30 Jan 2014

Scarlett Johansson quits Oxfam amid SodaStream row

Scarlett Johansson quits her role as ambassador for Oxfam after coming under huge criticism for supporting the company SodaStream, that operates in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

The Hollywood actor’s global debut as the face of Israeli company Sodastream will take place on Sunday in a prime time advert during the Super Bowl.

But the multi-million dollar deal has caused a huge backlash from pro-Palestinian activists and humanitarian groups, because SodaStream‘s largest factory is based in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

After talks with Oxfam this week, the star of awards season favourite Her has decided to stick with the company and end her seven-year association with the charity.

Her spokesman said in a statement that she and Oxfam had a “fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement”. It added that she was “very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.”

Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of Palestinian communitiesOxfam

Settlements by Israelis on the Palestinian West Bank are illegal under international law, and Oxfam and other human rights groups are against any trade with companies based there.

And since the sponsorship deal was announced, the charity has come under huge pressure to drop Johansson as an ambassador. Activists encouraged alternative names for SodaStream flavours using the hashtag #ScarJos, which included Doctor Pepper Spray, Gaza Calorie Count and Palestinian Punch.

A ‘supporter of economic cooperation’

Johansson has pointed out that the company employs both Palestinian and Israeli workers, and affords its employees salaries that are triple the national average. SodaStream, which produces bottles and home soda makers, said it employed the highest number of Palestinians in the region.

Yonah Lloyd, SodaStream’s president, told the Financial Times: “The boycotters are actually demonstrating a complete lack of humanitarian sensitivity to the thousands of people that benefit from the stable economic opportunity that we provide.”

The actor said last week that she was a “supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”

For its part, Oxfam said:

“Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam global ambassador.

“Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”

The Israeli Jewish settlements on land seized in the 1967 Six Day War are a key point of contention in the US-backed peace talks between Israel and Palestine. US Secretary John Kerry has called them “illegitimate”, but Israel has continued to build and develop on land on the West Bank, despite its illegality.

‘SodaStream is at the heart of Israel’s system of occupation’

“The very existence of (Israeli settlements) amounts to a serious violation of international law,” the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is impossible to ignore the Israeli system of unlawful discrimination, land confiscation, natural resource theft, and forced displacement of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, where SodaStream is located.”

The Palestinian BDS National Committee, that supports boycotts and sanctions against Israel, said that Johansson had abandoned her reputation in exchange for money. “Just like the few artists who played Sun City during South African apartheid, Johansson will be remembered for having stood on the wrong side of history,” said spokesperson Rafeef Ziadah.

“This controversy has shined a light on the fact that SodaStream is at the heart of Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid.”