Watch: Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream Super Bowl ad

Scarlett Johansson’s decision to act as spokesperson for the Israeli firm SodaStream has been controversial from the get-go. Forget the debate over whether or not it’s okay to represent a company with a factory in the West Bank, or whether or not Oxfam should ditch her, though. That’s all just fluff. The real controversy, it turns out, stems from four words the Jewish actress utters in the home soda maker’s upcoming Super Bowl ad.

“Sorry, Coke and Pepsi,” Johansson says at the end of the spot.

Fox, the network airing the big game on Feb. 2, was apparently worried this wouldn’t sit well with Big Soda and asked SodaStream to drop the line. The company grudgingly cooperated, but the uncensored version lives, of course, on YouTube.

More dramatic than the soda slam, in our opinion, is the line Johansson delivers prior to  shedding her lab coat, revealing a sexy dress. ”If only I could make this message go viral,” she says suggestively. That one will air on game day.

The Passover Coca-Cola Challenge [VIDEO]

That Passover Coke tastes better than the year-round version is so often heard in Jewish circles that the Journal decided to hold a “Passover Coca-Cola Taste Test” on March 18. 

We set up a table on a Pico Boulevard sidewalk during the height of last-minute shopping for Shabbat and asked passersby to taste two identical-looking, unlabeled cups of Coke. One was the regular version, and one was the Passover variety. (Passover Coke is still available locally in some stores that acquire it from other states.) They were then asked to identify which one they preferred. 

The sample size — 12 brave volunteers — might make a statistician scoff, but the results were clear: 75 percent of the participants preferred kosher for Passover Coke with its cane sugar replacing the normal version’s high-fructose corn syrup.

[Related: The story of Passover Coca-Cola]

Jonathan Hassid, a 13-year-old student at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, had a small cup of the Passover Coke, placed it down and allowed the flavors to settle. Then he tried the regular version. 

After thinking for a few seconds, he pointed to the side of the table with the Passover cola. Hassid wasn’t surprised that he preferred the Passover Coke because, as he put it, “Usually my friends tell me it’s better.” 

Others followed suit.

“I like that better,” said participant Ilana Maghen, pointing to the right side of the table, the one with the cups of Passover Coke. “It’s sweeter.”

Joshua Corber tried both samples and then pointed to the empty cup with the Passover soda, asking, “Is that the sugar one?” He sounded like a Dos Equis commercial when he said that although he “doesn’t drink much soda at all,” when he does, “it’s sugar.” 

Then there was Oren Rehany, who was rushing to buy some items for Shabbat. He was the experiment’s sole person to choose neither option. His response after quickly drinking both cups?

“They are both hideous.”

The story of Passover Coca-Cola

It contains pure cane sugar, is chametz-free, may taste better than the year-round beverage — and is effectively off-limits in the state of California.

While the story of kosher for Passover Coca-Cola may not be as riveting as God unleashing swarms of locust on the Egyptians or splitting the Red Sea, it’s one that, particularly for Jews in California, could rival at least some of the slower portions of the Passover haggadah.

Why on these eight days does the soda taste different than on all other days? Cane sugar.

In its year-round formula, Coca-Cola uses high-fructose corn syrup for sweetness. But for Ashkenazim — Jews of Eastern European descent — corn and corn-based products are forbidden during Passover. To satisfy the sweet tooth of Jews who strictly observe Passover, Coca-Cola substituted cane sugar for corn syrup.

For many, a yellow-capped Coke on Passover — instead of the traditional red — is as strong a tradition as matzah pizza and macaroons. It is perhaps the soda most associated by Jews with the holiday. But one major problem stands in the way of tradition these days — California state law. 

[Related: The Passover Coca-Cola Challenge]

The Passover version of the popular soft drink has been, since 2011, effectively outlawed in the Golden State, but shoppers can still find it in some stores that acquire it from other states. 

The culprit? A chemical whose name sounds like something out of a 1980s science fiction thriller: 4-Methylimidazole, or 4-MEI.

An ingredient in regular Coca-Cola, 4-MEI is a chemical byproduct naturally formed during the heating and browning process in some foods, like caramel. A change in state law required some sort of warning or, for Coke, a change in its normal formula, something that had unintended negative consequences in its ability to create a Passover version.

The problem is that 4-MEI is “known to the state to cause cancer,” according to the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s (OEHHA) Web site. If 100,000 people consume at least 29 micrograms of 4-MEI per day for 70 years, one of them will get cancer from the exposure, OEHHA spokesperson Colleen Flannery wrote in an e-mail. That 1 in 100,000 chance exceeds the state’s “safe harbor limit,” making it one of nearly 800 chemicals singled out by the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 — also known as Proposition 65. 

