Palestinians to Oxfam: Back off and let us work (& ScoJo to visit Israel)

January 31, 2014

 

Scarlett Johansson visiting Dadaab, Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world

 

* Brendan O’Neill, (London) Daily Telegraph: “Ever since she was signed up as the face of the Israeli company SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson has had a tsunami of flak from campaigners who think that buying Israeli stuff, working with Israeli academics or attending Israeli theatre performances is the very worst thing a human being could ever do. You know the kind: they stand outside Marks & Spencer’s on Oxford Street warning all whom enter that this evil shop sells blood-stained products (i.e., stuff made in Israel), and they screech and wail, these philistines for Palestine, when an Israeli violinist starts playing at the Proms. I mean, can you imagine it – a musician from Israel inside the Royal Albert Hall? *Shudder*.”

* “And so it was that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for decent-minded Westerners to refuse to contaminate their body, souls or minds with any grub or books from Israel, called on Oxfam to ‘immediately sever ties’ with Ms Johansson. Oxfam expressed its concern at Ms Johansson’s lack of guilt over advertising SodaStream, asking her to ‘[consider] the implications’, and said it was thinking about what this all means ‘for Ms Johansson’s role as Oxfam global ambassador’. And then, brilliantly, totally stealing Oxfam’s puffed-up thunder, Ms Johansson issued a statement saying: ‘I have respectfully decided to end my ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years.’”

* “Any Western shop that stocks Israeli produce can expect depressed-looking middle-class white people in Arafat-style keffiyehs to turn up on a Saturday morning waving banners saying “Stop supporting Zionism!” Various academic unions boycott Israeli universities, turning that nation’s professors into the lepers of modern intellectual life, as if their words – on stuff as innocent as physics or philosophy – are wont to poison and corrupt those who hear them.”

* “It’s illiberal, because it effectively demands the censoring of Israeli academics and performers; it’s hypocritical, because it is led by people who are only too happy to use iPhones made in undemocratic China and to vote for the Labour Party, which, er, bombed the hell out of Middle Eastern countries for the best part of 10 years; and it has unfortunate ugly echoes of earlier campaigns to boycott Jewish shops and produce. So three cheers for Ms Johansson for taking a very public stand against this right-on pressure to treat Israel as the most evil nation on Earth.”

 

* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.

 

CONTENTS

1. ScoJo under attack from anti-Israel campaigners
2. Equal salaries
3. Lost in Translation
4. Johansson’s SodaStream advert now goes viral: 7 million views in the last 48 hours
5. British reporters show their bias in anti-ScoJo tweets
6. Oxfam forget to mention they are funded by SodaStream’s rivals Coca Cola
7. Council on Foreign Relations President praises Scarlett Johansson
8. Christian Science Monitor: Palestinian workers “largely side with Johansson”
9. Ha’aretz: Arab-owned companies now also facing the wrath of the trendy boycott crowd
10. Sex and the City star also targeted
11. Some of the brands you’ll have to give up if you’re boycotting Israel
12. “Clearing the Air” (By Scarlett Johansson, Huffington Post, Jan. 24, 2014)
13. “Three cheers for Scarlett Johansson” (By Brendan O’Neill, Daily Telegraph online, Jan. 30, 2014)
14. “Paris court fines pro-Palestinian group for SodaStream boycott” (JTA, , Jan. 29, 2014)


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

SCOJO UNDER ATTACK FROM ANTI-ISRAEL CAMPAIGNERS

Actress Scarlett Johansson (who says she hates being called ScarJo and prefers ScoJo) has now become an object of sexist and anti-Semitic hate on the internet among anti-Israel activists, after she quit as Oxfam’s goodwill ambassador because of Oxfam’s incessant campaigning against Israel.

Whereas middle class Western academics, journalists and NGO workers are attacking Johansson, Palestinian workers are saying they back Johansson’s opposition to Oxfam’s campaign against the Tel Aviv-based company SodaStream, and that they are happy working there and do not wish to lose their jobs.

