Scarlett Johansson SodaStream row may help boycott of Israeli factories

Activists hope to exploit row over star's link to Israeli settlement factory

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 9:17pm


The movement to boycott Israeli goods linked to settlements has been boosted by "Scarlett syndrome", say activists, after a high-profile controversy over the film star Scarlett Johansson's endorsement of soft-drink maker SodaStream.

Pro-boycott campaigners believe they will benefit from the celebrity furore. Oxfam goodwill ambassador Johansson quit her role with the charity, faced with the incompatibility of her sponsorship of SodaStream, which has a factory in an illegal settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The row follows mounting pressure, especially from Europe, where NGOs, trade unions, churches and others are forcing their governments to take action.

The number of European corporations who have severed or reviewed links with Israeli companies which operate in settlements is accelerating; the European Union is taking an increasingly tougher line and the boycott movement is gaining traction in the United States.

The issue is uncomfortable for the 500 Palestinians who work in SodaStream's factory at Mishor Adumim, an Israeli industrial park built on expropriated Arab land. They are part of a 1,300-strong mixed workforce.

"We are against the boycott idea," said Nidaa, a Palestinian from Jericho, sitting next to an orthodox Jew on the production line. "It would destroy us. Yes, this place is a settlement, but that's normal. It's easy to get here and it's a good place to work."

Others agreed. "This is about our jobs. It's not about politics here," said one.

But according to Omar Barghouti, founder of the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, "the political atmosphere has changed towards enforcing international law. Israel's impunity is being eroded. BDS is growing tremendously and that is affecting decision-makers everywhere. We are changing the discourse."

BDS, insisted Barghouti, was "no coalition of lefty intellectuals" but was supported by Palestinians across the political spectrum, including nationalists and Islamists.

A weakness of Palestinian strategy is that a boycott of Israel on the ground has never made much headway. Shops in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are crammed with Israeli produce even when Palestinian goods are available at equivalent prices.

The financial impact is being felt. Last year Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley lost US$29 million, or 14 per cent of their income, as supermarkets in the UK and Scandinavia shunned their peppers, dates and grapes.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid has warned that even a limited European boycott could cost Israel US$3 billion a year and destroy 10,000 jobs.