‘Under the Skin’ sets Scarlett ablaze

Scarlett Johansson has had a very busy year, least of which from dealing with the Oxfam and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions hoopla we’ve ” target=”_blank”>Her, Johansson is steadily establishing herself a reliable and extremely versatile staple among Hollywood’s elite.

Opening alongside Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which broke the April box office record last weekend at $96.2 million, was Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, adapted from Michael Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. This is only the third feature film after a 10-year hiatus from the English director, his other big-screen endeavors Sexy Beast and Birth appearing in 2000 and 2004, respectively, but the man keeps busy. Additional resume items of note include Radiohead’s “Karma Police” and Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” videos, as well as multiple big-company commercials.

This surreal sci-fi thriller presents Johansson as an alluring alieness, a femme fatale from a far corner of the universe. Indeed very Stanley Kubresque, as it’s been noted, with 2001: A Space Odyssey resemblances especially acute in the beginning as the camera zooms and fixates on a kaleidoscopic all-seeing eyeball, begging comparison to the ominous moments spent with Discovery One’s rogue computer pilot HAL during his takeover. Both signal a sentient presence of the Unkown, a Thing from a world not ours who intends to play around in a reality that is, very much, ours.

The body-switch sequence where we witness the first stage of Occupy Scarlett looks like an interactive American Apparel billboard or a lo-fi Beyonce video, and the vibrant black-and-white scheme popped from the Hollywood Arclight screen. This sequence is all style and an overview of what the next 100-plus minutes might have in store.

Donning an ashy black pixie wig and lips a rosy melon, the émigré drives through the streets of Glasgow seeking out unassuming Scots, most of them non-actors, as they walk to and from wherever they’re going or have been — a question left to the imagination since their heavy Scottish enunciations render their exchanges nearly inaudible. Just as well. Their fates are sealed, a babe in the woods. She asks for directions and offers a friendly lift, because, yes, she was headed that way too. Safely zipped in her Scarlett suit, luring her prey back to her place is not a difficult task, a surprise to no one. A stand-up suit of armor they’ve chosen for insuring the job gets done. Once she and her lusty victim arrive to her sex-death portal, they become wholly transfixed on her body, which is covered by fewer and fewer pieces of clothing with each step of their death march. So entranced they are by her voluptuary promise, her subjects don’t notice they’ve been trudging through a swamp of tar-like substance until they’re completely submerged in what is now a slaughterpool, of sorts. There they stay to be shucked into food for her homeland.

It would be less accurate to call Under the Skin a psychological thriller than it would a sensological one. Though Johansson does learn to feel empathy for her victims, then graduating to more intimate capabilities (which burns her in the end), character developments, relationship ebbing and flowing, and plot lines are of low priority. At times frustratingly low, admittedly, but keep attuned to your senses and surrender to the orchestra’s distorted beauty. The controlled, stylistic frenzy plays David Lynchian tricks on the body’s psyche; long takes breed the kind of suspense that seeps into your marrow.

A vital accompaniment to the shifty visuals and crafty editing tactics is the score. The music in this film is a calculating monster. This is 26-year-old Mica Levi’s

Johansson in post-SodaStream interview: I am not a role model

Actress Scarlett Johansson said in her first interview since the SodaStream blowup that she is not “a role model.”

“I don’t see myself as being a role model,” she said in an interview published Thursday in Dazed and Confused magazine, adding that she “did not want to step into those shoes.”

Johansson did not directly address the conflict over her job as spokeswoman for the SodaStream company, which has a factory in the West Bank and led to her resignation as a global ambassador for the humanitarian organization Oxfam.

“How could I wake up every day and be a normal person if I was completely aware that my image was being manipulated on a global platform. How could I sleep?” she also said, adding, “you have to have peace of mind.”

SodaStream signed Johansson in December to be its first global brand ambassador. The company, which manufactures home soda makers, employs Israeli and Palestinian workers at its West Bank factory in the Maale Adumim settlement. Pro-Palestinian groups had called on Oxfam to sever its ties with the actress before she resigned in late January.

