“What a Gal” was the tagline in an email sent me earlier today by Dr. William Firshein, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Brooklyn raised Bill “Velvi” Firshein is an unreconstructed Zionist whom I got to know in my activist days in the nutmeg state. We maintain a daily stream of conversation via emails after my retirement to Florida. Firshein is unafraid to write critical letters and emails to the editors of major media lambasting them for biased coverage of Israel and issues like the International Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and the recent academic ones. See our Iconoclast blog post here.
Watch Scarlett Johansson in the YouTube video of the uncensored version of the SodaStream Super Bowl ad that started the ruckus with the tagline “sorry Pepsi and Coke”. Fox demanded deletion of that line so as not to offend the major soda world competitors. Wonder why it has over 5.5 million hits, already?
You might have seen her in Marvel’s the Avengers, Iron Man Two or heard her in Her. She is one hot film property as she is in four productions to be released in 2014 and another in 2015. Johannson is the daughter of a Danish father and American Jewish mother and TV producer.
The “what” that Firshein was referring to was the news today that Oxfam, the world hunger NGO based in the UK, was dropping her after eight years as its spokeswoman. They didn’t like her signing on to an endorsement deal to appear in the above Super Bowl ad this Sunday for SodaStream, an Israeli carbonation manufacturer that has a plant in the “disputed territories”.
The Daily Beast noted why Oxfam dropped her and what Johansson said:
As the international charity itself told Johansson, “Oxfam 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.”
But the Hollywood star brushed this off, repeating Soda Stream’s talking points that the factory represents an example of “economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”
That brought a smile to Firshein. He wrote in this morning’s email:
Israel has a new heroine, Scarlett Johannson, in the tradition of Ruth and other great Hebrew woman (yes Scarlett Johannson is Jewish). First, she has been a terrific spokesperson for an Israeli company (SodaStream) based on the border between Israel and the so called “territories” which employs a majority of Palestinians who have nothing but praise for the owner Daniel Birnbaum who deliberately built his plant in a difficult place to promote peace and diversity. Second, she has stood up to the extreme bias of Oxfam for whom she was also a spokesperson for an organization that brings awareness to global poverty in third world countries. However their incredible animus against Israel was not well known. For years they have been anti Israel and pro Palestinian. Everything Israel did was bad and everything the Palestinians have done (including terrorism) was condoned. Yet Johannson remained as a spokesperson until Oxfam spewed out its support for the BDS movement against Israel.
That was too much for her and she resigned.
Scarlett Johansson should be the poster person to combat BDS worldwide. The media minders in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem should get their collective heads around this golden opportunity to beat down the Israel haters. As Lisa Benson wrote me after reading Firshein and my comments, “This is a major PR moment.” That reflects our mutual view that Johansson’s push back at the International Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign makes her a formidable asset in potentially putting a stop to it. The move by Oxfam deprives them of a star fundraiser and public personality who travelled to all the hot spots across the globe for them during the past eight years. But they are part of the pro-Palestinian supporters in the NGO and media world trashing Israel for having the right to develop disputed territories while creating jobs at good wages for Palestinian employees of SodaStream at the Mishnor Adumim industrial park in Ma’ale Adumim.
The Christian Science Monitor published an article today illustrating how those Palestinian employees of SodaStream back Johansson, “Palestinian workers back Scarlett Johansson’s opposition to SodaStream boycott”.
Note this Oxfam, Electronic Intifada and other allies of the BDS cause:
The Jewish actress’s promotion of the company in a Super Bowl ad has propelled an international campaign to boycott the home soda maker and today forced the actress to step down as a global ambassador for the humanitarian agency Oxfam.
But those most familiar with the factory – Palestinians who work there – largely side with Ms. Johansson.
“Before boycotting, they should think of the workers who are going to suffer,” says a young man shivering in the pre-dawn darkness in Azzariah, a West Bank town cut off from work opportunities in Jerusalem by the concrete Israeli separation wall. Previously, he earned 20 shekels ($6) a day plucking and cleaning chickens; now he makes nearly 10 times that at SodaStream, which also provides transportation, breakfast, and lunch.
As a few dozen men in hoodies and work coats trickle out of the alleys to the makeshift bus stop where they wait for their ride to the factory, another adds, “If SodaStream closes, we would be sitting in the streets doing nothing.”
The SodaStream controversy is part of the International Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, which Palestinians launched in July 2005 as an effort to force Israel to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories, recognize Israeli Arab’s full rights, and promote the Palestinian right of return.
Speaking anonymously on a largely deserted street, with no Israeli SodaStream employees present, all but one of those interviewed said they opposed the boycott, given the lack of alternative job opportunities in the West Bank. That underscores Israeli claims that a boycott would be counterproductive, undermining the cooperation and prosperity that could boost peace prospects in the region.
This controversy really shows off Israeli business savvy big time. SodaStream is positioning itself as the ecologically correct threat to Coke and Pepsi in the annual $280 Billion carbonated drinks market worldwide. CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum is a Harvard MBA, P&G Marketing trained and former CEO of Nike Israel who signed on after an Israel venture capitalist bought the assets of floundering SodaStream and asked him to come aboard and run it. The buzz created over their Super Bowl ad censored for mentioning Pepsi and Coke was a slick move.
Watch this Bloomberg video with SodaStream CEO Birnbaum on the company, sales and its future.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.