An artist’s collage juxtaposes the real-life conditions Palestinian workers face in the occupied West Bank with an image of SodaStream and Oxfam spokesmodel Scarlett Johansson’s. (collected online)
Oxfam is facing growing calls to dump Johansson after the actress signed a lucrative endorsement deal with SodaStream which manufactures home carbonation machines in an illegal Israeli settlement.
Greenberg, a former “strategic media” advisor in the Israeli army, writes frequently on pro-Israel propaganda – hasbara – initiatives.
He is also a practioner as president of Thunder11, the firm that produced the homophobic, antisemitic and Islamophobic astroturf initiative Iran180 for their client the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
“Strong pro-Israel stance”
Greenberg adds that Johansson’s performance went beyond defending the company but also delivered “a strong pro-Israel stance while expressing nothing but respect for the Palestinians.”
By “respect” he must mean that Johansson was able to assert a concern for “peace” and development while totally ignoring Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights – a far more sophisticated approach than crude demonization.
Better than the Israeli government
Greenberg contrasts SodaStream’s and Johansson’s advocacy with the Israeli foreign ministry’s “well-meaning but too often ill-advised and self-serving attempts to ‘brand Israel.’”
He argues that SodaStream is a model for how private companies, rather than government, should be at the vanguard of messaging designed to deflect criticism of Israel’s abuses of Palestinians.
Extending his logic, Johansson’s ongoing association with Oxfam is an added benefit, because it associates Israel and SodaStream with an hitherto highly respected international charity.
But Greenberg is apparently unware that at least one company founded in Israel, cosmetics brand Yes to Carrots, has preferred to promote its bottom line rather than confront the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) head-on.
Greenberg’s praise is likely to heighten the disquiet within Oxfam, among those who see the charity’s ongoing association with Johansson doing serious damage to its reputation and its work with Palestinian partners.
“Against the occupation” while profiting from it
In The Jewish Daily Forward, Nathan Jeffay reports very favorably on a visit to the SodaStream factory in the occupied West Bank.
SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum laments the existence of his company’s factory in the Maaleh Adumim settlement as “a pain in the ass” but says he remains committed to it.
“We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he says, referring to the BDS movement.
Birnbaum’s committment to the settlement factory is cast as loyalty to the Palestinian employees.
But more likely it stems from the fact that Israeli factories can operate in the West Bank with total disregard for environmental laws and employment regulations, while benefitting from tax breaks and heavily-subsidized infrastructure.
Jeffay misses the bigger picture. As the Palestinian Nongovernmental Organizations Network (PNGO) points out, a few SodaStream jobs must not obscure the economic destruction and dependency Israeli occupation and colonization causes to millions:
Palestinians are not employed at the factory of their own free will; the intentional economic suffocation of the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli state through extensive taxation, restrictive trade relationships, land annexations and mass resource expropriation puts Palestinians in a desperate position whereby their only means of income is often through illegal Israeli economic endeavors in the occupied lands, such as settlement work.
Yet Maurice Silber, identified merely as “Birnbaum’s advisor,” tells The Forward that within the company, “everybody is against the occupation.”
Silber in fact appears to be an important figure in efforts to defend SodaStream and all Israeli companies from campaigns to support Palestinian human rights. He has written in the Israeli media about the BDS movement’s supposed harm to Palestinians and even coordinates and advises pro-Israel activists such as StandWithUs on defensive campaigns.
Since at least October 2012, he has been quoted in media and identified as an independent advisor to SodaStream’s executives, though he has a sodastream.com email address and no history as an “independent management consulting professional” according to our English and Hebrew language searches.
Perhaps Oxfam, like Silber, believes that one can be against the occupation while profiting from it. And maybe that explains why the charity is so reluctant to let go of Scarlett Johansson.