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Scarlett Johansson: Ambassador for Oxfam and Israeli Settlements?

Critics charge actress is caught in 'a conflict of interest, if not a terrible irony'

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

(Image: Stephanie Westbrook / BDS Italia)Hollywood star and Oxfam ambassador Scarlett Johansson has so far remained tight-lipped in the face of mounting opposition to her recent deal to become the face of Sodastream — an Israeli company based in an illegal settlement in the West Bank of Palestine.

Human rights advocates are urging Johansson to drop the gig. If she refuses, they say Oxfam — which claims to oppose Israeli settlements — should drop her.

"It is impossible for Oxfam to retain its credibility if Scarlett Johansson remains its Global Ambassador at the same time as she is the Brand Ambassador for Sodastream," reads an open letter addressing Johansson and Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, published Friday in Jadaliyya by renowned experts and activists Vijay Prashad, Elisabeth Armstrong, and Noura Erakat.

While Oxfam is distancing itself from Johansson, the organization has fallen short of calling for her to withdraw from her deal with Sodastream.

The charity posted an update to its website on Wednesday stating it is "opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law," yet "respects the independence of our ambassadors." Spokesperson Matt Herrick told The Lede on Thursday that Oxfam has not asked Johansson to walk away from her agreement.

Oxfam's response comes amid mounting pressure from global movements for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel in a bid to win human rights, self-determination, and freedom from occupation for Palestinians, using tactics similar to those levied to transform apartheid South Africa.

"Oxfam has long been an advocate for Palestinian rights and has provided relief to Palestinians displaced by settlements like Ma’aleh Adumim," said scholar and activist Alex Lubin in an interview with Common Dreams. "It therefore is a conflict of interest, if not a terrible irony, for Scarlett Johansson to be both the ambassador for Sodastream and Oxfam."

Critics charge that Ma’aleh Adumim, where Sodastream's factory is located, presents an egregious example of the injustices Palestinians face.

"Not only is Sodastream’s factory on land that is occupied (and so should not be built upon by the occupying power as per international humanitarian law), but it is also built on land from which Palestinians have been forcibly displaced," reads the open letter.

It continues:

Finally, the settlements themselves are sites of gross human rights violations. The settlers enjoy three times as much water per capita as their Palestinian counterparts; they drive on Israeli-only bypass roads regulated by colored license plates; the settlements and the roads are built atop confiscated Palestinian lands; the settlers are governed by Israeli civil and criminal law while their Palestinian counterparts are governed by military law which the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination found to be in violation of Article 3 of the Convention and tantamount to apartheid; and the settlements are de jure segregated for Jewish persons only.

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