In an essay entitled Michael Walzer’s ‘Exodus and Revolution’: A Canaanite Reading, Edward Said suggested that the Left and liberal intellectualism had turned their back on ideas of utopia and radicalism and were concerned instead with realism. Realism within the dialect of Israeli occupation is something akin to moral ambiguity or moral surrender or ‘dystopian morality’: an abandonment of absolute ethical outrage at the oppression, subjugation and colonization of the Palestinians at the hand of the Israeli state and the use of pragmatic language, terms like ‘grey area’ and ‘how best to proceed’ – all designed to disguisedly apologize, excuse, justify and gloss over the agenda of the Israeli state. A powerful example of this phenomenon occurs in The Gate Keepers, where a former head of the Israeli secret service seems flustered and affronted by the interviewer talking about morality. There is no morality when it comes to fighting terrorism.
This phenomenon was the first thing that came to mind when this week Scarlett Johansson told the Guardian that she stood by her decision to support Sodastream and reaffirmed her support of their factory, illegal in the eyes of international law, in occupied territory in the West Bank:
I’m coming into this as someone who sees that factory as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.
So the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory – and certainly in this case the historic expulsion of Palestinians from that exact piece of land – is of mutual benefit to both Israel and Palestine and to both the Israelis and Arabs involved, says Johansson. In the same interview she responded to Oxfam’s condemnation of her actions by saying that she didn’t agree with their support of boycott, divestment and sanctions (which Oxfam claims it does not and has not supported).
It is unsurprising that the Sodastream factory – illegal under international law – is not the mecca of smiling Israeli-Arab unity that Johansson’s comment about ‘movement forward’ would paint it. In the media there are two ‘sides’ presented through quotes from Arab workers from the factory and the area surrounding. Firstly, prima facie positive and supportive comments about job creation and the need for more factories like this to provide employment to the impoverished people of the area. Secondly, and less visibly, there are quotes from workers saying that they are poorly paid, poorly treated and that the management positions within the factory are reserved for Israeli workers. These two visions are not actually in conflict but are two aspects of the same reality. What Johansson’s ‘movement forward’ supports is the installation of an Israeli bourgeoisie on Palestinian land. For Frantz Fanon, the biggest threat in the period of Algerian decolonization was the installation of a self-interested native bourgeoisie in the newly vacated positions of the colonial bourgeoisie. Under this new native bourgeoisie Fanon feared that the international economic relationships that existed under colonial rule would merely be perpetuated and upheld in this new period of independence. Fanon called this phenomenon ‘neocolonialism’. The Sodastream factory, if the quotes about the glass ceiling for Arab workers are accurate – and I find it difficult to doubt them given both the history and contemporary realities of this situation! – is attempting to precipitate the creation of a prospective future bourgeoisie who, in the instance of independence for the colonized territories will look poised to agitate for something akin to neo-colonialism. If there was no glass ceiling for Arab workers in this factory then Fanon’s fears about bourgeoisie self-interest in the period of decolonization could be reproduced exactly as they are always a threat. This seems to be something different, however.