SodaStream makes home soda machines and has one of its plants in an Israeli industrial park next to the West Bank community of Maaleh Adumim.

Palestinian negotiators have already agreed that Maaleh Adumim (including the SodaStream factory), which is in effect a suburb of Jerusalem, will stay inside Israel as part of “land swaps” in any final peace deal.

 

EQUAL SALARIES

Media outlets such as the BBC World Service have worked themselves into a SodaStream-style tizzy over the issue in the last couple of days. At one point yesterday afternoon, the BBC was devoting more time to this story in their news broadcasts than any other news story in the world.

The BBC also severely misled their audience by suggesting that SodaStream pays more to their Israeli employees who work alongside Palestinian employees. (In reality, both Israelis and Palestinians say the SodaStream plant is a model of coexistence where hundreds of Palestinians work alongside hundreds of Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs and all get the same salaries, perks, and benefits.)

In a statement, Scarlett Johansson said she had a “fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott” [against Israel] and “respectfully decided to end my ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years.”

Johansson had raised millions of dollars for the British-based organization – which of course is meant to be a charity, not an anti-Israel campaign group.

 

LOST IN TRANSLATION

For those who don’t know, Scarlett Johansson is an American actress, model and singer. Among her more popular performances are lead roles in the films Girl with a Pearl Earring, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (for which she won a BAFTA award for Best Actress in a Leading Role) Woody Allen’s Match Point (for which she received a Golden Globe nomination), “The Avengers” and “Her”

Johansson has twice been voted the “Sexiest Woman Alive” by Esquire magazine.

Her mother is Jewish, from a family that fled anti-Semitic attacks in what is now Belarus. Johansson has stated she supports a democratic Israel and democratic Palestine and is against boycotts and one-sided campaigns against Israel.

She announced yesterday that she will visit Israel on behalf of SodaStream later this year.

 

JOHANSSON’S SODASTREAM ADVERT NOW GOES VIRAL: 7 MILLION VIEWS IN THE LAST 48 HOURS

The SodaStream advert with Johansson that is due to be screened during the Superbowl this weekend, and which led anti-Israel activists to intensify their campaign against her, can be viewed in its uncensored version here:



The advert has now gone viral – being watched on YouTube over 7 million times in the last 48 hours – as a by-product of the campaign against SodaStream.

SodaStream is challenging Coke and Pepsi as a much more environmental, hygienic and heath conscious alternative way of drinking soda.

***

And here is a video by SodaStream explaining how they employ Palestinians:


***

Here, incidentally, is a preview of what some are calling the heart-warming Budweiser ad also due to be screened during this weekend’s Superbowl:


 

BRITISH REPORTERS SHOW THEIR BIAS IN ANTI-SCOJO TWEETS

While Daily Telegraph columnist Brendan O’Neill (article below) is defending Johansson, other British journalists – news reporters who are supposed to be neutral – have taken to twitter in the last two days to make slurs against Johansson.

The Financial Times’ Middle East and North Africa correspondent Borzou Daragahi has now apologized for his tweet, but to my knowledge The Independent’s reporter Richard Hall has not.

Others have taken to twitter to attack Hall in quotes such as:

@_RichardHall Imagine wearing clothes made by children in sweat-shop conditions in Southeast Asia and working for a major UK paper?

***

Last February, The Financial Times’ Borzou Daragahi, also apologized for another conspiracy theory he ran against Israel.

At that time he alleged in a tweet that Israel may have bribed Bulgaria to frame Hizbullah for the suicide bomb attack that Hizbullah carried out against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, after a thorough Bulgarian investigation established that the Lebanese man behind the bomb was indeed a Hizbullah operative.

“Sincere apologies and regret for ill-conceived tweet yesterday about Israel and Bulgaria,” Daragahi wrote then on Twitter.

