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The blogosphere has been abuzz over the Super Bowl that took place last weekend between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. Yet, none of it has been about how the Seahawks crushed the favoured Broncos 43-8, or that the Red Hot Chili Peppers faked their half-time show, not even bothering to plug in their guitars.
Rather the controversy is swirling around an innocuous looking gadget that produces fizzy drinks, SodaStream, and its Global Brand Ambassador actress Scarlett Johansson.
So, what do Stephen Harper and Scarlett Johansson have in common? Well let's see.
SodaStream is an Israeli company and one of its largest manufacturing plants is located in an illegal settlement, Ma'ale Adumim, a sprawling Jewish community in the occupied Palestinian territories. And herein lies the problem.
Johansson became SodaStream's first Global Brand Ambassador last month and at the time, she was also a Global Ambassador for Oxfam, an international non-profit organization that works to alleviate suffering in war-torn and impoverished countries.
At the news of Johansson joining forces with SodaStream, Oxfam released a statement declaring that while they respect the independence of its ambassadors, they are "opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law."
In response, Johansson refused to end her association with SodaStream, stating that she "never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance."
In fact, the high-profile actress has seemingly become the unintentional face of the Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, which hopes to isolate Israel internationally through the withdrawal of cultural and commercial support to the country.
Not only has her controversial collaboration raised public awareness about the growing international campaign, but posters and petitions have begun popping up with Johansson on the front urging people not to support products that are complicit with human rights abuses against Palestinians.
However, SodaStream claims that it pays their Palestinian employees the same wage as its Israeli workers, that workers make $1,200 monthly -- two to three times the common wages -- and that the company is doing good for the Palestinian economy. Similarly, they refuse to acknowledge that their factory is operating on contested land and as such, is contributing to the ongoing occupation.
As Oxfam made clear in its statement, "businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities."
Okay, so that's ScarJo, now what about Harper?
Well, when Multiculturalism Minister, Jason Kenney tweeted a photo of his just purchased SodaStream with the now infamous message, "thanks to @Oxfam for the tip. #Buycott #BDSfail #GoScarJo" it was obvious and not surprising which side of the BDS debate he fell, especially given the recent "over-the-top" government mission to Israel by Harper.
The Israel visit was excessive even by the government's standards, and most notable was Harper's fawning support for the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netayanu. Yet the Conservatives' staunch defense of Israel "because it is the right thing to do" flies in the face of its official line that all Israeli settlements within the Palestinian territory are illegal.
But despite the jockeying for the re-election 'million dollar photo' and the excesses of the mission -- or perhaps because of them -- there was a palpable shift in the tone of commentary and analysis of the trip, particularly among those who unwaveringly support the Conservative's policies on the Middle East.
Most noted that even for a clear-cut foreign policy position such as Harper's that it veered to the extreme in its pro-Israeli sentiments. This criticism even came from those Jewish people who usually support Israel. As one commentator put it, the Prime Minister "is more Zionist than Theodore Herzl," the father of Zionism. As a result, the government's mission seems to have had the opposite effect than the one intended.
So what do ScarJo and Harper have in common? Here it is:
Supporters of BDS have been helped by Johansson's relationship with SodaStream. It raised the profile of the movement and it has galvanized the campaign against SodaStream.
Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), a national human rights group which advocates against the policies of Israel in the occupied territories, sent out an e-petition urging pickets against stores that carry the product, including Target, Canada Tire, Sears, The Bay, Staples and Walmart. This week SodaStreams's share prices have dropped to a 14-month low on the New York stock exchange.
Not only did Harper's trip gall his traditional supporters, but it also galvanized those who oppose his Middle East policies. IJV reported an upswing in traffic to their website as well as in donations.
At the very least, the Harper's trip broke open an important debate and has opened up the gates for people, particularly Jewish people, who may have previously felt uncomfortable publicly expressing doubt at Israeli policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
So, it may be a surprising link, but there it is. For those who support an end to Israel's control of the Palestinian territories, maybe we should be thanking both of them for putting the issue front and centre in the news.
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Corey Levine is a writer, commentator and human rights, consultant who lives in Victoria, B.C. and she is member of IJV and sits on the national steering committee.
Photo: flickr/Elvert Barnes
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