Columns / Discourse / February 5, 2014

The commercial that sparked an international dialogue

Put Scarlett Johansson in a tight black dress advocating a machine that allows one to make soda at home and apparently you have a controversy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Super Bowl is estimated to have reached hundreds of millions of viewers last Sunday, making it the most watched televised event all year. Sure, the Broncos and Seahawks game was amazing, but many viewers tune in for another aspect of the event: the commercials.

Every year, the commercials of the Super Bowl are highly anticipated and thoroughly evaluated by viewers. Each year, more and more emphasis is placed on the advertisements. This commercial experience now entails supplemental 3D glasses or tastes strips that you are to pick up from the nearest Target or Walmart and use when a certain commercial comes on.

SodaStream, in efforts to boost sales, not only put out a competitive advertisement ending with “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi,” but also hired Scarlett Johansson as their new spokeswoman. Doesn’t really seem like too much of an issue, but there is a background story that is making large nonprofits such as Oxfam and various other human rights organizations ashamed of the actions of Johansson.

For the past eight years Johansson had been the representative for Oxfam International which is a global aid organization hoping to end injustice around the world. Unfortunately, the company Johansson now represents, SodaStream, bases its products in a factory in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which is in the hotly contested territory of the West Bank.

Due to a horrific historical past, Palestinians, Oxfam and many countries do not legally recognize the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Do you see the controversy now? Johansson, once working for an organization known to uphold the liberty and morale of the Palestinians, is now advocating for a company that infringes on the Palestinian right to sovereignty in their homeland.

As outrage increased over the SodaStream commercial, Johansson released a statement stating that SodaStream was “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”

While there is disapproval of the location of the SodaStream factories, even coming from the CEO of the company, Daniel Birnbaum, there have surprisingly been many individuals who support the factory in the West Bank. To begin with, the factory allows people to work 12-hour shifts for $7 an hour, which is above the Israeli, and way above the Palestinian minimum wage. Employees at the company have stated, “It’s an excellent place to work. It provides a good salary and they treat us very well. At SodaStream, they do not discriminate between Arabs, Jews or any ethnic group.”

Another Palestinian man interviewed who worked for the Palestinian Authority and directly opposes the occupation states, “When they provide work for the Palestinians, it’s a way of beautifying the image of the occupation.”

Thus, this small controversial problem sheds light on the bigger issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Not only are Israeli settlements developed onto land that was rightfully the Palestinians, but once the wall was built many lost their jobs and had no other option but to resort to a job at SodaStream.

Scarlett Johansson states that she will continue to sponsor SodaStream. Oxfam International, clearly not buying the sex appeal of a machine that makes carbonated water, has stated that they will continue to oppose Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

A part of me feels bad for ScarJo. She’s a Hollywood, high-end actress who wanted to represent a soda machine and get on a Super Bowl commercial. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that? However, her role as an (now ex) Oxfam ambassador should have given her the insight to think better.

I stand with Oxfam International and those who criticize the encroachment of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory.  No matter how many times Johansson tells me that the SodaStream factory will act as a bridge, I will not believe her. I stand with those that believe that the factory acts as a glamorization of Israeli occupation on Palestinian soil. Sorry, SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson.

Hiba Ahmed

Tags:  commercial controversy equal rights Israel Israeli-Palestinian conflict minimum wage Oxfam International Palestine Scarlett Johansson SodaStream spokeswoman super bowl West Bank

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