“I don’t profess to know more or less than anybody else,” Johansson told the magazine. “If that’s a by-product of whatever image is projected on to me, I don’t feel responsible as an artist to give anyone that message. It’s not my jam.”

Johansson defended SodaStream and her involvement with the company in a statement released Jan. 24 on The Huffington Post.

BDS and Oxfam — major Super Bowl fail

The political war against Israel, waged through a highly aggressive campaign of “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” (BDS), received its biggest defeat at the Super Bowl in New York and on hundreds of millions of screens around the world. The commercials, including one for the Israeli firm SodaStream, featuring the actress Scarlett Johansson, were more interesting than the game.

In the weeks before the game, Johansson came under intense pressure from the BDS bully squad, which demanded that she pull out and disassociate herself from the Israeli connection. The actress was also a “global ambassador” for the international humanitarian aid group Oxfam, whose leaders repeated these BDS-based demands, in sync with radical anti-Israel groups such as Electronic Intifada. To her immense credit, Johansson rejected the bullying and the accompanying personal attacks, and instead told Oxfam to find another “ambassador.”

By standing firm, Johansson and the owners of SodaStream demonstrated that even the most full-blown BDS attacks can be defeated. In its counterattack, SodaStream exposed the myths that underlie the boycotts and the broader delegitimization campaigns targeting Israel, including the fact that the 500 Palestinian-Arab employees at the Ma’ale Adumim plant (a “settlement” located on the outskirts of Jerusalem) enjoyed the same pay and health benefits as their Israeli counterparts.  

In contrast to previous battles, in this case, it was the proponents and enablers of BDS that were put on the defensive, and they did not do well in this role. Oxfam denied that it was involved in BDS, but the facts proved the contrary. Between 2011 and 2013, the Dutch branch, known as Oxfam Novib, provided almost $500,000 (largely from government funds provided ostensibly for humanitarian aid) to one of the most radical BDS leaders — the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP). This group also received funds from Oxfam GB (Great Britain). The discrepancy between Oxfam’s claims and the documentation of its role in BDS was highlighted by SodaStream executives and in a number of media articles.

[Related: A tale of two universities]

Although CWP is technically an Israel-based NGO, almost all of its activities are focused externally in promoting boycott campaigns, particularly in Europe. (For political purposes, the Arab and European leaders of BDS, as the NGO Forum of the infamous 2001 U.N. Durban conference showed, often use fringe Israeli and Jewish groups as facades, and this is the case with CWP.) In addition to Oxfam, other funders for CWP’s radical and immoral agenda include government-funded German NGOs, as well as the United Church of Canada, and anti-Israel church groups in Ireland and Holland.

Another myth exposed in the Soda-Stream/Johansson showdown is the claim that BDS is “limited” to opposing the post-1967 Six-Day War occupation and settlements. This myth was quoted by many journalists who did not go beyond the press statements. However, at the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, thousands of boycott advocates clearly stated their goal as the elimination of Jewish sovereign equality regardless of borders — in their words, “the complete international isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.” This objective has not changed.

Omar Barghouti, among the radical leaders and ideologues of the BDS bully squad, has said that “the only ethical solution is a [single] democratic, secular and civic state in historic Palestine,” which means “by definition, Jews will be a minority.” In refuting the myth of limited goals, the fundamentally immoral objectives of BDS have been put out into the open.

In order to move beyond this battle, a wider confrontation is necessary with the BDS industry, which is supported by tens of millions of dollars annually. These massive budgets, manipulated via hidden European government sources, are funneled to radical NGOs, as well as to anti-Israel church groups that often include classical anti-Semitic replacement theology (meaning that Christians have “replaced” the Jews). Beyond Oxfam, other “moral” superpowers taking an active part in the immoral war against Israel include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, whose leaders repeatedly demonstrate their personal and highly destructive anti-Israel obsessions.

The most important lesson is that, notwithstanding their financial backing and political support, BDS anti-Israel bullying and intimidation can be defeated, as demonstrated by SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson.

Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.

Boycotting settlements is not anti-Israel

On her way out the door to defend the SodaStream company, the suddenly political Scarlett Johannson threw a grenade at her erstwhile cause, the international aid organization Oxfam.

