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5 things I learned from the Scarlett Johansson/SodaStream affair



The Scarlett Johansson/Sodastream affair appears to be over. The American movie star left relief group Oxfam citing differences of opinion over boycott and will continue to represent Israeli company Sodastream, which has a factory in a West Bank settlement.

The Israeli media declared victory with the weekend papers cheering Johansson’s decision to quit Oxfam. “Scarlett for Israel” was the headline in Yedioth Ahronoth, whose Friday edition is the most widely read paper in Israel. The editors placed the story on page 1, above the fold. International coverage of the affair, however, told a slightly different story, repeatedly referring to the settlements as illegal and highlighting the damage to Johansson’s image. Here are my takeaways:

1. The difference between opposing the settlements and “opposing” the settlements. “Personally, I oppose the settlements” is a common opening line among many Israelis and American Jews. It’s like saying someone supports the two-state solution, a statement deprived of any political meaning since most Israelis and certainly most Americans are not personally required to help built a settlement or alternatively, facilitate the creation of an independent Palestine. Even elections are not decided on these issues. That is why you hear everyone from Meretz to Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman all say they “oppose the settlements.”

Occasionally, however, one needs to take an actual stand – and what do you know? Many so-called settlement opposers rallied behind a settlement-based factory. Here is the Forward’s editor Jane Eisner explaining – believe it or not – that the occupation takes place “outside” the SodaStream factory, not in it; here is Tablet’s Stephanie Butnick congratulating Johansson for proving “herself to be more than just a glamorous face attached to a product”; and there were others, including J Street supporters like Rabbi Andy Bachman. You have to wonder what legitimate action – as opposed to words – against the occupation consists of for this crowd. Probably nothing.

2. The latest Orwellian Newspeak is about an occupation that benefits Palestinians. In defending SodaStream, and later Johansson, there was much talk about the equal benefits Palestinian workers in the factory receive. If the factory was to suffer, the logic goes, those Palestinians will be the first to get hurt. I hope nobody who makes this argument seriously believes that equality exists when one party is completely dependent on the other’s good will. When a worker is deprived of political representation and can find himself in a military court following any controversy or problem, is he really equal? Does he get his freedom to travel along with his paycheck? His right to due process? This seems more like a “our n*****s are perfectly happy” line than serious reasoning. And this also should be said: Palestinians might very well do better or worse following the end of the occupation, but that cannot serve as an argument against giving them their rights.

Nothing exists outside its political context. If Israel annexes the area in which the SodaStream factory is located as part of a peace deal, as some think it will, then the Palestinian society will benefit from land and other compensation it would get in return. Palestinian employees will have a serious representative body to fight and advocate for them, and maybe SodaStream will pay road tolls to the Palestinian state, and so on. In other words, this would be a completely different reality. Right now, the factory operates in a very specific context of the occupation, and it can only be judged in that context.

3. This was a major triumph for anti-occupation activists. How do I know that? Take a look at this Buzzfeed article on the affair. Don’t bother about reading the text, just scroll down to the part that shows some memes that activists created. Most of them are photoshopped occupation images: fences and maps of the ever-shrinking Palestinian territory, checkpoints, walls and watchtowers. I don’t remember Buzzfeed – or any other mainstream organization – ever featuring such a gallery.

The substantial debate these past couple of weeks wasn’t about SodaStream, it was about the occupation, and the terms and images used in that debate were unprecedented. This, for example, is the very mainstream Bloomberg News:

Johansson calls the [Sodastream] plant, in the settlement of Maale Adumim, “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine.” But there is no Palestine yet, in large part because of Maale Adumim and the other 130 Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank.


One can be a friend of Israel and a friend of a future Palestine, as Oxfam is. Or one can be a friend of Israel and a friend of Israeli settlements, as many right-wing Israelis are. But one cannot be a friend of Israeli settlements and a friend of a future Palestine, the role Johansson has cast herself in.

As far as I can tell, this was the prevailing tone in the mainstream media. Sometimes, it went even further. Leading to the next point:

4. Activists and alternative media are able to change the narrative of the mainstream media. Without sites like Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada and interactions on social media, the story wouldn’t have gotten picked up. With each passing day, the margins are less marginal.

