Saturday October 10, 2015
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Ruthie Blum

Scarlett fever gone viral

When mega-star Scarlett Johansson signed on to be the famous face of the Israeli soft drink company SodaStream, she was probably unaware of the tsunami it would unleash.

In her long-standing role as a goodwill ambassador for the Britain-based global charity Oxfam, Johansson was used to being lauded for fighting poverty and championing human rights. Suddenly, she was coming under fire for those very same liberal values.

To her great credit, Johansson was not intimidated by the deluge of detractors who came crawling out of the woodwork to try to smear her reputation. When Oxfam criticized her for representing a company in the "occupied territories" (since the SodaStream factory is in Mishor Adumim, beyond the so-called Green Line), Johansson did not back down. Her response to the veiled ultimatum was to resign from Oxfam and to defend SodaStream for being a factory that promotes peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis.

She is right. SodaStream employs hundreds of Palestinians, who work side by side with Israelis and receive equal treatment, pay and benefits. Rather than being targeted by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, then, it should be hailed as a paragon of peace and prosperity, to be emulated throughout the Middle East, not eliminated.

Nevertheless, Johansson's stance is extraordinary. Given the current climate in Hollywood, where peer pressure is as powerful as Academy Award ambitions, she could have made her life much easier had she removed herself from this particular fray. And everybody knows it.

It is thus that pro-Israel groups and individuals immediately jumped into action on her behalf. We wanted the actress, twice named the "sexiest woman alive" by Esquire magazine, to know that she was not alone. The spontaneous support she received via social media was so overwhelming that it must have stunned even SodaStream.

As if by divine intervention, the entire episode served not only to provide massive publicity for the Israeli product, but dealt a blow to the BDS movement in the process.

"If only I could make this message go viral," Johansson says in her first SodaStream commercial, aired during the Super Bowl. It was a perfect wink in one direction, and an extended middle finger in another.

Talk about sweet victories.

Not all Israelis have been cheering for Johansson, however. Prominent leftists, among them Haaretz columnist and former Education Minister Yossi Sarid, prefer to throw their hats in the BDS ring with the likes of former Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters, who attacked Johansson on Facebook for representing SodaStream.

In an interview on Sunday with the Galey Israel radio station, based in Judea and Samaria, Sarid told the primarily settler audience, "I do not need the boycotts of others; I'm boycotting on my own."

Asked why he was doing this to his "brothers," he answered, "The settlers are not my brothers. My brothers are people with whom I have a common language and … shared values. I do not believe in fraternity through Jewish blood. … I worry first and foremost about the State of Israel, and I am afraid that the state of the settlers will come out on top, grow and destroy the State of Israel, so for the past 40 years I have been doing my best to make sure this doesn't happen."

What Sarid does not wish to acknowledge is that the Palestinian leadership views the whole state of Israel as "occupied territory," and has been actively bent on destroying it for the same 40-year period.

His personal BDS efforts, like those of Israel's enemies abroad, are not only filled with ill will; they run counter to the peace and human rights on whose behalf they are ostensibly being made. Accusing the settlements of constituting an obstacle to Palestinian statehood is as crazy as blaming Israel for the plight of those living under Palestinian Authority rule.

Scarlett Johansson has opted for sanity in a sea of lunacy, and SodaStream is not the only deserving benefactor. It has been uplifting for the rest of us, as well, to witness her message of moral clarity "go viral."

Ruthie Blum is the author of: "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

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