Given Choice, Johansson Picks SodaStream over Palestinians

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Common Dreams

Given Choice, Johansson Picks SodaStream over Palestinians

Actress steps down from Oxfam International ambassadorship amid controversy

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Scarlett Johansson has left Oxfam after row over SodaStream ad. (Photograph: Rex)

Following international outcry and steady criticism from Palestinian rights advocates, well-known actress Scarlett Johansson has resigned from her role as ambassador for Oxfam International, choosing instead to remain a well-paid spokeperson for the makers of SodaStream.

Johansson had been under pressure from human rights activists to break ties with SodaStream which maintains a factory for its product in the occupied West Bank, putting Oxfam in the middle as it attempted to remain deferential to a celebrity that has offered her name to its international brand of humanitarian work while maintaining its core values of upholding basic human rights.

In the end, with an statement from her representatives, Johansson confirmed that she had a "difference of opinion" with Oxfam and has ended the relationship.

"Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years," the statement said. "She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam."

Palestinian rights activist Ali Abunimah notes that though Oxfam has not officially endorsed the  boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, it does oppose all trade with companies that operate within the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Oxfam accepted Johansson's resignation Thursday, offering this statement:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, 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.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

The brief tug-of-war between the Hollywood super star and the international rights groups, though it changed little on the ground for Palestinians living under Israeli military control, did shine a light on the growing international BDS movement and the continued struggle for Palestinian economic and human rights in the West Bank and elsewhere.

The development, though a likely a permanent scar on Johansson's humanitarian legacy, will be welcomed by people like Omar Bargouti, a writer and leader of the BDS movement, who recently told the Guardian: "Oxfam is a human rights organisation. They cannot maintain an ambassador if they are involved in a complicit Israeli company built in a settlement. They can't keep both. You can't maintain something and its contradiction."

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