Two Rutgers graduates and a current student have launched a campaign backing actress Scarlett Johansson’s decision to remain global ambassador for the Israeli-based SodaStream company.
The three have created a Facebook page supporting her against “the haters” who object to her endorsement of the Israeli company, whose West Bank factory has drawn heat from the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The debate over the actress’s endorsement heated up in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, during which Johansson appeared in a commercial for the company.
“There were all these nasty comments all over the place, with people just piling on from the BDS campaign,” said Edison native Liran Kapoano, who came up with the idea for the “I Support Scarlett Johansson against the Haters” page.
He immediately thought to enlist “my old Rutgers pro-Israel crew” to help promote the page. He tapped Raffi Mark of Wayne, who graduated last year and is a former president of Rutgers Hillel, and Jake Binstein of Metuchen, a senior currently serving as Hillel’s Israel cochair, to help promote the page.
Kapoano, who graduated from Rutgers more than two years ago, was a founder and president of Scarlet Blue and White — a pro-Israel group named for the Scarlet Knights, the campus mascot. He is currently the director of Israel engagement for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
The three activists had set up what they believed was an optimistic goal: to reach 10,000 “likes” in the three days leading up to the SodaStream ad at the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
They were unprepared for the mass outpouring of support that followed. By the end of its first day, it had become the top trending page on Facebook. By the second day the page had gained international support from Jews and non-Jews alike, including organized pro-Israel groups.
By the time the ad aired in the fourth quarter the page had almost 14,000 likes, and supporters were asked to do a “mass share” hours after the game had ended. By the afternoon of Feb. 3, Kapoano announced, the page was up to 15,888 likes, surpassing the 15,826 likes of the BDS movement’s page.
“It’s worth noting that it took them nearly four years (and I’m sure plenty of marketing dollars) to reach their total,” Kapoano posted.
By late afternoon Feb. 4, when NJJN went to press, the total had jumped to 24,935, prompting him to post, “Something big is happening here.”
“This is already the biggest pro-Israel social media campaign, and we didn’t spend one dollar,” Kapoano told NJJN.
Mark, now a communications professional, said in a phone interview that he credited Hillel with helping hone his pro-Israel activism.
The Facebook campaign conveys “an important message” and is a way “to get a positive show of support for something that’s out of the public eye,” he said. “It not only is a way for people to say no to the BDS movement but to proactively show support for Israel and make a powerful statement we don’t always see.”
Binstein pointed out there are “pages and pages supporting the BDS movement and attacking Scarlett Johansson.”
“A lot of times in the media we see a lot of things that are anti-Israel,” he told NJJN. “It’s very easy to be anti-Israel. The BDS movement is telling people to boycott this product because it’s made in a settlement.
“But if you do the research, you see that it employs hundreds of Palestinians working alongside Jews making equal pay and getting equal benefits,” said Binstein. “I really think this page woke up the community, which is why it went viral.”
The factory in the West Bank is one of about 25 operated by SodaStream worldwide to make its home carbonation machines. The company said it employs about 550 Palestinians in an area where unemployment hovers around 30 percent.
Johansson, who has won a Tony Award for her stage work and has been nominated for four Golden Globe awards for her films, was raised in Manhattan by a Danish-born Christian father and Jewish mother from the Bronx and has described herself as Jewish.
Her ad, which promotes SodaStream as being healthier and more environmentally friendly than conventional bottled and canned sodas, had already generated controversy even before the actress’s announcement. Fox, which aired the Super Bowl, forced the company to take out a line ridiculing Coke and Pepsi because Pepsi sponsored the half-time festivities. As a result, the uncensored version reportedly had about nine million views on-line even before the game.
Kapoano asserted that the buzz has created a wave of publicity for an Israeli company, while fomenting a backlash against the BDS campaign.
“I think she’s a very popular, likeable actress who’s a natural to create positive PR for Israel,” he said. “It is ridiculous what has happened to her and other artists such as Justin Timberlake or Rihanna who play in Israel. I think a lot of other people feel that way too and see this as an outlet to turn all of this into a movement. It’s possible hundreds of thousands will get behind this.”
Johansson has also severed her ties with Oxfam International, the humanitarian organization for which she served as a global ambassador for eight years, which opposes trade with Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
In a statement, Johansson said she and Oxfam “have a fundamental difference of opinion in regard to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement” and she is a “supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”