Bad for the Jews: Israeli Annexation of Palestinian West Bank, Scarlett Johansson and BDS

(By Juan Cole)

The determination of the Likud Party to annex the Palestinian West Bank is damaging the interests of world Jewry. This harm is clearly visible in the controversy that has engulfed movie star Scarlett Johansson, who was a global ambassador for the Oxfam charity and who also agreed to become a spokesperson for the Israeli company Sodastream, which has a factory in the Occupied West Bank. She will star in a Superbowl commercial for the company.

Oxfam points out that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is illegal, and it is opposed to trade with settler commercial enterprises based there. The Sodastream factory in set in a 40,000-strong Israeli squatter settlement designed to cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and make a Palestinian state impossible. Israel squatters divert most of the West Bank’s water and other resources to themselves, leaving Palestinians impoverished.

In the end, Ms. Johansson had to choose between the two, and she gave up her association with Oxfam.

The Israeli Occupation institutions in the Palestinian West Bank are increasingly being boycotted, especially in Europe (Oxfam is based in Britain). Although it is clearly illegal for an Occupying Power to move its population into occupied territory (Geneva Convention of 1949), far right wing Israeli governments have flooded this Palestinian territory with hundreds of thousands of illegal squatters, who have usurped Palestinian property, confined Palestinians to Bantustans, and imposed onerous checkpoints on them. The Jewish supremacist squatter settlements are Jewish-only and no Palestinian can live in them. The militant squatters are often heavily armed and are increasingly attacking Palestinians and their mosques and other institutions, as well as waging economic warfare on them by cutting down their olive trees.

The European Union has decided to use its economic clout to push back against the clear Israeli determination to annex the whole West Bank while keeping its indigenous Palestinian population stateless and without the rights of citizenship.

The European Union has insisted that Israeli institutions and companies based in the Palestinian West Bank be excluded from any Israeli participation in a program of the European Union. (The EU treats Israel like a member, offering it many perquisites, opportunities for technology interchange, and access to EU markets; Brussels is saying, however, that none of that largesse can go to Israelis in the Occupied Weat Bank.)

About a third of Israel’s trade is with Europe (the US and China are its biggest trading partners, and Turkey comes after the EU). The EU imports $300 million a year from the settlements, but is clearly moving toward cutting that trade off.

Norway’s enormous sovereign wealth investment fund has just blacklisted Israeli firms with settlement ties.

This follows on a Netherlands’ investment fund divesting from five Israeli banks that fund squatter settlements on Palestinian territory.

European governments are increasingly warning their companies not to invest in or do business with Israeli firms in the Palestinian West Bank, since they might well be sued in Europe by the Palestinians so harmed. The recognition by the UN General Assembly of Palestine as a non-member observer state (on the same footing at the UN as the Vatican) has given Palestine more standing, even in national courts. Palestine is increasingly being upgraded diplomatically in Europe. The issue is also affected by European Union human rights law and a halo effect from the enactment of the Rome Statute in 2002 and the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Here’s the problem for Jews in Europe and the United States who, like Ms. Johansson, do business with Israeli companies: It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between West Bank firms and Israeli ones. As the Israeli annexation of the West Bank accelerates, the hundreds of thousands of Israelis there bring along with them banks, factories and other economic activities from the metropole. Sodastream isn’t primarily a West Bank company, but it has a West Bank factory and so is embroiled in controversy.

That is, the growing international movement to divest, boycott and sanction the squatter institutions on the Palestinian West Bank is unlikely only to affect the latter over time. There is increasing danger of Israel proper being subjected to boycott because it is so tightly intertwined with the settlers.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid has just warned that if the current round of peace talks fail and a settlement is not reached with the Palestinians, European boycotts could bite into the Israeli economy.

As boycotts, divestment and sanctions expand, American and European Jews with investments in those enterprises could get punished economically or with regard to reputation. In short, instead of Israel making North Atlantic Jewry more secure, its current Greater Israel policies are increasingly harming the two-thirds of the world’s Jews who don’t live in Israel but who feel an attachment to it and do business with it.

Even five years ago, Ms. Johansson’s involvement in a firm such as Sodastream would likely have passed without comment. That there is a controversy now is a sign of an enormous sea change in public opinion. Personally, I feel sorry for her– I am sure she did not not know what she was getting herself into and did not anticipate this bad publicity and I also am sure that she supports a two-state solution (in her statement she talked about Israel and “Palestine”). Unfortunately, one of the prices celebrities pay in the US is that they are under an unforgiving and ceaseless spotlight, and that sometimes makes them unwitting and unwilling harbingers.