According to her spokesperson, “she and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

Full stop. The global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which harbors more than a few people who want to put the entire project of a Jewish homeland out of business, is not the issue between Ms. Johannson and Oxfam. SodaStream has its main factory in the occupied territories. The company is contributing to the health and prosperity of the occupation while providing income for the settlement enterprise — an enterprise that is corroding Israeli democracy, deemed “illegitimate” by the American government and considered illegal under international law.

Boycotting goods and services coming from the settlements, although sometimes difficult to implement in practice, means putting one’s money where one’s mouth is, if one has been saying that the settlements are an impediment to the two-state solution and to peace.

What’s so hard to understand about that?

My organization, the New Israel Fund, which supports more than 100 progressive civil society organizations in Israel at any given time, made a clear distinction some years ago in our funding guidelines. We don’t fund organizations with global BDS programs. We will not disqualify organizations for funding if they support the boycott of settlement goods because we see it as entirely consistent with our opposition to the occupation, our defense of Israeli democracy and our support for a two-state solution.

So let’s take a look at those who are profiting from blurring the lines — the Green Line, to be precise. The current Israeli government and its well-funded organizational allies have popularized the word “delegitimization” to describe opposition to Israel. But in making no distinction between calls to boycott Israel itself and calls to boycott the settlement enterprise, they are deliberately conflating two very different things while erasing the distinction between Israel inside the Green Line  — the pre-1967 border with the West Bank — and military control of settlements in the territories. Defunding the settlements equals delegitimization equals anti-Semitism equals destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, or so goes their formula. Those for whom any progress toward ending the occupation is their worst nightmare have been somewhat successful at making this false equivalence stick.

The truth is, Israel has real adversaries who equate Zionism with racism. But it is also true that criticizing Israeli government policy, especially support for the settlement enterprise, is not delegitimizing Israel. According to last year’s Pew study, only 17 percent of American Jews believe the settlements help Israeli security. Do the other 83 percent not think that Israel is legitimate?

By some accounts, the Palestinians who work at SodaStream are well treated by the standards of occupation enterprises. But suggesting that those Palestinians don’t have much choice about their employment because the West Bank is entirely aid dependent, and because it’s hard to have a vibrant economy under foreign military control — that’s not delegitimizing Israel either. That’s the truth as pro-Israel progressives worldwide see it.

[Related: Pro Israel means anti-BDS]

But let’s leave the Palestinians aside for a moment. What blurring the lines between Israel and its military occupation accomplishes is not just the perpetuation of the occupation. Israel’s existence as a democratic state is grounded in the values and institutions it shares with other democracies, including freedom of speech and conscience, an independent judiciary and an untrammeled civil society. It is no accident that in the past five years, those values and institutions have come under attack from those whose defend the settlement enterprise at virtually any cost. The harassment and punitive legislation aimed at human rights groups, which inconveniently document the abuses inherent in occupation, is a deliberate strategy as well.

Anyone who has spent 10 minutes watching Palestinians queue up at a checkpoint to get to work or a hospital in Israel knows that Israeli democracy comes to a halt at that checkpoint. Anyone who drives on a road forbidden to Palestinians and guarded by barbed wire and watchtowers, or reads the graffiti left at the scene by settler vigilantes during their “price-tag” attacks, cannot help but understand why the occupation is compared to other historical examples of oppression and injustice.

Abraham Lincoln said of our own country that “this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” Although the occupation is not slavery, he would have recognized that a pernicious institution poisons the entire body politic, and that there can be no such thing as freedom for one group and subjugation for another in a functioning democracy.

The blurring of lines between Israel and the territory it occupies and administers militarily serves the short-term purposes of the settlers and their apologists. In the long term, however, if and when those lines really disappear, when Israel becomes identical to the occupation and its democracy is sacrificed to those with a messianic vision of the Jewish state, then the Zionist enterprise will have failed. And those of us who love Israel, and believe in the promise that a state founded by Jews would reflect the love of freedom and equality that is part of the Jewish heritage — we will have failed, as well.


Naomi Paiss is vice president of public affairs for the New Israel Fund.

My country is under attack. Do you care?

I'm angry.

