‘FT’ blast on settlements will strike fear at Hasbara Central (if not among liberal Zionists and ‘glitzy blondes’)

Israel/Palestine
Lost in Translation (graphic: Stephanie Westbrook)

Lost in Translation (graphic: Stephanie Westbrook)

An editorial in this weekend’s Financial Times, the salmon-colored tribune  of London’s City, the financial district, is certainly striking terror into Hasbara Central in Israel– if not at the State Department in Washington. In forceful language that looks like it could have been lifted from a Palestine solidarity publication, the FT says that Scarlett Johansson has “accidentally turned a searchlight on an important issue–whether it is right or lawful to do business with companies that operate in illegal Israel settlements on Palestinian land…”

We cannot describe the issue any more clearly than the anonymous FT leader-writer has already done:

Ms Johansson says the company  [SodaStream] is “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine”. That is naive…

And at a time when J Street, the Forward, Rabbi Andy Bachman, and other liberal Zionists in the US have only praise for Johansson and her settlement of choice, Ma’ale Adumim, the sprawling development on a hill east of Jerusalem that blocks Palestinian access to the city, the FT doesn’t suffer fools:

The status of the settlements is clear in international law even if Israel chooses to ignore this and expand its colonisation of Palestinian land, while ostensibly negotiating on the creation of a Palestinian state…

“You’ll note that there’s not one of Isabel Kershner’s favorite tropes in her NY Times articles—the discredited point that Israel asserts that the occupied Palestinian territory isn’t occupied (which would make civilian colonization illegal) but rather that it is ‘disputed’ (and therefore not subject to Geneva IV),” our friend Ilene Cohen points out.

The FT then refers to the EU policy of restricting funds so they don’t go to settlements.

That is not a boycott. It is the application of the law. Yet if Israel maintains its occupation, and spurns the peace terms being negotiated by US secretary of state John Kerry, such distinctions will erode. European pension funds are already starting to pull their investments in Israeli banks with branches in the settlements…

Compare the prevarications of the State Department spokesperson who says the SodaStream boycott is illegitimate and so are the settlements to the FT’s bright line distinction.

The paper doesn’t mince any words in ending its editorial, language we wish we would read in the New York Times:

It is disingenuous to romanticise settlement enterprises. The occupation imprisons thousands of the Palestinians’ young men, gives their land and water to settlers, demolishes their houses and partitions the remaining territory with scores of checkpoints and segregated roads. There are almost no basic foundations for an economy. The way to create Palestinian jobs is to end the occupation and let Palestinians build those foundations – not to build “bridges to peace” on other people’s land without their permission.

Astonishing. And important. Coming here before long, we hope.

The editorial is accompanied by a piece of analysis of Johansson’s achievement in doing the SodaStream Super Bowl ad. Peter Aspden and John Reed write:

[T]his is the age of social media, in which reputations can be trashed within minutes. The anti-Johansson lobby gleefully pounced on a line from the SodaStream ad – “If only I could make this message go viral!” says the actress huskily – and has duly granted her wish with a plethora of doctored images and online slogans (“Set the bubbles free, not the Palestinians!”).

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for fans of Ms Johansson’s acting talents is the sheer banality of the ad. The star’s stiff and cliched turn is strangely reminiscent of Bill Murray’s performance-within-a-performance in her breakthrough film of 11 years ago. The cool indie beauty of that time has turned disappointingly corporate. Something appears to have been lost in translation all right.

As for the anti-Israeli lobby, it is discovering to its pleasant surprise that a sprinkle of stardust can grant instant worldwide access to a long-fought and infernally complicated campaign…

It is hard to believe that such portentous issues should suddenly become the focus of the world’s attention thanks to a glitzy blonde pushing a fizzy drink. But this is a multi-layered world. Celebrities on the make think twice – that brand “ambassadorship” you are after may turn out to be a more complicated job than you have ever imagined.

Update: This piece originally said that Peace Now has been silent on Johansson. That was inaccurate, the organization has called for a boycott of SodaStream.

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