If you’ve ever peered around a gas station while filling up or let your eyes wander while waiting in line at a Starbucks, you may have noticed a sign or label with a “Proposition 65 WARNING.” When a chemical appears on the Prop. 65 list, the law states that businesses that sell products containing more than a certain amount must provide a clear and visible warning to the consumer or risk penalties that reach up to $2,500 per violation per day.

Just this month, a California citizen filed lawsuits against several companies “for failure to warn about exposures to 4-MEI contained in imitation maple flavor and caramel coloring,” according to Lynda Gledhill, press secretary for California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Gledhill wrote in an e-mail that soft drink companies have yet to face any Prop. 65 lawsuits.

How much of a real threat the chemical poses has been disputed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagreed with California’s classification of 4-MEI as a carcinogen. FDA spokesman Douglas Karas wrote in a statement last year that to consume the amount of 4-MEI that was linked to cancer in mice, one would “have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day.”

Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Washington, D.C., Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), however, called the FDA’s statement “malarkey.”

“The more you consume, the greater the risk,” he told the Journal.

CSPI, since its formation in 1971, has advocated for stronger government policies and has pressured the FDA to take stricter positions on caramel coloring. Jacobson was happy to see 4-MEI added to the Prop. 65 list in California because it prompted Coke to use a caramel with lower doses of 4-MEI.

When 4-MEI was added to Prop. 65’s list in January 2011, the company had one year to comply with the law. So, in 2012, it tweaked parts of its closely held formula, modifying its caramel by, in part, reducing the levels of 4-MEI. 

But the change didn’t come without a price. It appears to have made the drink unacceptable for Passover in another way, and more alterations were necessary to make the drink seder-worthy.

Last April, the Pasadena Star-News reported that Coca-Cola spokesman Bob Phillips anticipated Passover Coke being available in 2013. But when the Journal contacted Coca-Cola several weeks ago, spokeswoman Michele McKillip wrote in an e-mail that the company is still testing its new Passover formula for “shelf life.”

“Ingredients may be sourced differently or manufacturing processes may be different for kosher for Passover products,” McKillip wrote. “The new process caramel has not been used before in kosher for Passover products.”

In theory, Coca-Cola could revert to its old Passover formula, but it would then have to make sure that consumers were warned before every purchase, perhaps even with a warning label on every bottle. Coca-Cola, McKillip wrote, hopes to be able to provide a Passover version in 2014.

Coke profits off seized Egyptian Jew’s property, says Nazi seizures legal

For 15 years, Egyptian-Jewish businessman Refael Bigio has been battling a goliath corporate adversary, The Coca-Cola Company. Bigio charges that Coke has been profiting from his family’s stolen property just outside Cairo. The Bigio family’s property was expropriated by Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser in the mid-1960s during one of Egypt’s anti-Jewish purges. Over the course of a decade and a half, the Coca-Cola Company has steadfastly refused to bargain in good faith or to negotiate any fair compensation for the expropriated property, according to Bigio’s lawyers. In the company’s defense, Coke’s attorneys have defended Egypt’s anti-Jewish seizures and even those of Hitler’s Germany as confiscations that “did not violate international law.”

Coca-Cola’s stony refusal to even place a fair offer on the table, Bigio’s attorneys charge, stands in bitter contrast to hundreds of millions of dollars in profits derived since 1965 from the operations of “Coca-Cola Egypt.” Coke has always known that its multimillion dollar windfall in Egypt has been and is now being generated by property unlawfully stolen from its Jewish owners by Nasser’s regime in a Nazi-style property seizure. In other words, the company is in possession of stolen property—and knows it. Coke’s only defense is that the theft Bigio suffered, for no reason other that he was Jewish, actually did not violate international law and was perfectly legal. By Coke’s long-standing legal rationale, the property of every Jew in the world could be seized without violating international law.

After 15 years, Bigio believes he is now locked in a mortal struggle—not with a beverage company, not with its powerful million-dollar attorneys, King and Spalding—but with the only man who has the authority to resolve the conflict: Muhtar Kent, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company.

“The Coca-Cola Company had clearly mistreated our family in a shameless way,” says Bigio from his current home in Montreal. With exasperation, he adds, “Enough with the multiple excuses invented by the Coca-Cola legal team.” Bigio continues, “Today the ultimate responsibility lies on its chairman, Muhtar Kent. Kent needs to look at the acquisition of the El Nasr Bottling Company [ENBC], an entity which gobbled up and was merged with the industrial complex of the Bigio family property in Cairo, two bottling factories—all seized by Nasser for no other reason than we were Jews.”

He adds, “Chairman Kent needs to examine every aspect of the transaction his company undertook years before he ever became chairman. He needs to ask himself:  Is it acceptable that in defense against our family’s claim, one of the arguments of the Coca-Cola legal team presented in 1997 is: ‘Seizure of Jewish citizens’ property in Nazi Germany did not violate international law.’ Mr. Kent in his current tenure and in the future will be remembered on how he resolves our case by directing his legal team to pay all due compensation long overdue to our family.”

