Council for the National Interest

Financial Times: Scarlett Johansson’s defense of “illegal settlement” product Soda Stream is naive

Feb 1 2014 / 4:21 pm
Collage of Johansson in front of Israeli checkpoint holding Palestinians trying to get to work (found on Twitter)

“SodaStream makes some dispensers in the biggest of Israel’s West Bank settlements, illegal under international law. It is disingenuous to romanticise settlement enterprises. The occupation imprisons thousands of the Palestinians’ young men, gives their land and water to settlers, demolishes their houses and partitions the remaining territory with scores of checkpoints and segregated roads…”

John Whitbeck’s commentary:

Transmitted below is a link to a significant Financial Times editorial on the Scarlett Johansson /SodaStream affair, which has attracted remarkably intense media interest and attention, and its potentially virtuous consequences. Ms. Johansson’s hugely controversial commercial star-turn may be remembered long after most people have forgotten who wins tonight’s Super Bowl.

Also transmitted immediately below is a link to a brief item from Jonathan Cook’s Blog from Nazareth in which he characterizes the New York Times’publication today of Omar Barghouti’s article on the BDS campaign, which I circulated yesterday, as “a revolution in what can be said in the US establishment’s paper of record.”

Omar, a distinguished recipient, responded to my message of congratulations today by writing, “It seems BDS is truly reaching a tipping point in the US mainstream, at long last. And of course the news from Europe keeps getting better!”

Less heartening are reports in the Israeli press of what Martin Indyk recently told “leaders” of the American Jewish community is likely to be contained in the “Kerry Plan” framework for dragging out “negotiations” beyond their end-April deadline. If these reports are accurate, it is no wonder that Avigdor Liberman is so enthusiastic about the “Kerry Plan”, for which the primary draftsmen must logically be Mr. Indyk, an AIPAC veteran and founder of AIPAC’s spin-off “think tank”, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and his deputy, David Makovsky, a WINEP veteran whose c.v. also includes stints as executive editor of the Jerusalem Post and diplomatic correspondent of Haaretz.

Significantly, the Israeli press refers to ongoing negotiations between Israel and the United States (not between Israel and “the Palestinians”) on the terms of this framework. It is difficult to imagine any U.S. Government proposing any “peace plan” which has not been pre-cleared with the Government of Israel (subject to a few pre-agreed Israeli “reservations” intended to demonstrate how “painful” the “concessions” being demanded of Israel are) and carefully tailored to make Palestine appear to be the recalcitrant party.

Still, on that score, we have little choice but to wait and see. Perhaps, for the first time since 1956, the U.S. Government will pleasantly surprise the world …

NOTE: I see nothing extraordinary or wrong with anyone owing his primary allegiance to a country other than the one where he was born and/or whose passport he carries. (No one can choose the country in which he is born. If one is fortunate, one may be able to choose the country in which one lives and/or which touches one’s heart.) Personally, as will not have gone unnoticed by my distinguished recipients, I am vastly more concerned with the interests and welfare of Palestine and the Palestinian people than I am with the interests and welfare of the United States or the American people. Precisely for that reason, I could never imagine being offered a governmental position to represent the United States in negotiations with Palestine.

Financial Times, 01/31/14 – The decision by actress Scarlett Johansson to stop being an ambassador for Oxfam, the social justice charity, and continue as brand ambassador to SodaStream, an Israeli company that makes home-carbonated drink dispensers at a plant in the occupied West Bank, might be dismissed as a storm in a fizzy cup. It should not be.

The Lost in Translation star has accidentally turned a searchlight on an important issue – whether it is right or lawful to do business with companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land – as well as inadvertently sprinkling stardust on the campaign to boycott Israel until it withdraws from the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem – a separate issue, at least so far.

SodaStream makes some dispensers in Maale Adumim, the biggest of Israel’s West Bank settlements, illegal under international law. It employs about 500 Palestinians and claims to promote jobs and peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. Ms Johansson [who is Jewish but apparently not an Israeli citizen] says the company is “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine”. That is naive, as is her conflation of this controversy with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement advocating the isolation of Israel.

The status of the settlements is clear in international law even if Israel chooses to ignore this and expand its colonisation of Palestinian land, while ostensibly negotiating on the creation of a Palestinian state. Last year the EU adopted rules prohibiting grants to entities operating in illegal settlements. Yet the EU still let Israel into Horizon 2020 – the only non-member state in this €80bn research and development programme – making Israeli tech high flyers eligible for European public money provided it is not spent in the settlements.

That is not a boycott. It is the application of the law. Yet if Israel maintains its occupation, and spurns the peace terms being negotiated by US secretary of state John Kerry, such distinctions will erode. European pension funds are already starting to pull their investments in Israeli banks with branches in the settlements.

Israeli leaders, from former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, justice and finance ministers in the present rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have warned that Israel faces ostracism unless it makes a deal on Palestine. Now it is the settlements that are being targeted. But that could easily morph into a general boycott.

It is disingenuous to romanticise settlement enterprises. The occupation imprisons thousands of the Palestinians’ young men, gives their land and water to settlers, demolishes their houses and partitions the remaining territory with scores of checkpoints and segregated roads. There are almost no basic foundations for an economy. The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without their permission..

Posted by on Feb 1 2014 . Filed under Commentary & Analysis, Featured articles, John Whitbeck . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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