You see, as most Americans were waking up this morning, and those in Europe and elsewhere around the world were going about their daily routines, here in Israel — over one million people were running for cover from a hail of rockets being rained down by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza. In the space of 24 hours, since Tuesday evening, 80 rockets have been fired on southern Israel. That's more than three rockets per hour. By the time I finish this article, odds are that count will have risen to 85 rockets.

Just to put things in context: one million Israelis is roughly 13 per cent of the population. Thirteen per cent of the U.S. population equates to about 40 million people.

A dozen Israelis have already been injured, with several of them seriously. The only reason more have not been hurt is because Israel has invested millions of dollars in bomb shelters and the Iron Dome defense system, while Hamas has invested millions of dollars in foreign aid in more rockets.

But here is why I'm angry.

I'm angry that in 2012, over 600 rockets have already been fired from Gaza with no end in sight. I'm angry that the world only notices when Israel undertakes its (sovereign) right to defend its citizens. Can you imagine if even one rocket was fired on Washington, London, Paris or Moscow? No nation on earth can, or should, tolerate such attacks on its people.

I'm angry that while the United Nations never hesitates to call a 'special emergency session' on the 'Question of Palestine' or pass the umpteenth resolution blindly condemning Israel, that I am still waiting for a session on the 'Question of Israel' and Palestinian terror. In fact, 24 hours after the rocket attacks started, I am still waiting for even one syllable of condemnation from the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly or Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I'm angry that Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, could not find a moment to condemn the Palestinian rockets, but did find time to laugh and dance with South Korean rapper Psy from the popular dance craze Gangnam Style.

I'm angry that while the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton slammed Israel last week over the building of several hundred apartments (in an area that will arguably remain part of Israel anyway), that I am still waiting for her to slam the Palestinians for firing 80 rockets in one day.

I'm angry that there are those who continue to call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Jewish State, but are silent in the face of Palestinian terror.

I'm angry that ships and flotillas continue to set sail for Gaza to show 'solidarity' with the Palestinians, but where is their solidarity with the people of southern Israel?

I'm angry that while human rights organizations like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and others do not waste a single opportunity to condemn Israel for human rights violations against the Palestinians, the human rights of Israelis are seemingly not important enough for them. Is Jewish blood really that cheap?

I'm angry that mainstream newspapers like the New York Times, lead their stories about the rocket attacks with such headlines as “Four Palestinian Militants Killed in Israeli Airstrikes,” and not “Palestinian Terrorists Rain Down Over 80 Rockets against one million Israelis.”

I'm angry that so many people are blind to the fact that Iran, which has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and now seeks to obtain nuclear weapons, is the primary funder and supplier of arms to Hamas. I'm angry at the fact that all civilians in southern Israel today were instructed not to send their kids to school and stay in bomb shelters. What sort of inhumane way is that for children to live?

I'm angry when people continue to say that 'settlements' are the main impediment to peace, and not Hamas, a terrorist group which does not recognize Israel's right to exist and seeks its destruction. I'm angry when I see pictures like this, of a home in southern Israel hit by a rocket from Gaza today, yet have the audacity to say “ah, but they're just like toys; what damage can they do?”

I'm angry that there is someone out there who does not know me and has never met me, yet still wants to kill me — for no other reason than being Israeli.

I'm angry when I hear residents in southern Israel say “we just lie on top of our children and try to protect them with our bodies” or that “we're living on borrowed time” — yet the world seems oblivious to their desperate cries for help.

No, I am not angry. I am outraged.

This post originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com.

Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist living in Israel.

NGOs call on Israel to lift Gaza blockade

Some 50 nongovernmental organizations called on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law,” the groups said in a petition issued Thursday. “More than half of these people are children. We the undersigned say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now.’ “

Israel initiated the blockade five years ago when the terrorist Hamas organization took over the coastal strip, which is home to 1.6 million Palestinians.

Signatories to the petition Amnesty International, Oxfam and the World Health Organization, as well United Nations bodies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organization.

Israel relaxed the blockade restrictions two years ago, including expanding the list of building materials allowed in, but continues to inspect all goods entering Gaza to prevent terrorist activity.