Super Bowl Ad Pits BDS Against SodaStream

by James M. WallScarlett-Johansson_Black-Widow-Capt  ain-America-2-Poster-crop

A television ad which ran during the fourth quarter of the Denver Broncos-Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl game Sunday, featured Hollywood film star Scarlett Johansson (shown here in a poster picture).

The ad, for which the company SodaStream, paid $4 million, features Johansson as a sexy, convincing sales person for SodaStream’s home carbonation product.

Johansson should be easily recognized in the TV ad by younger viewers who would know her from her featured role in the movie series, The Avengers. In that series Johansson plays the Black Widow, one of several Marvel Comic characters who fight evil powers as a team.

The picture of Johansson is from a poster for the yet to be released Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in which she plays the Black Widow. That picture will be in theaters, April 4.

Johansson has been in many other films, most recently as the off-screen voice of Samantha, the computer-generated “her” in the film Her. In that film, the unseen Samantha establishes a love relationship with a lonely man played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film is set in the future when computers, supposedly, have developed human emotions.

A more recent Johansson film, Under the Skin. premiered in 2013 at the Toronto Film Festival. It will be released to theaters later this year. Two more Black Widow films will be released over the next two years.

The Black Widow, that is, Scarlett Johansson, is also engaged in a real life fight, now being fought largely out of sight of the average Super Bowl viewer.

That fight is being waged in a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign against SodaStream, an Israeli company that operates one of its factories in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. BDS is gathering steam as an effective, non-violent program designed to call world attention to business and companies that illegally operate in Occupied Palestine.

SodaStream is no mom and pop operation eager to be of service to Palestinians who need jobs.  It is a worldwide profit-oriented corporation, described by Wikipedia as “the maker of a consumer home carbonation product based on the principles of making a carbonated drink.”

Wikipedia explains further: “The device, like a soda syphon, carbonates water by adding carbon dioxide from a pressurized cylinder to create soda water (or carbonated water) to drink. The company also sells more than 100 different types of concentrated syrups and flavourings to make carbonated drinks”.

SodaStream went public on the Nasdaq stock exchange in November 2010. The company is headquartered just outside Tel Aviv. It currently has 13 production plants. Its principal manufacturing facility is located in the long established and still illegal, under international law, settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, the sprawling settlement located along the highway from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Why Ma’ale Adumim? The answer is easy if you think for a moment like a corporate executive responsible to stock holders. Such an executive would figure out that a new plant in an area close to Israel with a labor force desperate for jobs and willing to work for limited wages is a profit-maker. Not only that, but the labor force, so desperate for work, is also living under Israeli military occupation.

And there is more: The work pool in the villages surrounding the exclusively Jewish population of Ma’ale Adumim is all Palestinian, where there are workers who are in no position to bother SodaStream with talk of things like unions, higher wages and better working conditions.

The BDS campaign against SodaStream is only one of many such campaigns conducted by supporters of the BDS movement. SodaStream is operating a plant in an Israeli occupied Palestinian area which, while it may profit the stock holders, still projects an ugly image to outsiders. To clean up that image, SodaStream hired a public relations team to respond to the BDS pressure.

SodaStream looked around for an established, yet still young, movie star to change the subject away from unpleasant topics like occupation and Palestinian exploitation.. SodaStream’s public relations team settled on Hollywood film star Scarlett Johansson, who it just so happened, was already serving as the public face of the British-based non-profit international aid organization, Oxfam.

Johansson agreed to add SodaStream to her portfolio.

Was she aware of the BDS campaign against SodaStream? You may bet your retirement bonus that her public relations handlers were very much aware of that campaign. Did they tell this to Johansson? You know PR people don’t work like that. Maybe the PR people had other ways to persuade Johansson that it was in her best interest to take the job, or maybe Johansson really believes what her press release said, that she wants to foster better Israeli-Palestinian relations.  Only Johansson knows.

She could have stayed with Oxfam. Her movie career is picking up; she has two more Black Widow Avengers films in the works. Her role as the voice of Samantha in the film Her, has been nominated for an Academy Award. 

Instead, Johansson not only took the SodaStream gig, she soon withdrew from Oxfam.

What led her to take this action? It was a subjective personal decision by a movie star with decades of film-making ahead of her. Johansson is not yet established as a movie star with enough power to reject a gig that, we may assume she assumes, benefits Israel.

After all, she works in Hollywood, the movie-making capital of the world, which is well-known as a center of pro-Israel sentiment. It is also known as a place where politicians like Barack Obama go to raise money from leaders of the film community, who are not known as BDS types.

Hollywood is also a place where the film press can be unforgiving for stars who do not play the game as it is expected to be played.  Notice how the Hollywood Reporter tells its readers how quickly Johansson developed an intense devotion to SodaStream. Notice especially the use of the Hollywood adjective, “beloved”.

When it comes to our love affairs with modern-day conveniences, Scarlett Johansson’s devotion to her beloved SodaStream rivals even that of Her‘s Theodore Twombly to, well, her. But it’s unlikely that the star anticipated quite what she was getting into when she signed on as that company’s first spokeswoman and agreed to star in a TV ad that will air on Sunday’s Super Bowl.

