Saturday, February 1, 2014

Not reading the map – Scarlett and the bubbles

Photos in which the film star looks at her best appeared prominently on Yediot  Aharonot’s front pages, under the title “Scarlett for Israel”: Supporting Israel has become a real professional risk to the world’s artists, writes Tzippy Shmilovitz. Anyone daring to come here or even say a good word about Israel is subject to great pressure and intimidation and most of them fold up. Not, however, Scarlett Johansson. She had to choose between old position as goodwill ambassador for the anti-poverty organization Oxfam, which is doing humanitarian work worldwide, and her new contract to act as “a global brand ambassador” for the SodaStream company, which produces domestic soda machines  in a West Bank settlement, she bravely chose for the latter, concludes Shmilovitz.

In the same vein Minister Naftali Bennet, leader of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party, displayed Scarlett Johansson’s photo on his Facebook page with the caption “she is as beautiful on the inside as on the outside.”

Among the praise heaped on Scarlett Johansson for her bravery, there was scarce mention of the fact that her work with Oxfam had been charity, while SodaStream paid her handsomely for appearing in the ad due to be broadcast to the enormous TV audience who are glued to their screens on the occasion of  the American Super Bowl. She had already gotten quite a bit of income from advertising various commercial commodities, among them Calvin Klein, L'Oréal, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana. Breaking an advertising contract with SodaStream could have gotten her in legal problems and certainly jeopardized her chance of getting further such contracts.

On the other hand, Scarlett Johansson’s politics are not precisely the same as those of her Israeli admirers. Bennet and his settler friends are not especially fond of John Kerry and Barack Obama, both of whom got endorsements from Scarlett Johansson  during their presidential campaigns in  2004 and 2008 respectively.

Indeed, Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream, very proud of his famous acquisition, is striving mightily to distance himself from the outspokenly nationalist settlers of Bennet’s ilk and establish credentials as a “non political settler”. Indeed, Birnbaum has on several occasions presented himself as the new apostle of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, daily building up bridges of peace on his factory floor “without waiting for the politicians and diplomats.”

Birnbaum’s ace in the hole are the hundreds of Palestinian workers at the SodaStream factory. Well made video footage spread by the company show Palestinian workers m highly satisfied with their jobs, their salaries and working conditions, and on terms of perfect amity with Jewish co-workers, though they prefer to lunch separately.  

Until a few years ago, Israeli employers at the settlements grossly discriminated and exploited Palestinian workers, cynically citing the fact that they operate outside Israeli sovereign territory and therefore Israeli laws on minimum salary do not apply to them. Following appeals to the Supreme Court, it was ruled some years ago that in settlements – which are in effect Israeli enclaves within a non-Israeli territory – laws on minimum salary and other labor laws do apply, and Palestinian workers should gat the same pay as Israeli ones. Not all Israeli employers in the settlements did actually comply with the court’s ruling. It might be that  SodaStream did – if only to have a watertight alibi to present internationally.

In line with Birnbaum, Scarlett Johansson  explained that she “supports economic cooperation between a democratic Israel and Palestine." But where exactly would the democratic Palestine be located? Where would be its border with the democratic Israel? Would it have a territorial continuity, or be broken up into a series of disconnected enclaves?

It is doubtful that the  famous Holywood star had even seen a detailed map of the Israeli settlements on the West Bank and their location in relation to the Palestinian towns and village, such as are published by various Israeli and Palestinian groups. Such a map would clearly show that Israeli government planners had placed the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim so as to drive a deep wedge into Palestinian territory, cutting off the northern part of the West Bank from its south, and that Mishor Adumim, the settlement’s industrial zone, is located at the cutting edge of that wedge into Palestine. And right there, at that cutting edge, is located the SodaStream factory, surrounded by an ugly concrete wall topped with barbed wire.

Of course, the many millions of American viewers who will watch the Super Bowl tomorrow night will see and hear nothing of that. They will only see  Scarlett Johansson’s smiling face.