Bigio’s attorneys, award-winning constitutional attorney Alyza Lewin and her father, Nathan Lewin, add their own measure of disgust. “It is absolutely appalling,” commented Alyza Lewin, “that a company making so much money off Jewish patrons, should state that what Nasser did to the Jews—and what the Nazis did to Jews—was perfectly legal under international law. It is shocking and appalling.”

Ironically, as Bigio squares off against Kent over Nazi and Egyptian anti-Jewish persecution, the greatest insult may not be to average sensibilities but to the legacy of Kent’s own father, Necdet Kent. Coca Cola’s chairman Muhtar Kent is a Turkish Muslim. His father earned legendary distinction as the Turkish Muslim diplomat who courageously placed his own life on the line to save Jews during World War II. The elder Kent, Necdet, was Turkey’s vice consul-general in Nazi-dominated Marseilles, France, between 1941 and 1944. He distributed Turkish citizenship papers to dozens of Turkish Jews living in France to save them from round-ups and deportation that would deliver them to Nazi gas chambers.

One singular act of valor by the elder Kent occurred in Marseilles one night in 1943. Nazis and French police were herding local Turkish Jews into cattle cars. Their final destination would be the gas chambers. When Kent learned of this latest round-up, he raced down to the railroad station at St. Charles. As the Jews were being loaded into the cars, Kent saw an indelible scene that seared his conscience.

“The one single memory of that evening which will never be erased from my mind,” the elder Kent related in a book on Holocaust heroism. “What I saw was incredible: cattle trucks full of people, hundreds of women and children, sobbing and screaming!” His eye was drawn to an “inscription which I saw on one of the wagons: ‘This wagon may be loaded with 20 large beasts and 500 kilograms of hay.’ And in each of these wagons, I saw almost 80 Jews pushed in one on top of another.” Even after the Gestapo commander at the track demanded that Kent leave the area, he refused, insisting the Jews in those cattle cars were Turkish citizens, and therefore protected. When the Gestapo commander defiantly refused to exempt the Jews, Kent and his assistant astonished the Germans by jumping aboard the boxcars. Now there were two Turkish diplomats on a train destined for a death camp.

The Gestapo officer pleaded with Kent to jump off. He would not, even as the locomotive began chugging out of the station. As the death train rumbled down the track, Kent had no idea what his fate would be. When the train stopped at the next station, a group of German officers stepped aboard, approached and apologized. Kent was directed to a Mercedes parked near the track, ready to escort him back to Marseilles. Kent still refused: “I explained [to the German], that more than 80 Turkish citizens had been loaded on to these animal wagons because they were Jews and that I was a representative of a government that rejected such treatment.”

Finally, the flustered Germans unloaded the Jews, thus ending the standoff. The saved Jews wept uncontrollably and lavished Kent with endless hundred-year hugs. Kent remembered, “Those embraces around our necks and hands … the expressions of gratitude in the eyes of the people we rescued … the inner peace I felt when I reached my bed towards morning.”

After Necdet Kent retired from a career of valiant diplomatic service, he received Turkey’s Supreme Service Medal. Israel also bestowed a special medal upon Kent, with the inscription: “Saving one life is like saving all the world.” Kent told the assembled audience, “What I have done is what I should have done. I knew I had to act.”

Enter Kent’s son, Muhtar, now chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola. Enter Coke’s corporate attorneys, King and Spalding. To defend against Bigio’s compensation demand, Coke through its attorneys has declared, “Seizure of Jewish citizens’ property in Nazi Germany did not violate international law.” That is, Coke avers that the Nazi regime that its chairman’s father risked his very life to defy was within its legal rights under international law.

How did a beverage company and its well-respected attorneys come to plead Hitler’s case decades after the Nuremberg Trials declared that all Nazi laws, statutes, regulations, and decrees were artifices of a genocidal campaign? The perversion of justice was triggered by the Nazi legacy that infused Egypt in the sixties.

Kosher for Passover Coke barred from California

Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola has been barred from California.

California’s new state laws on toxic chemicals are keeping kosher for Passover Coke out of the state, a company spokesman told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Coke was required to change the way it manufactures caramel due to the high levels of the chemical 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, which California has listed as a carcinogen under its new guidelines. The manufacturing changes in California affected the kosher for Passover status of the cola, according to reports.

The company expects to offer the kosher for Passover variety of Coke in California by 2013, the newspaper reported, citing the company spokesman.

The Passover version of Coke uses sugar in place of corn syrup, which is not kosher for Passover for Ashkenazi Jews.

Some kosher stores in California carried limited amounts of kosher for Passover Coke, which bears a yellow cap, that was imported from other states.