We recently had a vigorous debate on this blog over the academic boycott of Israel that appears to be gaining steam despite threats from politicians about retaliation. Now the boycott movement will be placed front and center in the Superbowl with a controversy over a commercial by actress Scarlett Johansson who is being paid to be the new face for SodaStream International Ltd., an Israeli company that operates a factory in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim. Johansson has been denounced for her work on behalf of the Israeli company and now Oxfam International is considering dropping her as an ambassador for its global work against hunger and poverty. Advocates insist that the town is actually fairly secular and supplies jobs for Jews and non-Jews. Both sides will have a chance to be heard given our past experience with controversial Superbowl ads. This is the ultimate prime time exposure for the company but the debate is not likely to be over the savings of carbonating your own drinks. Update: Fox has banned the commercial but not over the international law objections but because the commercial takes digs at Pepsi and Coke (two bigger advertisers). It is not clear if the commercial will be reworked to drop the references and resubmitted. Ironically, the company may have triggered a new boycott debate and not even make it to Superbowl audience.
SodaStream makes machines for creating carbonated beverages at home. In the Superbowl ad, Johansson pitches for the company as a must buy for all families.
Ironically, as groups like PETA have shown, controversy over Superbowl commercials is generally viewed as a good thing. You get 100 times the coverage as people show your commercial over and over. However, this might not be a case of “any publicity is good publicity.” Most people are probably unaware that the company is located in the West Bank. It also adds more publicity to the Boycott Israel movement.
Critics insist that Johansson is committing the same act as shilling for companies that once worked under the apartheid system in the old South Africa. Oxfam appears to consider the objection serious enough to review its continued association with Johansson. It issued a statement that “Oxfam believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
Ma’ale Adumim is a major point of tension in the area. It contains roughly 40,000 Israelis and was the shown of forced removal of Palestinians. In the winter of 1975, a Gush Emunim group of 23 families and six singles erected a prefabricated concrete structure and two wooden huts on the land and continued to return despite being removed by the government. In 1977, Menachem Begin’s government declared Ma’ale Adumim official status as a permanent settlement.
Johansson insists that she simply accepted a promotional deal and “remain[s] a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.” This is not going to be enough for critics and the controversy could well pull her and the company into an unexpected national spotlight over the boycott movement.
Source: LA Times