It is amazing that a paper such as the Financial Times continues to employ an anti-Israeli conspiracy theorist as one of its Middle East correspondents.

Founded in 1888, the Financial Times has a combined print and online average daily readership of 2.1 million worldwide, according to its website.

 

OXFAM FORGET TO MENTION THEY ARE FUNDED BY SODASTREAM’S RIVALS COCA COLA

Jonathan Tobin writes (on the website of Commentary magazine):

“It is possible that Oxfam’s decision wasn’t entirely based on the anti-Israel bias of its London-based leadership. One of the leading corporate donors to Oxfam just happens to be the Coca Cola Company that has given millions to the group. That tie between a company that can be linked to obesity and bad nutrition and a charity that promotes feeding the hungry is seen as a contradiction by some and only explained by the cash that flows from Coke to Oxfam. But the fact that SodaStream is a competitor that is already eating into Coke’s market share could account, at least in part, for Oxfam’s speed in denouncing Johansson.”

“But even if contributions from Coke had nothing to do with Oxfam’s decision, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the way this controversy developed is the ease and speed with which a theoretically apolitical charity like Oxfam publicly embraced the BDS stand even though it meant losing the services of such an effective ambassador as Johansson. The decisiveness and alacrity with which Oxfam’s leaders condemned her ties with an Israeli company may well have come as a rude shock to Johansson after she signed on to appear in SodaStream commercials, including one scheduled for broadcast during the Super Bowl. Though she is an active supporter of many liberal causes who embraced Oxfam because of its apparent compatibility with her personal values, it may not have occurred to her that in international progressive circles such associations with Israel aren’t kosher.

“The point here is not simply the factual inaccuracy of Oxfam’s accusations that settlements further Palestinian poverty or deny Palestinian rights. Having seen SodaStream’s operations herself, Johansson knew that charges that it exploited its Arab workers were nothing but propaganda and absurd lies. She rightly understood that its owners were committed peaceniks who genuinely believe that the cooperative and mutually profitable relations between Jews and Arabs that go on at SodaStream are exactly what the region needs.”

 

COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS PRESIDENT PRAISES SCARLETT JOHANSSON

The Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass told MSNBC:

“Actress Scarlett Johansson is doing the right thing by stepping down as an Oxfam ambassador after the humanitarian group opposed her advocacy for an Israeli company. This is part of the whole anti-legitimacy of Israel issue, and the fact that Oxfam is going after her, all kidding aside, this is a serious issue, what she is doing is right. Good for her.”

 

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: PALESTINIANS WORKERS “LARGELY SIDE WITH MS. JOHANSSON”

The Christian Science Monitor reports today (extracts):

Those most familiar with the factory – Palestinians who work at SodaStream – largely side with Ms. Johansson.

“Before boycotting, they should think of the workers who are going to suffer,” says a young man … who 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. Another adds, “If SodaStream closes, we would be sitting in the streets doing nothing.”

… [Their message] underscores Israeli claims that a boycott would be counterproductive, undermining the cooperation and prosperity that could boost peace prospects in the region.

… Omar Jibarat of Azzariah, the 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 [Palestinian] 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 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.”

 

HA’ARETZ: ARAB-OWNED COMPANIES NOW ALSO FACING THE WRATH OF THE TRENDY BOYCOTT CROWD

Ha’aretz points out in a feature article today that there are also Arab-owned factories in the West Bank’s Maale Adumim industrial zone, such as “the Shweiki glass factory, with its sleek outer façade and interior, stands out among the mostly shabby-looking low-tech plants, carpentries, workshops and garages that populate this industrial zone” -- which employ Jews and Arabs, and these Arab business are also now being targeted for boycott by anti-Israel campaigners.