Furthermore, despite the fact that this wasn’t a classic BDS controversy (the target was a settlement-based factory and not Israeli society as a whole), I think that some celebrities might think twice before aligning themselves with Israeli products, and more Israeli companies with global aspirations – not just those based in the West Bank – will become more aware of the effect the occupation might have on their business interests. This is already becoming a dominant line with the Israeli mainstream.

5. Celebrities bring web traffic.


Scarlett Johansson chooses SodaStream over Oxfam, citing differences on boycott
Scarlett Johansson’s naive SodaStream defense

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    1. Giora Me'ir


      Reply to Comment
    2. Giora Meir

      The arguments made in
      1 and 2 remind of the anti-anti-apartheid arguments made about south Africa.

      Reply to Comment
    3. shachalnur

      So,one of the conclusions one can draw is that this Sodastream/Scarlett operation will ultimately cause damage to the settlers and Israeli occupation forces.

      My point is ;”Wasn’t this easy to predict?)

      European pensionfunds and banks(Dutch,Norwegian,Swedish and Danish) withdrawing investments from Israel,the public US crackdown on Rabbi Pinto,Sen.Grimm and who knows what else when the cesspit will be opened,because this is just the beginning.

      Jewish home,the settlers and the Israeli public are being prepared for withdrawal from the West Bank.

      Rabbi Pinto and Grimm are run directly from the Nethanyahu residence and not through AIPAC.

      And today another Jewish Israel Firster/Celebrity is under attack,famous for his”critizising Israel is Anti-Semitic”.
      Dylan Farrow tells it all(NYT),the sexual abuse by Woody Allen,and Nikolas Kristof is covering.(Great timing)

      To believe that all these changes are caused by “coincidence”,”Karma” “public awakening” and “Electronic Intifada” is an illusion,it’s called “Pigeon Superstition”.

      This is an all-out attack against Israel by the ones that run the US/European economies,the ones that control the British economy since 1815 and the US Federal Reserve since 1913.

      They are creating an explosive situation outside-(Israel,Iran Syria,Hezbollah ,Egypt,Iraq and Turkey)) and inside Israel(Secular vs.Religious,settlers vs.anti settlers,Israel vs PA vs Hamas).

      Negotiations on all potentially explosive situations are run by the US,and most of the Hasbara comes from US (Jewish)sources and often contradicts Israel’s official position.

      The assault going on is not just on Israel/the settlers ,the target is the Middle East itself.

      Please don’t believe everything you’re being fed by MSM and governments.

      How many of you believed Al-Qaida did 9/11 when it happened?How many of you supported the invasion of Afghanistan?(Philip Weiss(Mondoweiss) believed it and supported the attack).

      Who says you can “read” what we’re being fed right now,if you fail to identify the common denominator?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Marcos

      Noam, this is all very weak. When the Palestinians are ready to ensure Israel of 1948, they will get 1967. See Egypt,for details. As of now the Palestinians have not show themselves to be responsible stewards of their own country. Yet. Nobody can honestly say that Israel would be prudent to do so before then

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Oy gevalt, do you people have ANY other line than “it’s all because of the 1948/1967 War!” It’s just like Stalinists who think that the Bay of Pigs makes human rights violations in Cuba OK.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Joel

      Scarlet helped raise donations for Oxfam. She decides to cash in with Sodastream without accounting for attacks by Mondoweiss, BDS and other groups that want Israel gone. Scarlett’s PR people offer a ‘economic cooperation benefits everyone defense’. Mondoweiss does a victory dance in their echo chamber and that’s it.

      This isn’t ‘an affair’. It’ just a minor skirmish in the incessant war against the Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kim Nguyen

      Good analysis. From start to finish the affair (and it is probably not yet finished) has served to clarify the effect of the settlements and to filter out those who say they are against occupation but actually want it to continue.
      One correction: although Americans are not required to directly support settlements, we must pay taxes and nearly $10 Million a day of our taxes goes to subsidize Israel, including the IOF protection of settlers and the Israeli government’s subsidies to Israeli homeowners and businesses in Palestinian occupied lands.

