The Sip Heard Around the World: Scarlett Johansson, Super Bowl and SodaStream

Overnight, the actress has become the Marie Antoinette of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, smiling regally and offering: 'Let them sip soda.'

Ilene Prusher
Ilene Prusher
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Ilene Prusher
Ilene Prusher

Once, she was a poster girl for quirky movies, good acting – and well, just being gorgeous. But when Scarlett Johansson made the move into being an actual poster girl, it was a game changer. No one complained or called her a bubble-headed capitalist when she did endorsements for Calvin Klein, L'Oréal and Louis Vuitton or Dolce & Gabbana. But when she signed on in December to be the poster girl for SodaStream, an Israeli maker of home-carbonation machines with a factory in a West Bank settlement, it apparently never occurred to her that it might be incompatible with an existing do-gooder gig: serving as spokeswoman for Oxfam for the past eight years.

The result has been a controversy that has yet to fizzle. To activists in the BDS movement – which supports the use of boycotts, divestment and sanctions as a way to pressure Israel to end the occupation, dismantle the wall/security fence, and accept the return of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes – it’s incredible that a star promoted as a human rights ambassador thought she could get away with simultaneoulsy promoting a company operating in the settlements. Following an announcement on Thursday of Johansson’s resignation from Oxfam, which said it was “grateful for her many contributions” but added that her work for SodaStream was “incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador,” the BDS movement suddenly found itself with its own new poster child – or whipping girl, as it were. There has been an almost gleeful explosion of images of Johansson sultrily sipping her soda in front of caged Palestinians and thumbing her cute, upturned nose at those ho-hum human rights hacks.

Overnight, she has become the Marie Antoinette of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, smiling regally and offering: “Let them sip soda.” Her defense of her decision, that SodaStream promotes Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and creates employment opportunities, seems to have provided yet more ammunition for her adversaries.

But many have rushed to Johansson’s defense. Some are doing so for the obvious reasons: not agreeing with the BDS movement’s goals and wanting to show their appreciation for Johansson’s support of an Israeli business. But others simply like that she refused to be bullied by the BDSers, whose tactics have been questioned even by those working most arduously for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Many, in fact probably the majority, of the Super Bowl-watching masses across America couldn't give a hoot whether ScarJo endorses SodaStream or Budweiser, Dannon, or Cheerios, some of the other top brands which have pre-released their ads on YouTube.

Screenshots from wobject's Tumblr page

A Facebook page called “I support Scarlett Johansson against the haters” has already skyrocketed to over 10,000 "Likes."

And SodaStream thought the end of the video being cut – the final line “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi” was no-go for Fox because it would insult those blue-chip sponsors – was the worst of its worries. Now, the company is enjoying more than its fair share of free press. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” a PR maxim holds. The uncensored version of the video is already up to 8.9 million viewers and growing.

The storm in a soda glass continues to bubble. It remains to be seen whether it will fizzle out once Super Bowl Sunday is gone, or whether the BDS campaign will keep trying to make Johansson rue the day she decided to endorse a company with so much as a garden over the Green Line. The company says she’s due to visit Israel later this year.

Screenshots from wobject's Tumblr page and Mondoweiss's Twitter page

A frame grab provided by SodaStream taken from the company's 2014 Super Bowl commercial. Credit: AP

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