The skirmish over actress Scarlett Johansson’s relationship with the Israeli company SodaStream seems to have ended in a draw – although a largely satisfying one – with some short-term winners and losers, but no real change in the fundamentals that are driving the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
The big winner was SodaStream, which the BDS movement has targeted because it has a factory in the settlement of Maale Adumim to produce its at-home seltzer makers. SodaStream couldn’t have bought the publicity that the humanitarian group Oxfam gave it when Oxfam tried to pressure Johansson to break her ties with the Israeli company, including a much-touted ad during the Super Bowl. The actress had been a world ambassador for Oxfam for eight years, during which time she raised money and traveled the world to highlight the problem of global poverty.
Bur Oxfam opposes trade with Israeli settlements, so it pushed Johansson to make a choice: SodaStream or Oxfam. Johansson chose SodaStream. In choosing not to buckle to the boycott, Johansson is another winner. She has won plaudits for demonstrating her backbone against the bullying of the BDS crowd. She has also maintained what must be a lucrative relationship with SodaStream. And if there is a loser, it is Oxfam – although it is questionable whether the group sees it that way.
This was a feel-good moment for the pro-Israel crowd, after weeks dominated by votes for academic boycotts of Israel. And yet, as Johansson was making her stand, Norway’s government instructed a state-run pension fund not to invest in two Israeli firms because of their activity in eastern Jerusalem.
The Israeli government has been talking about a response to the BDS effort, but it can’t seem to agree what the response should be, or even how serious the situation is. A faction led by Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz contends that Israel’s “delegitimization is a grave, widespread trend,” and recommends a PR counter-campaign, Haaretz reported. The foreign ministry, however, looks on decisions such as Norway’s as legitimate criticism to Israel’s policy in the territories, something Israel needs to manage, rather than fight.
All of which is to say that the BDS campaign is likely to continue. As long as it does, we’ll need as many Scarlett Johanssons as we can get.