Saturday, February 1, 2014
Three cheers for Scarlett Johansson's stand
As if her otherworldly beauty and screen presence were not enough, here is another reason to love Scarlett Johansson: Oxfam, of which she was an ambassador, hinted that she should cut her ties with SodaStream on the basis that it maintains factories in Israeli settlements and she responded by cutting her ties with Oxfam!
What’s not to love about this story? A worthy charity shakes its big head in disapproval at a celeb who has dared to do things for a company that works in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, no doubt expecting the celeb to freak out, issue a tear-drenched apology and promise never again to rub shoulders, or anything else, with these evil Israelis. But instead the celeb basically tells the worthy charity to get stuffed and says she will carry on working with and promoting the Israeli company.
Ever since she was signed up as the face of SodaStream, Ms Johansson has had a tsunami of flak from campaigners who think that buying Israeli stuff, working with Israeli academics or attending Israeli theatre performances is the very worst thing a human being could ever do. You know the kind: they stand outside Marks & Spencer’s on Oxford Street warning all whom enter that this evil shop sells blood-stained products (ie, stuff made in Israel), and they screech and wail, these philistines for Palestine, when an Israeli violinist starts playing at the Proms. I mean, can you imagine it – a musician from Israel inside the Royal Albert Hall? *Shudder*.
And so it was that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for decent-minded Westerners to refuse to contaminate their body, souls or minds with any grub or books from Israel, called on Oxfam to “immediately sever ties” with Ms Johansson. Oxfam expressed its concern at Ms Johansson’s lack of guilt over advertising SodaStream, asking her to “[consider] the implications”, and said it was thinking about what this all means “for Ms Johansson’s role as Oxfam global ambassador”. And then, brilliantly, totally stealing Oxfam’s puffed-up thunder, Ms Johansson’s people issued a statement saying: “Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years.” Sassy Actress 1, Self-Important Moaners About Israel 0.
Ms Johansson broke her links with Oxfam over what she calls “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement”. That is, Oxfam thinks this movement is hunky dory; Ms Johansson thinks it isn’t. In taking this stance, Ms Johansson is being pretty rebellious. There is enormous pressure on the well-known and the well-connected to boycott Israel. Any pop singer who dares to perform there is bombarded with letters, emails and tweets telling them to rethink. Any Western shop that stocks Israeli produce can expect despressed-looking middle-class white people in Arafat-style keffiyehs to turn up on a Saturday morning waving banners saying “Stop supporting Zionism!” Various academic unions boycott Israeli universities, turning that nation’s professors into the lepers of modern intellectual life, as if their words – on stuff as innocent as physics or philosophy – are wont to poison and corrupt those who hear them.
As for Israeli theatre troupes or dance groups that come to Western European nations to perform – they will find themselves hollered at and complained about by our right-on arts world. When Habima, Israel’s national theatre company, came to Britain in 2012 to take part in an international Shakespeare festival at the Globe, luvvies wrote open letters expressing their “dismay” and claiming that by including Habima the Globe was “associating itself with the policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state”. Notably, the presence at the Globe of theatre companies from authoritarian regimes, including Zimbabwe and China, was not complained about. Nope, just Israel. Because Israel is different, you see. It’s really horrible. We hate it. And we love to hate it.
There is nothing remotely progressive in this campaign to boycott everything Israeli, with its double standards about various nations’ behaviour and its shrill rhetoric about everything that comes from Israel being covered in Palestinian blood. This movement is not designed to have any kind of positive impact in the Middle East but rather is about making certain Western activists feel righteous and pure through allowing them to advertise how Israeli-free their lives are. It’s illiberal, because it effectively demands the censoring of Israeli academics and performers; it’s hypocritical, because it is led by people who are only too happy to use iPhones made in undemocratic China and to vote for the Labour Party, which, er, bombed the hell out of Middle Eastern countries for the best part of 10 years; and it has unfortunate ugly echoes of earlier campaigns to boycott Jewish shops and produce. So three cheers for Ms Johansson for taking a very public stand against this right-on pressure to treat Israel as the most evil nation on Earth.
View something about the Sodastream plant and its virtues at; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl85AL1l0H0