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The thrill of victory, the agony of politics
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The thrill of victory, the agony of politics

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Leave it to politics to trump even sports. Here was the often maligned Garden State on the verge of free positive publicity as cohost of the Super Bowl. There was no new episode of The Sopranos, there was no new nonsense from the reality show Jersey Shore. With seemingly everyone in the country poised to watch the biggest sporting event of the year, New Jersey’s colorful, ambitious, and newly reelected governor was expected to bask in the attention.

Instead, Chris Christie was barely visible and, reeling from new allegations surrounding Bridgegate, had even been booed at a pre-Super Bowl party.

There was another political sidebar to the Super Bowl, with perhaps more dire political consequences than the travails of Gov. Christie.

During the fourth quarter of what turned out to be a Seahawks blowout, Scarlett Johansson appeared as the spokesperson in an ad for the Israeli manufacturer SodaStream. “ScarJo” found herself under attack from supporters of the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement. The international aid group Oxfam, for whom Johansson was an ambassador, is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements.

SodaStream manufactures its home carbonation machines in a factory in Ma’ale Adumim located on the West Bank. Countering arguments that it profits from the occupation, SodaStream pointed out that its workers — Jewish and Palestinian — are treated equally. In addition, interviews with Palestinian workers indicated a high level of personal satisfaction in their work, their employers, and their benefits. Rather than using this as a model for potential cooperative joint projects, Oxfam reiterated that businesses that operate in the settlements “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities” that it works to support.

Ultimately, Johansson resigned as an Oxfam ambassador rather than repudiate this joint project that has been very successful in bridging Arabs and Jews in the workplace. The ugliness of Oxfam singling out an Israeli company rather than other gross human rights violators that may well have been advertising during the Super Bowl ought to concern those seeking to protect Israel from continuing BDS attacks.

Meanwhile, the Winter Olympics opens in Sochi, Russia, this week amid all the usual pageantry and international excitement. But there is also fear of possible terror attacks, which, while a concern at the Olympics for over 40 years, has been dramatically heightened by the spate of bombings that have occurred in Russia during the past several months.

While the Russians and Olympics security personnel are undoubtedly on the highest alert, there is fear that Chechnyan rebels may well seek to embarrass Russian security forces and make a big splash over their fight for independence from Russia. There are 80,000 Russian troops reportedly in place for the Olympics; either because or in spite of this show of force, athletes and their families are deeply anxious about their safety.

One cannot help but be reminded about the horrible tragedy that befell the Israeli athletes in Munich at the 1972 Games. Although the situations are not analogous, and Israel is not at issue, once again the world fears that Muslim protesters will opt for violence at an event meant to be a showcase for friendly global competition and cooperation. Hopefully such fears will come to naught, although it is too late to fully enjoy any major sporting event without considering the politics surrounding it.

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