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For USA Today, Illegal Settlements Are a Matter of Opinion

by Peter Hart

Feb 9, 2014 | Economy, Foreign Policy


The football game part of the Super Bowl was a non-event, but there was serious controversy over one of the commercials: Actress Scarlett Johansson was appearing in an ad for SodaStream, a maker of carbonated beverage dispensers whose main factory is in the West Bank, Palestinian territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967.

On February 5, USA Today attempted to bring its readers up to speed, but botched some of the basic facts about the Israeli colonies at the heart of the controversy.

USA Today calls the West Bank “a region … on Israel’s eastern border” and fails to explain that the Israeli settlements there violate international law.

The big SodaStream factory is located in Maale Adumim, an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Activists who support the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), who urge the use of international economic pressure to promote Palestinian rights, called on Johansson to break her ties with the company.

There was also some effort to pressure the international humanitarian group Oxfam, which has featured Johansson as a celebrity ambassador for the group. Oxfam has—like almost all of the world—declared the settlements are in violation of international law. Johansson wound up ending her relationship with Oxfam rather than splitting with SodaStream.

USA Today, though, put its focus on SodaStream workers. Under the headline “Workers at West Bank SodaStream Don’t See the Fuss,” reporter Kate Shuttleworth focused on Nabil Basharat, a Palestinian who has a good job that pays relatively well, something he wishes he could convey to:

the European and American groups pushing a boycott of Israeli products to get Israel to relinquish claims to the West Bank, a region the size of Delaware on Israel’s eastern border where about 375,000 Israelis and 2.1 million Palestinians live.

Note the ambiguous description of the West Bank as being “on Israel’s eastern border.” More specifically, it is on the other side of the border; the West Bank is land Israel has illegally occupied since 1967.

But to USA Today, international law is simply a difference of opinion:

The factory that the campaign has targeted is in Mishor Adumim, part of the Jewish settlement Maale Adumim that overlooks East Jerusalem. The campaign says the settlement is illegal under international law but Israel says that is false.

At another point, the article refers to “the Israeli ‘occupation’ of the West Bank.”

But the illegality of West Bank settlements is not an opinion, it’s a matter of international law, as the International Committee of the Red Cross makes perfectly clear.

That is also Oxfam’s position; USA Today quotes the group’s statement saying that settlements “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” But they omitted the next sentence: “Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

The paper does quote an Oxfam spokesperson saying much the same: “The problem at the moment is it’s in an illegal settlement on occupied land.” These are facts about Israeli settlements; USA Today treats their legality as a matter of competing claims between the Israeli government and an activist campaign.

Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. He wrote this for FAIR’s blog.


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