      Reply to Comment
      • Enola Gay

        Kim, I am not aware that Vietnam gives aid to Israel. Thanks for educating me

        Reply to Comment
        • Tom P.

          whoa! so you can’t be an American with a Vietnamese name? thanks for educating us

          Reply to Comment
    7. brenda

      5. Celebrities bring web traffic.

      She did the BDS movement a significant service. She provided the kind of publicity for the issue that no one outside of a media billionaire could have given. I propose a special commendation be awarded to Scarlett Johansson; the leftist equivalent to the Legion d’Honneur.

      Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur

        And what if this is exactly what she was hired for?

        She is an actress,after all.

        Roger Waters said today that Scarlett only one year ago was “anti-neocon” and “disgusted by Blackwater”.

        Unless he lied,that would be a huge shift in one year to her current position.

        More Celebs in the news,Dylan Farrow tells it all,on child abuser Woody “critizising Israel is anti-Semitism” Allen.

        Nikolas Kristof spins her story in the NYT.

        Reply to Comment
        • Piotr Berman

          As a commercial decision, quite possibly both SodaStream and Ms. Johansson did exactly fine. The company needs publicity, and among those who get the buzz there will be some who will buy their products. The actress is getting (gotten) married and perhaps soon she will concentrate on her new family (and children?), so it is good to finish (interrupt?) her carrier after getting more substantial fees than from Oxfam.

          But opponents of occupation have a win too. The latest of Google News:

          Inside SodaStream factory that exposed Scarlett Johansson’s choice of cash over charity
          Daily Mail ‎- 6 hours ago

          Reply to Comment
    8. ish yehudi

      Perhaps because the Left has so villified the “settlers” and the settlements as evil incarnate, you’re now facing the complexity of the situation which is clearly deeper than a blanket statement about “67 and the settlers.” As issues like this expose the complexity and you find that the vast majority of “settlers” are not the radicalized kids running around the hilltops, but regular people representing our peoples narrative in a conflict that is much more complex than the Lefty slogans of late. This issue is illustating that when you create a straw man argument, like a lot of the diatribe against the Jewish presence in Judea and Sumeria, and throw every hilltop in the same category as places which every negotiated settlement has as becoming a part of Israel… it can backfire.

      Reply to Comment
    9. El Dorado

      Brenda: What a childish analysis. Is this the best the BDS team can do?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Richard Witty

      BDS educated.

      More people know that there is an occupation than prior, but most of the press was about the conflict between the far left and the liberal left. Not even about a horserace.

      So, even the statement that BDS educated, has to be qualified.

      That there is a boycott made the national press (compared to no notice prior), but the repulsion of boycotting Israel also was evoked in the press, that “those Palestinians are at it again”.

      They weren’t presented as responsible self-governing adults.

      BDS distorted.

      BDS emphasized a boycott based on identity, in contrast to behavior. A firm that included some Palestinian foremen supervising some Israeli settlers. A firm that spent money and time in sensitivity and mediation efforts, confronting racism in practice. Asked to close rather than continue.

      And, a common thread is the utter dissing and snark directed to those of genuine good will and effort, rather than “thank you, but”. Instead “fuck you, and by the way join us and trust us enough to follow us”.

      And, then there is the conformity aspect of BDS, the effort to discipline those that have the audacity of having their own even slightly distinct individual perspective, rather than the well-worn track of the movement.

      Those are my continuing takeaways.

      BDS remains vague and confusing, not something that is easy and clear to adopt.

      The truths of the occupation are important, but still hidden when even the left press focuses on the litany (rather than persuasion) and the condemnation (rather than respectful persuasion).

      Reply to Comment
    11. Bar

      What we’ve learned is that if BDS pros continue to lie and prevaricate for long enough, then eventually the mainstream media will buy their story without even bothering to seriously investigate.

      The fact that Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss and Barghouti are receiving respectful attention despite being mercenaries against Israel is an embarrassment to all serious journalists.