Channel 4 reports

33 Responses

  1. Yesterday (Jan 30), NPR had a long interview with a happy Palestinian worker at that West Bank Sodastream factory, who talked about the great wages and working conditions there. They also gave a voice to a Palestinian government worker who criticized the plant as being just a way of putting lipstick on the occupation.

  2. JC has completely mischaracterized the location of the Sodastream facility. It is located in Ma’ale Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank and one that will undoubtedly be left in place in any final status negotiations.

    • Ah, facts on the ground. Soon they’ll be everywhere in the WB. Come talk to me after the final status negotiations have actually concluded

  3. “In the end, Ms. Johansson had to choose between the two, and she gave up her association with Oxfam.”

    What else? Follow the money.

    • Aren’t there any limits to these things? I support BDS……..but Juan is right about Johansson at the individual level, she’s a victim who has made a tactical error probably without malice and is paying a disproportionate price because of her celebrity?

      What does one imagine her contract is worth? And then ask how many of her critics have made personal sacrifices anything equivalent to it.

      Judges attempt to combine justice with mercy. She has contractual obligations. Leave her alone. She’s done nothing justifying these political disruptions in her life. She should be permitted to go and sin no more.

      But, if her compensation is a function of ratings? Hard cases make bad law.

      • “What does one imagine her contract is worth? And then ask how many of her critics have made personal sacrifices anything equivalent to it. ”

        You have, probably, inadvertently confirmed she is in it for the money. Money over principle. There’s a word for that. As for sacrifices made by her critics you might be very surprised if you ever learn.

        • Come on, Bodden. There are times when I can’t believe you guys. Of course she sells her fame via endorsements. So what? So do lady athletes. Poets and artists would do so if they could. Professors do an equivalent all the time. It’s called consulting. So your complaint that she works for a living is frivolous.

          You guys are the mock prosecutors of Miss Scarlett Johansson. You’re going to have egg on your faces if you can’t prove *intent*. You might even have to pay her costs and legal fees.

          You’ll only have some sort of a moral grip on this young woman if you can show she signed a contract with an Israeli owner knowing he manufactured the product to be touted on the Occupied West Bank. Only then will your witch hunt have been a symbolic success.

          The analogy is to the law of crimes. Most of them have mens rea ( guilty knowledge) as a necessary element. If mens rea is not proved, the Defendant may not be convicted, and if, by a jury of ideological kangaroos the charming young lady IS convicted nevertheless, the appellate court must overturn it. It has no discretion in the matter.

          You guys have the burden. What did she know and when did she know it? I’ll be happy to accept the outcome. I just won’t get out ahead of it.

          By the way, I don’t respect the timidity of the boycotters when they limit their prohibitions to Jewish West Bank producers. Why isn’t everything Israeli boycotted? Who puts right wing Zionists in office after all?

        • “Of course she sells her fame via endorsements. So what?”

          How about considering the moral and ethical aspects of cashing in on one’s fame. Many famous people have declined offers from organizations and corporations they didn’t want to be associated with.

          I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but given your apparent devotion to Obama and now Ms. Johansson you are beginning to sound like a groupie.

      • Hunter—Scarlett may have made a mistake in judgement, but she is surely not a victim. The Palestinians who have lost their lands and have limited freedoms on the WB are victims.

        • No one here has provided anything showing that Scarlett Johansson knew about the SodaStream West Bank factory before she signed the contract and worked on the Super Bowl advertising spoof. The company has 13 installations at least, only one in the West Bank. I believe it unjust to presume that she broke the boycott maliciously without some proof.

  4. Andrew E. Mathis

    A couple of points: (1) The occupation, while immoral and terrible and everything else you said, isn’t technically illegal. Settlements are, yes, but a military occupation isn’t, at least in the abstract; and (2) Left-wing governments share equal responsibility with right wing governments for WB settlement.

    • What is illegal is flooding the population of the Occupier into the occupied territory. This is no longer a war time occupation but settler colonialism. Who did Sodastream buy the land from for their factory? Who really owned it

      Yitzhak Rabin of Labor committed to withdrawing from the West Bank and the Right killed him. So, no.

    • While some other ‘abstract’ military occupation need not be illegal,the Israeli military occupation specifically is. It is not acceptable to vast majority of the people occupied, and has not been approved by the UNSC.

