Scarlett Johansson as pitchwoman for SodaStream..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The recent flap about Scarlett Johannsson and Sodastream was the “Made for Hollywood” story of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Featuring an all-star cast including the famous (Jewish) actresses, the issue of settlements, allegations of corporate subterfuge, the factory workers, the self-righteous activists and the dumping of an international charity, the circus had really come to town. The problem with all this political bling however, is that it masks what is really going on.
For a better picture, we should forget the soda bubbles and wake and up and smell the coffee. The story starts in South Africa around the same time as the Sodastream issue was starting to gain traction, when BDS activists learned that a well-known South African House DJ by the name of Black Coffee had included Tel Aviv on his European tour. Black Coffee had already visited several cities and was due to play in Israel the following night. Despite being behind the curve, the BDS’ers decided to make some noise to try and pressure him, particularly on social media. The activity was picked up by the local pro-Israel campaigners, who got busy putting out their own message. The local South African press also got involved, generally reporting that Black Coffee was ignoring the calls from BDS. Despite all of this, however, there was still nothing coming from the man himself.
Then, out of nowhere, came a cryptic tweet from his manager: “Some people’s opinions are like a badly produced song,” it said. Quite what was meant by this became clear when shortly afterward the following appeared on Black Coffee’s Facebook page: “I’m coming here [Israel,Tel Aviv] to perform and I hope my visit will help the process of change and promote equality, through the message of peace and love that lives in my music, if we can dance together we can live together...We Are One.” DJ Black Coffee went on to play to an entirely satisfied Israeli crowd.
There were predictable howls of protest from BDS, but even as the dogs were barking the circus had moved on, this time to Manchester for the next leg of the tour. The question is, what do we learn from this comparatively minor incident that we can’t from the outcome of the Sodastream affair? Quite a bit, it turns out.
It is important to note that Black Coffee has a reputation for being serious about his music, having won awards both in South Africa and with MTV Europe, Africa, India and the Middle East.This was not a person making a political statement; this was a serious cultural worker who was going where his music was most appreciated. For this reason, and this reason alone, he was targeted by the boycott movement. It was bullying, pure and simple. All the normal “reasons” that the boycott movement give for their actions were not part of the agenda.
It was not about settlements or because the Israeli government was funding the event, nor was it about hasbara (public diplomacy) regarding the territories or other politically controversial questions. In fact in an interesting resonance with his unity message was his performance itself; a German DJ at a Tel Aviv nightclub reputedly owned by an Israeli Arab.
In contrast those doing the bullying were the same group, “BDS-South Africa,” whose supporters enthusiastically chanted “Kill the Jew” at an Israeli jazz concert last year.
Whatever Israel’s current internal and external political issues, its leadership should not brush over the kind of threat posed by BDS, nor what its real intentions are. Another point which MK Einat Wilf has correctly pointed out, is that South Africa is important in this fight. Artists like Black Coffee are young, hip and know what a country that discriminates against its citizens looks like. The fact that he played in Israel and seems to have reveled in its vibrant multi-cultural scene is a telling repudiation of the narrative being concocted by Israel’s enemies.
What is more, ordinary South Africans seem to understand the point as well. Once Black Coffee’s decision was announced on his Facebook wall, it got well over 2,500 likes and over 370 comments. Some of the latter were the usual anti-Israel “trolls” that one inevitably finds on the Internet. Overall, however, the dominant sentiment can be summed up from a comment by a youthful fan hailing from a rural background similar to that of Black coffee himself: “You are a true SA Ambassador, bringing people together in a Spirit of Music.
The Nation and Tata Madiba is very proud for you. #RESPECT” With the all the BDS hate floating around, there remains plenty of common sense out there – people who just want to see peace. Failed BDS initiatives are not one-offs; they happen all the time. We need to keep reminding ourselves exactly what the BDS movement is all about, and what the self-styled “human rights activists” who drive it are really aiming to achieve – not peace, not an independent Palestinian state in the territories, but ultimately the elimination of Israel as a sovereign, Jewish-majority nation.The writer works in the Public Affairs Department of the South African Zionisit Federation.