our concerns known to Ms. Johansson and we are now engaged in a dialogue on these important issues.”

This is economic illiteracy of the highest order. And the Palestinian workers there would tell them so, if they would ask–as JTA did for a story last year summing up the issue with its apt headline: “In SodaStream boycott push, Palestinians may be the victims.” So is Oxfam willing to impoverish Palestinians because of its opposition to Israel? That sounds like a terribly irresponsible position, especially for an organization devoted to alleviating poverty.

But as irresponsible as it is, Oxfam is free to choose its causes. Scarlett Johansson, according to the boycott-and-blacklist-happy left, is not. The Times notes that the D.C.-based Palestine Center’s Yousef Munayyer declared that Johansson cannot represent both Oxfam and SodaStream: “One relationship must end.” (Johansson probably also didn’t expect that pro-Palestinian voices in the West would propose measures that would simultaneously hurt her livelihood and the livelihood of Palestinians, but such is the reality of today’s anti-Israel obsessives.)

But perhaps the most surprising element of the controversy for Johansson is the reaction of Jewish voices. Earlier this month the Forward joined the chorus of scolds, producing this fairly remarkable passage:

In the “Behind the Scenes” video for the new Super Bowl ad, Johansson announces that her “favorite thing about SodaStream is that I don’t feel guilty when I enjoy beverages at home.” While it’s true that SodaStream has some terrific guilt-easing benefits — it’s reusable, pays for itself, and tastes great — it also has a pile of guilt-inducing disadvantages worth considering. And with the New York Times comparing Johansson’s new role at SodaStream to those of Jennifer Aniston-Smartwater and George Clooney-Nespresso — in other words, Johansson will soon become SodaStream — there is all the more reason for Johansson to do some serious research into what she’s advertising. For one who is already so politically active — not only on a national level, but also internationally (Johansson is also the “global ambassador” for Oxfam) — this seems like a poor choice.

Advertising executive and consultant on the deal Alex Bogusky was quoted as saying that “using [Johansson’s] celebrity…can really normalize the machine and the process.” While she’s openly gunning for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for 2016, Johansson would do well to realize that “normalizing” the Israeli occupation is a bad use of her celebrity.

Here is Johansson asserting that she is proud to represent this Israeli company, and the Forward telling her that maybe she shouldn’t be. Because while it may seem like the company is an economic boon to Palestinians and a model of multicultural cooperation and integration (because it is), her critics say SodaStream is taking advantage of her celebrity endorsement to “normalize the machine” of Israeli malevolence.

There is also the suggestion that she might have to choose between SodaStream and Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, which would only be true if Clinton would be embarrassed, like the Forward, to be associated with Israeli companies that take great care of hundreds of Palestinian employees. Maybe that’s the case, but Clinton certainly hasn’t said so. More likely, it’s merely the fervent wish of the boycotters and their allies, so bravely working to prevent Israel’s “normalization.”

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