    • I looked through it briefly. It seems that the formally organized boycott leaders are paying no attention to Miss Scarlett Johansson.

  5. I don’t feel sorry for her — she chose money over principle.
    (A 30 second superbowl ad costs $4 million.)

    • When and how did she *knowingly* choose money over principle? And if she did not do that where do you stand? I understand that the company has assets in Israel proper too. I just don’t think that critics of Israeli policy should jump to conclusions about Scarlett Johansson which may not warranted.

      Are they warranted? Do you know?

      • “When and how did she *knowingly* choose money over principle?”

        How about when she chose Sodastream over Oxfam?

        “I just don’t think that critics of Israeli policy should jump to conclusions about Scarlett Johansson which may not warranted.”

        If she has a defense against her critics, I’m sure her PR flacks will give it a try.

        • Oxfam shot itself in the foot.

          By the way, Scarlett’s spoof did reach the Super Bowl audience during the fourth quarter, but I felt it was swallowed up by the general noise and hype. It’s almost as if all this sturm und drang took place for nothing and everyone involved in it has been a loser.

  6. Thanks, Juan, for your replies re Maale Adumim and “technicalities” of occupation vs. settlements. And have to add that there’s a little irony about ScarJo’s Sodastream advert. Turns out that the network broadcasting the Super Bowl is not going to run the ad, evidently because it doesn’t want to antagonize CocaCola, which she snipes at in the ad. The network, of course, is Fox, whose news division has been one of the US media champions of Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Go figure.

  7. Two factors have changed the Middle East landscape for the occupied Palestinians: (1) US foreign policy in the Middle East requires major adjustments — see current Iran efforts — primarily due to its epic failure in Iraq; and (2) Many in the US have become more aware of the blatant apartheid exercised by Israel in the Occupied Territories, where Palestinians are essentially under military occupation while Israelis enjoy the rights of Israeli citizenship.
    Pragmatists in Israel and the US realize that the time is right to impose a settlement on the Palestinians. The latter’s leadership is divided, corrupt and weak, and thus will accept nearly any offer that removes sufficient Israelis from the West Bank.
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  8. Juan Cole

    We have to give up this fiction that what is going on in the West Bank is like an occupation of territory by one state of another during a war with it. It has been since 1967. It is a colonization and it is illegal and a war crime.

  9. Scarlett Johansson has been politically active for the Democrats since Kerry in 2004 and wants to be a voice for disadvantaged people. In a 2012 campaign TV ad for she took a stance on women’s issues. For 2016 she has already indicated to throw her support behind Hillary.

    “If you already have the spotlight shining on you, it’s great to direct that toward a cause you believe in and that you can stand behind. It’s nice to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice.”

    Scarlett’s statement about her ambassadorship for Sodastream certainly didn’t provide any clarity and was taken apart. Her decision to cut ties with Oxfam indicates her new political activism.

    Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream, said in a video produced by a pro-Israel group Stand With Us that “we give them an opportunity to not only have a job and health insurance, but also social benefits. And a very high pay-scale which they could never achieve in the West Bank.” A report issued by the Israeli activist group Who Profits? [January 2011] outlined major labor rights concerns at SodaStream’s factory in Mishor Adumim can be found here.

  10. Mr. Cole – I am curios if you have any idea of the number of West Bank & Gaza Palestinians who, if given the choice, would prefer that Israel annex all of Palestine and give them full citizenship? We know that would never happen because the JewishKKK wants to remain in demographic control. But, until its reduced to a simple civil rights and voter rights issue, most Americans will never understand it for what it is.

    • You have hit the nail on the head.

      Palestinians comprise 45% of the population of waht is known as Isarel, Gaza, and the Occupied Territories. The West Bank Palestinians have no right to vote, routinely have their farms uprooted, their homes demolshed, are stopped by army checkpoints, tried in IDF military tribunals, and live under martial law dictated by the “Civil Administration”, a branch of the Israel Defense Forces, led by an IDF brigadier general and divided into political subdivisons ruled by IDF colonels.

      If Palestinian Arabs had true equal rights in this “Greater Israel”, they would likely have very little reason to complain and Palestinian nationalism would not have the appeal it has currently.

  11. I threw away my Sodastream machine in, what was it? 2008? precisely because of what the firm is criticized here. Felt sorry because it worked well but I felt I simply did not want to support a firm like this. I wasn’t part of a concerted action or anything, I just happened to read the smallprint, hesitated and then read it again. Judge Ms Johansson with the right part of your body, guys, she could very well have known better.

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