 

SEX AND THE CITY STAR ALSO TARGETED

“Sex and the City” star Kristin Davis (who played Charlotte York on the HBO series, and before that played Brooke on “Melrose Place”) was also forced step down as an Oxfam Ambassador in 2009 after she signed a contract to do a series of advertisements for the Israeli Dead Sea skin care company Ahava. (Davis later returned to Oxfam after her contract with Ahava ended.)

 

SOME OF THE BRANDS YOU’LL HAVE TO GIVE UP IF YOU’RE BOYCOTTING ISRAEL

Christa Case Bryant of the Christian Science Monitor writes:

These are other brands and products that anti-Israel activists have urged people to boycott because they are part-produced in Israel or rely on Israeli-made technology:

* Pampers
* Victoria’s Secret
* Volvo
* Intel
* Motorola
* Hewlett-Packard
* Starbucks
* McDonald’s
* iPhones
* iPads
* MacBooks
* Skype
* computer firewalls
* Microsoft XP

(as well as thousands of other products)

www.csmonitor.com/World/2014/0130/10-brands-you-ll-have-to-give-up-if-you-re-boycotting-Israel/Pampers

***

I attach three articles below.

-- Tom Gross


 

ARTICLES

“CLEARING THE AIR”

[This was published some days before Scarlett Johansson decided she couldn’t take Oxfam’s pressure any more and quit.]

Clearing the Air
By Scarlett Johansson
Huffington Post
January 24, 2014

www.huffingtonpost.com/scarlett-johansson/sodastream_b_4661895.html

While I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream, given the amount of noise surrounding that decision, I’d like to clear the air.

I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.

That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day. As part of my efforts as an Ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed first-hand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another and feel proud of the outcome of that work in the quality of their product and work environment, in the pay they bring home to their families and in the benefits they equally receive.

I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them. I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over 8 years. Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.

 

“WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE ABOUT THIS STORY?”

Three cheers for Scarlett Johansson’s stand against the ugly, illiberal Boycott Israel movement
By Brendan O’Neill
Daily Telegraph (online only)
January 30, 2014

As if her otherworldly beauty and screen presence were not enough, here is another reason to love Scarlett Johansson: Oxfam, of which she was an ambassador, hinted that she should cut her ties with SodaStream on the basis that it maintains factories in Israeli settlements and she responded by cutting her ties with Oxfam!

What’s not to love about this story? A worthy charity shakes its big head in disapproval at a celeb who has dared to do things for a company that works in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, no doubt expecting the celeb to freak out, issue a tear-drenched apology and promise never again to rub shoulders, or anything else, with these evil Israelis. But instead the celeb basically tells the worthy charity to get stuffed and says she will carry on working with and promoting the Israeli company.

Ever since she was signed up as the face of SodaStream, Ms Johansson has had a tsunami of flak from campaigners who think that buying Israeli stuff, working with Israeli academics or attending Israeli theatre performances is the very worst thing a human being could ever do. You know the kind: they stand outside Marks & Spencer’s on Oxford Street warning all whom enter that this evil shop sells blood-stained products (i.e., stuff made in Israel), and they screech and wail, these philistines for Palestine, when an Israeli violinist starts playing at the Proms. I mean, can you imagine it – a musician from Israel inside the Royal Albert Hall? *Shudder*.

And so it was that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for decent-minded Westerners to refuse to contaminate their body, souls or minds with any grub or books from Israel, called on Oxfam to “immediately sever ties” with Ms Johansson. Oxfam expressed its concern at Ms Johansson’s lack of guilt over advertising SodaStream, asking her to “[consider] the implications”, and said it was thinking about what this all means “for Ms Johansson’s role as Oxfam global ambassador”. And then, brilliantly, totally stealing Oxfam’s puffed-up thunder, Ms Johansson’s people issued a statement saying: “Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years.”