      How do you like the newest stories coming out of the Sodastream factory, Noam? You know, the ones where all the Palestinian workers are expressing the opposite sentiments to the story Abunimah plugged with his “anonymous” Sodastream employee? Even Ha’aretz has now reported about these content Palestinians and their support of Scarlett…

      Reply to Comment
    12. karen devito

      All these publicity articles about SodaStream are written by ignoramuses. There are 5 major errors in the comments and articles – namely there is no Israeli occupation because the international community recognizes that the Palestinians are governed by the President of the Palestinian Authority; SodaStream is not on occupied land because under international law Mishor and Maale Adumin belong to the Jewish people; SodaStream does not operate in a settlement, it operates in a city called the city of Maale Adumim; Israeli settlements that do exist are perfectly legal under international law since the international community agreed in 1993 on the White House lawn that Israel could settle its people there until a negotiated outcome with the Palestinians was finalized; and, last but not least, the racist boycott campaign against SodaStream by the Muslim Palestinians and their Marxist and Christian friends constitutes a war crime under the International Convention Against Racism.

      These points are not mentioned by your commenters or by 972 Magazine because they explode too many propaganda myths distributed by the haters of Israel who threaten the limbs of free-thinking people.

      Reply to Comment
    13. ‘I hope nobody who makes this argument seriously believes that equality exists when one party is completely dependent on the other’s good will. When a worker is deprived of political representation and can find himself in a military court following any controversy or problem, is he really equal? Does he get his freedom to travel along with his paycheck? His right to due process? This seems more like a “our n*****s are perfectly happy” line than serious reasoning.’

      Exactly right. Which is why SodaStream is in outcome ultimately an ally.

      Reply to Comment
    14. brenda

      I’m not on “the BDS team”, El Dorado. Initially I was antagonistic to the boycott, my views having something in common with Richard Witty. But eventually I came to embrace the boycott, blunt instrument that it is.

      Economic warfare is still warfare. Some innocents will be hurt. The piece by Shlomi Eldar on al-monitor makes this point better than any other I have read:

      I still embrace the boycott — because it will take everything and anything to bring the current governing coalition of Israel to its knees, to sign a peace treaty with Palestine. And that peace treaty is in the best interests of America. I am tired of being jerked around by AIPAC, it’s as simple as that. Sorry if I disappoint, no high-mindedness here I’m afraid.

      Reply to Comment
    15. hophmi

      I think for many of us in the liberal Zionist community, opposing settlement policy is different from launching a boycott of settlement products. Let’s be very honest here. The people at places like Mondoweiss are not anti-occupation activists. They’re anti-Israel activists. They consistently favors comprehensive boycotts of everything Israeli. They publish very nasty stuff about Jews, and not only in the comment section.

      I also don’t feel that opposing settlement policy requiring boycotting the settlers. I feel that doing so is a good way to alienate those settlers who are very much a part of Israel and need to be part of the solution to the conflict. Why should settlers bear a special punishment for the bad policy decisions of successive Israeli governments, especially when many of them stand to lose much more than the average Israeli in the event of a final agreement?

      And finally, I think the Sodastream story illustrates why boycotts are sometimes just a way for Western activists (in this case, the left-wing activists) to pour gasoline on the fire. Here is a company run by a peacenik who has stood up for the rights of Palestinians and makes a good product. The people in his factory oppose the boycott. Why should we punish him, especially since his factory is located in a place that is almost certainly going to be part of Israel in any future arrangement?

      The Sodastream also exposed the priorities of an international community that places the occupation above seemingly everything. Oxfam takes money from Coca-Cola, a huge international company with an awful labor record, and everybody could care less about it. Scarlett Johansson had a good record as an international ambassador for Oxfam, and they could care less; anti-occupation rhetoric is apparently more important than raising money for poor people around the world.

      Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur


        “I think for many of us in the liberal Zionist community….”

        Did you read your own comments on Mondoweiss,about 50 a day?

        Kfotsli,Hophmi…….. be zigzag.

        Reply to Comment
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