Today is Super Bowl Sunday. For weeks America’s been building to this climax — a celebration of excessive commercialism, conspicuous consumption and exceptional athletics. I love it.
We’ll see NFL football. We’ll see $4 million ads that make us laugh and ads that make us scratch our heads, and in the fourth quarter we’ll see Scarlett Johansson, debut a SodaStream commercial with the words, “Like most actors, my real job is saving the world.”
Saving the world by freeing the bubbles!
I believe saving the world means being passionate about social justice, means acting as a role model for the empowerment and dignity of all peoples, means opposing injustice wherever it occurs — regardless of the profits and prophets involved.
Until Ms. Johansson became spokesperson for SodaStream, a machine for making carbonation at home, she was an Oxfam global ambassador. Oxfam is a collaboration of 17 organizations working together to reduce poverty and injustice and “… campaigning with others, for instance, to end unfair trade rules, demand better health and education services for all, and to combat climate change.”
Oxfam’s remaining ambassadors include Angelique Kidjo, Annie Lennox, Coldplay, Colin Firth, Desmond Tutu, Helen Mirren, Helena Christensen, Minnie Driver and Rahul Bose.
Bye-bye Bishop Tutu. Hello, Bubbles!
In acknowledging Scarjo’s resignation, Oxfam said, “While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam global ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, 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.”
To most spectators the SodaStream controversy is scarcely worth a thought: “Scarlett Johansson is really geared toward an American audience, which typically is less concerned with where the product is made,” Joseph Altobello, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., told Bloomberg L.P.
I believe he’s right. Well over a hundred million viewers — from Pasadena to Palestine — will watch the spectacle at precisely the same moment. Like the Olympics, World Cup and Tour de France, the Super Bowl is a global sports phenomenon — except that it’s done in a day — and driven by the intense commercialism of multimillion-dollar ads. On Sunday, from Djakarta to Djibouti, from the Meadowlands to Mali, families, fanatics and fans will adjust their schedules and reprogram their lives, so they can watch “The Game” live.
All will admire the courage and talent of these athletes and recognize the gifts they display are not limited by borders, ethnicities or religions. The few who see Scarjo won’t think of the approximately 500 Palestinian workers employed by SodaStream on the Israeli-occupied West Bank — one of 13 factories worldwide.
Fifteen minutes outside Jerusalem, SodaStream is within the Israeli colony of Ma’ale Adumim. While many Israelis believe Ma’ale Adumim is one of the colonies that Israel will keep in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, the final status of East Jerusalem and West Bank Palestinian land is still being negotiated. Ma’ale Adumim, occupies land that practically bifurcates the West Bank and nearly cuts it off from East Jerusalem. Israel’s retention of the colony would make a contiguous, viable Palestinian state nearly impossible.
While it’s in part irrelevant how Palestinian SodaStream workers are treated, it’s become part of the controversy. While Palestinian SodaStream employees probably make three to four times the West Bank’s prevailing wage, they are unlikely not to cheer when their CEO gives a pep talk in front of the press, and equally unlikely to speak honestly to journalists who visit the colony with government, military and corporate permission.
It’s a form of indentured labor — imprisoned by occupying forces, workers serve their occupiers to feed their families and after work return home to villages, passing through Israeli checkpoints, where water is often scarce and permits to build new wells are denied.
In the 1990s, SodaStream took advantage of favorable terms offered by the Israeli government to Israeli companies willing to colonize the West Bank, to build its factory. Further, because the Israeli government reimburses companies making products in the West Bank for the tariffs that the European Union imposes on them (in contrast to goods made in Israel proper which flow to the E.U. duty-free) the SodaStream factory remains competitive.
When SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum says, “We are making history for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” I believe he echoes the rhetoric of occupiers who historically have believed they know what best suits their subjects.
Today, what’s best for me is chicken wings washed down with natural carbonation. “Partake of the good things which We have provided for you as sustenance, but do not transgress therein the bounds of equity…” Qur’an, 20:81
Today, as I hope for Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman to have the games of their lives, I wonder if Scarlett will be seen abroad. I wonder if somewhere on the West Bank a Palestinian worker will witness Scarjo sipping on SodaStream bubbles and saying proudly, “I supported transgression — I helped build that.”
I doubt it.
The European Union and Oxfam are opposed to all trade from Israeli colonies, which are illegal under international law. The international community has repeatedly refused to support Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands — a position the United States has refused to take.
Americans get bubbles.
I know Scarlett Johansson has been progressive on many political issues, as her eight-year Oxfam relationship suggests. Whether it’s a love of Israel or a love of carbonation, her decision to choose SodaStream over Oxfam makes me wonder whether her previous commitment to “save the world” was real, or just an accomplished actress blowing smoke until the right paycheck came along?
It’s about “saving the world” from occupation, not from commercial carbonation.
Tonight, let the warriors on the playing fields be the ones we celebrate, not the occupiers, the oppressors and their products. Then, at game’s end, there will be “… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.