Ms Johansson broke her links with Oxfam over what she calls “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement”. That is, Oxfam thinks this movement is hunky dory; Ms Johansson thinks it isn’t. In taking this stance, Ms Johansson is being pretty rebellious. There is enormous pressure on the well-known and the well-connected to boycott Israel. Any pop singer who dares to perform there is bombarded with letters, emails and tweets telling them to rethink. Any Western shop that stocks Israeli produce can expect despressed-looking middle-class white people in Arafat-style keffiyehs to turn up on a Saturday morning waving banners saying “Stop supporting Zionism!” Various academic unions boycott Israeli universities, turning that nation’s professors into the lepers of modern intellectual life, as if their words – on stuff as innocent as physics or philosophy – are wont to poison and corrupt those who hear them.

As for Israeli theatre troupes or dance groups that come to Western European nations to perform – they will find themselves hollered at and complained about by our right-on arts world. When Habima, Israel’s national theatre company, came to Britain in 2012 to take part in an international Shakespeare festival at the Globe, luvvies wrote open letters expressing their “dismay” and claiming that by including Habima the Globe was “associating itself with the policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state”. Notably, the presence at the Globe of theatre companies from authoritarian regimes, including Zimbabwe and China, was not complained about. Nope, just Israel. Because Israel is different, you see. It’s really horrible. We hate it. And we love to hate it.

There is nothing remotely progressive in this campaign to boycott everything Israeli, with its double standards about various nations’ behaviour and its shrill rhetoric about everything that comes from Israel being covered in Palestinian blood. This movement is not designed to have any kind of positive impact in the Middle East but rather is about making certain Western activists feel righteous and pure through allowing them to advertise how Israeli-free their lives are. It’s illiberal, because it effectively demands the censoring of Israeli academics and performers; it’s hypocritical, because it is led by people who are only too happy to use iPhones made in undemocratic China and to vote for the Labour Party, which, er, bombed the hell out of Middle Eastern countries for the best part of 10 years; and it has unfortunate ugly echoes of earlier campaigns to boycott Jewish shops and produce. So three cheers for Ms Johansson for taking a very public stand against this right-on pressure to treat Israel as the most evil nation on Earth.

 

PARIS COURT FINES PRO-PALESTINIAN GROUP FOR SODASTREAM BOYCOTT

Paris court fines pro-Palestinian group for SodaStream boycott
French tribunal finds campaign in violation of law; slaps France Palestine Solidarity Association with $9,000 penalty
By JTA
January 29, 2014

A pro-Palestinian group’s campaign to boycott the products of the Israeli SodaStream company violates French law, a Paris court ruled.

The ruling was handed down on January 23 by the French capital’s Tribunal for Grand Instances, which fined the group about $9,000 and ordered it to remove calls to boycott SodaStream and its agents from the group’s website.

The judge made the ruling in a lawsuit that S.A.S OPM France, which represents SodaStream, brought against the France Palestine Solidarity Association last year in connection with a campaign the association launched in 2010 on its website and in local papers in the Nantes region.

It encouraged consumers to boycott SodaStream, a producer of home devices for the production of carbonated water whose factory is based in Maale Adumim in the West Bank, and its French distributor, the Nantes -based OPM firm.

The campaign violated French law because it falsely claimed the company was deceiving customers and was guilty of fraud, read the 10-page ruling, which JTA obtained.

The judge ordered the association to pay OPM about $5,500 and another $3,400 to cover legal costs.

“While this action is legal when it is done in defense of clients, it is illegal when it becomes abusive, notably when it is pursued for ends other than the protection of consumers or disproportionately,” the ruling said.

The campaign included videos placed by the association on YouTube and ads in local papers accusing OPM of defrauding clients. The judge rejected arguments put forth by the pro-Palestinian association that its actions were protected under France’s 1881 law on freedom of the press, saying that the campaign was false and targeted a firm’s commercial interest.

For this reason, it violated France’s tort law, or Article 1382 of the Civil Code, which states that “any loss caused to a person through the behavior of another must be repaired by the person whose fault it was that the loss occurred,” the judge wrote.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.