The seltzer appliance company is headquartered in Israel, with its biggest manufacturing plant located in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim — a territory seized by Israel in 1967’s Six-Day War that Palestinians lay claim to. Critics of Israel have for years demanded a boycott of the company, and those calls have grown louder than ever in the days leading up to the commercial’s TV debut.

The Hollywood Reporter also gave some attention to a statement issued in Johansson’s name. Public relations people do not ask stars to issue statements; they know it is best for her image for them to control such statements.

Which is why last Friday, according to the Reporter, the public heard that Johansson “issued a statement in response to the mounting criticism, saying, “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.”

The Hollywood Reporter also, to its credit, reported from an Oxfam media release which states, “While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”

Movie stars do not normally get on the wrong side of the conservative media, where the point of view on the Middle East is demonstrated in the coverage of Johansson’s decision to jump from Oxfam to SodaStream, an Israeli-based profit-making international corporation.

Under the headline: “SodaStream ignores anti-Israeli critics to quench Palestinian thirst for jobs”, Fox news reporter Paul Alster gave the SodaStream version of its differences with BDS.  Alster makes the case for Ma’ale Adumim as a SoftStream job creator center for Palestinians in need of steady work

Haifa, Israel – Jews and Palestinians might think an Israeli company providing hundreds of jobs in Palestinian territory is a way to promote peace and prosperity, but some international groups think they know better.

SodaStream, the company whose home-based soda-making machines have become an American sensation, is under pressure to close down a factory in the West Bank, where more than 500 Palestinians work, reportedly earning up to 10 times the area’s prevailing wage. The campaign has reached a fever pitch, after Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson ended her alliance with an international aid group miffed that she would endorse the company.

But the boss of SodaStream said he’s not going anywhere just because some global critics want him out.

“We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum told the Jewish Daily Forward. “[I] just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them.”

Birnbaum said Palestinians and Jews work in complete harmony at his plant, which has a mosque on the premises, allowing workers to meet for prayers during their shifts. Those lucky enough to land jobs with the company are the envy of neighbors who labor for less, or can’t find work at all. 

Fox News ended by including an Oxfam statement:

Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support,” the charity explained in an official statement. “Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

Faced with the choice, Johansson sided with SodaStream, and not Oxfam, which has a well-publicized relationship with SodaStream rival Coca-Cola. Johansson said SodaStream is doing more than its share to promote peace and create jobs in the West Bank.

Morning television talk shows prefer to ignore the BDS campaign. Here is how ABC treated the SodaStream ad which aired during the Super Bowl.  It is the “happy news” approach that gives Johansson a comfort cover which she might not have received had she rejected SodaStream and stuck with Oxfam.

As you view the following video keep in mind, this is the world in which Johansson lives and works.

Juan Cole, writing on his blog, Informed Opinion, sums up all the things Johansson’s PR people and no doubt, her agent, did not want her to know:.

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.

What would you have done if you had never heard what Juan Cole has written? If your movie career, at age 29, depended on playing the game the way your PR people told you to play it, what would you have done? In other words, to quote a biblical source, “she who is without sin, let her cast the first stone”.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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6 Responses to Super Bowl Ad Pits BDS Against SodaStream

  1. When this story was reported on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” their guest, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations described the criticism of Scarlett Johansson’s action as “an attack on the legitimacy of Israel”. Not only is this utter nonsense but it invalidates his claims to being as objective foreign policy expert and does serious harm to the reputation of the Council on Foreign Relations.

  2. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Great article! Thanks, Jim. You have really brought it home.

    I do not blame Johansson, personally, for her unfortunate choice. I blame those who have brainwashed her with falsehoods and manipulated her career, which drove her to succumb to the choices she has made.

    It is absolutely outrageous chutzpah – even for for the Zionist-inspired reporters, PR scammers, politicians, word smiths, and “Holly-Hoods” to fabricate the “justification” for Johansson’s involvement, as one that provides employment for some desperate Palestinians. These Palestinians were occupied and deliberately impoverished by Israel, in the first place, in order for them to accept any terms and conditions on any topic.
    Shame on them foremost.

    It reminds me of some Jews who were picked out by the Nazis – and who were, incidentally, well paid – to administer factories and supervise other Jews who were being prepared for the evil “Final solution”.

    To my knowledge, even such despicable Nazis did not boast that they “provided employment to Jews”.

    It also brings to mind Apartheid South Africa, where ugly racism was falsely justified by providing employment for mainstream South African natives.
    As a matter of fact, all Colonial countries traditionally gave this exact “justification”.

    By the way, is making sugar-filled, artificially flavored Soda so readily available to children at home a good thing? When will some of the health and nutrition advocates rise up in arms?

  3. Ann Hafften says:

    Preach it, Jim! In a roundabout way, I’m grateful to Scarlett for unwittingly raising all this dust. I doubt that anyone would ever have noticed our heartfelt boycott of SodaStream without this ruckus. So, I’m not throwing a stone.

  4. Erica Hahn says:

    To what entity does Sodastream pay taxes on the earnings from the production from this factory? Yep, that’s what I thought.

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