It’s Super Bowl season, as good a time as any to remind ourselves that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is no football game. Too often, it feels like it is treated that way, no more so than when the issue of high-profile entertainers boycotting Israel as a way to punish it for the occupation or pressure it to make more concessions - or both - is involved.
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“Boycott Israel!” yell the detractors, cheering excitedly when an artist reconsiders a scheduled concert in Israel, caving in to the slew of Facebook groups, web sites, and online petitions being pushed by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) which pop up to argue the case that playing music to Israelis is essentially the equivalent of personally torturing Palestinian children.
Israel’s supporters have an equally un-nuanced rallying cry. Every time Israel comes up with a life-saving invention, a company is acquired by someone sexy like Google, or when a musician resists the pressure and shows up to play to adoring crowds in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, Twitter and Facebook fill up with blue-and-white flag waving hashtags #BDSFail! Go team!
While officially on the record as being no great supporter of the chest-beating macho “my influence is bigger than yours” approach to Middle East politics, I must confess that there has been quite a bit for Israel supporters of #BDSFail to cheer about recently. I certainly don’t mean to underplay the trends towards boycott in some serious and influential spheres, particularly when it comes to growing support for boycotting Israel in European political circles, and with the American Studies Association in the U.S.- which are legitimately troubling with serious implications.
But when it comes to the Hollywood A-list, Israel’s not in bad shape.
The latest big news for the #BDSFail crowd comes from screen goddess Scarlett Johansson - the sexy voice in the hit movie “Her” - lending her gorgeousness to the Israeli company SodaStream as their new ‘global ambassador’ and who is going to be featured in the Super Bowl sipping the company’s carbonated water through her famously seductive lips, wearing - well, we don’t know yet. The “behind the scenes” video has her in a bathrobe - lord knows what’s underneath.
For a star of this magnitude to be the face of a company like SodaStream is unprecedented. We’re not talking about just any Israeli company - it maintains a factory just over the Green Line, in the Mishor Adumim industrial park, which has made it a major target of BDS as it pushes to become a standard kitchen accessory around the world. In Brighton, on the south coast of England, there is a BDS demonstration in front of the EcoStream store every Saturday - countered by supporters of Israel, in a weekly political clash. The fact that the factory employs more than 400 Palestinians doesn’t deter the campaign against the company.
If Johansson was just some bimbo, one could perhaps assume she was utterly unaware of any political implications of her decision to front the company. But she is highly politically engaged, as a Democrat, no less, having appeared in support of President Obama at the last Democratic National Convention - together with fellow movie star Natalie Portman, who is now directing a film in Israel. (If every guy I know who’s ever had a crush on either Johansson or Portman eschews BDS, the movement is doomed.)
What’s compelling about Johansson and Sodastream is that she agreed to become a salesperson for explicitly political correct environmentalist reasons (in addition to a big pile of cash, certainly). The “make your own soda” contraption eliminates the need to buy bottled seltzer or cola, meaning fewer nasty plastic bottles littering the earth. In the promotional Super Bowl video my “favorite thing about SodaStream is that I don’t feel guilty when I enjoy beverages at home.”
Even more interesting is that the initial salvos at Johansson for her decision seem to have fallen flat.
Al-Jazeera reported that she was ‘catching heat’ for the move - but was only able to come up with a list of four Tweets to prove its case and a link to a predictably nasty post on the Mondoweiss blog. The fact that the story was really flimsy immediately caught the eye of the Daily Beast. In a post on “The SodaStream Fracas that Fizzled” the website poked fun at Al-Jazeera’s attempt to prove controversy tweets by “two Canadian postal workers, one author, also Canadian, and one user whose last post was a retweet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.”
The article asked “What if you try to create a celebrity scandal and no one listens?”
When it comes to big-name musicians, it doesn’t seem like many have been listening to BDS movement either. After the failure of pressure to deter a list of artists from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Tom Jones to Alicia Keys from playing Israel in the past few years, a slew of dates have been announced for the upcoming spring and summer.
Starting in May - just two weeks apart, Israel will welcome two heartthrobs named Justin - first Bieber, and then Timberlake. An international music festival set for June is drawing the two rock bands Soundgarden and the Pixies - the latter famously cancelled a concert in 2010 at the height of the international outrage over the Gaza flotilla incident.
Neil Young joined the list this week, committing to a July concert date and it is fairly certain that Lady Gaga will be stopping by on her upcoming tour.
Rumors swirl of other concerts happening - Beyonce, the Rolling Stones. And while it may just be wishful thinking on the part of teenage girls, there is even desperately hopeful buzz regarding a possible One Direction visit.
Past experience shows that the majority of these rumors don’t pan out. But if even one of them proves true, 2014 may just be a year that gives the #BDSFail crowd a lot to cheer about.