Scarlett Johansson vs. Oxfam


A high-profile controversy bubbled over this week into the mainstream over actress Scarlett Johansson’s endorsement of the carbonate-it-yourself company, SodaStream. While the controversy itself is rather narrow, its meaning and implications are far-reaching, as I’ll explain in a moment. But first, allow me to explain the controversy …
Johansson has become the celebrity face of SodaStream, an Israeli company which has its factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. This week, SodaStream made a promotional push in advance of her upcoming Super Bowl ad for the company, which considers Johansson a “brand ambassador,” going so far as to describe the relationship between the two as a “love story” between a socially conscious company and a passionate consumer.
The only problem is that, aside from being SodaStream’s “brand ambassador,” she is also an “Oxfam Ambassador” for the global charity organization, Oxfam International. This week, Palestinians and international boycott advocates challenged either Johansson to leave SodaStream, or Oxfam to end its relationship with Johansson, given the conflict due to Oxfam’s political position on Israeli settlements.

This pressure resulted in Johansson publishing a public statement in The Huffington Post, and Oxfam making a statement of its own.
Johansson decided to stand firmly behind the company, painting it as a model for peace and environmental stewardship:

I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine.

In turn, Oxfam – which does not recognize the legality of Israeli settlements, and understands quite well that Israel’s military rule in the Occupied Territories is anything but democratic – has published a statement of its own:

Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors. However Oxfam believes that businesses 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.
We have been engaged in dialogue with Scarlett Johansson and she has now expressed her position in a statement, including stressing her pride in her past work with Oxfam. Oxfam is now considering the implications her new statement and what it means for Ms Johansson’s role as an Oxfam global ambassador.

It is clear that Oxfam is preparing to sever its ties with Johansson, who has worked with the aid organization on important projects since 2005. It is also clear that this never would have happened if not for the visibility, and legitimacy, of Palestinians who are nonviolently opposing Israel’s geo-political policies. For Oxfam didn’t know about Johansson’s endorsement for SodaStream – nor of the company factory in the Occupied Territories – until international activists began protesting its affiliation with Johansson.
And this is precisely why what has occurred between Johansson and Oxfam is so significant, for it has provided a high-profile test case measuring the impact, and veracity, of Palestinian efforts to mobilize international players against Israel’s undemocratic occupation.
Those efforts resulted in articles popping up in mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times, and compelled both Johansson and Oxfam to make their positions known.
Not after months of protest. But after only days of highlighting this online, via Twitter and social media.
The speed with which media picked up on Johansson’s relationship with SodaStream as a legitimate story of controversy is significant enough. Even more so that all players involved felt compelled to make their positions immediately known.
The implication being clear: Palestinian opposition to Israel’s geo-political policies is becoming not just more accepted in the mainstream as legitimate, but it is becoming more effective as a result.
If the ultimate result of all this is a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whether via a two-state resolution (my deep desire) or some other agreed upon resolution, these small efforts will be looked upon as historically significant.
Even fights over endorsement deals for soda companies.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

0 thoughts on “Scarlett Johansson vs. Oxfam

  1. Actually, it’s a supplier of products for home use which enables folks who still want to drink soda, but don’t want to support anti-union, environment-destroying global conglomerates like Coca-Cola. You surely know that, though, but mentioning same is inconvenient for Israel-bashing pseudo-progressives such as yourself.
    Why don’t we ask the Palestinian Arabs who work for the company, for good wages and solid job security, what they think of privileged Western ‘liberals’ seeking to take away their livelihood?
    Good on her, and shame on Oxfam. And you.

    • Here is a counter to your comment. This below article was cited by The New York Times:
      SodaStream “treats us like slaves,” says Palestinian factory worker –
      And here is what the NYT wrote after citing it:

      That view of the factory was challenged by an account of working conditions at the plant from an unnamed worker published last year by The Electronic Intifada, a website founded by the Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah. The Electronic Intifada’s source claimed that Palestinians working at the factory in the occupied territory did not benefit from labor laws applicable in Israel proper. “They treat us like slaves,” he said. “This has happened many times on the assembly line: When a worker is sick and wants to take sick leave, the supervisor will fire him on the second day. They will not even give him warning or send him to human resources, they will immediately fire him.”

      Additionally, Haaretz (and many other Israeli media) have focused on how democratic law is not applied to the factory and settlement area, which is located where it is to get around tax and labor laws. Here is just one:

        • Stray from personal attacks, as per the comments policy, and you just might have a few comments sneak by Tikkun editors. Though I know how difficult it is for you, as evidenced in this comment.
          And CIF Watch — that’s rich.
          I’ll counter with an Israeli media’s report or the Palestinian man, featured in SodaStream’s promotional video, being separated from the company group and strip searched at the company’s awards ceremony:
          Yes, I’m sure Palestinian factory workers not being treated fairly, or humanely, is a lie. And The New York Times should be ashamed for reporting on such a lie! Because CIF …

          • You sure seem to possess a lot of anger toward that guy!
            I see you deleted his last comment.
            Finally. I don’t understand why he says those things.
            But David, how is what he linked to any worse than the site you linked to?

          • Here is Tikkun’s comments policy:
            “Tikkun Daily invites you to comment. Hoping for lively dialogue among people of differing political or ideological points of view, we allow visitors to directly post their comments. Wishing for respectful dialogue that invites participation in a collaborative, empathic community, we will delete any comments that are abusive, off-topic, or include personal attacks. Any commenter who repeatedly comments in a manner that we consider to amount to heckling, without evident attempt at constructive discussion or at empathic understanding of the other, may be blocked from commenting.”
            Site editors and authors are being more pro-active about trying to have dialogue be in keeping with these guidelines, in the interest of respectful discourse in keeping with a spiritual-progressive publication.
            Comments which seek to heckle or disparage other commenters or writers will be removed.

          • Does this policy apply to Tikkun’s own bloggers, as well?
            I hate to say it, Mr Gershon, but your reply above was quite impolite as well.

          • If it is impolite to point out …
            … prior behavior of a commenter who routinely called me and others anti-Semitic based upon differing political views, then yes, it was impolite.

          • And again, how is the site he linked to any worse than the one you did?
            Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Electronic Intifadah is not quite a progressive Zionist source?

          • Let’s see …
            The NYT and Robert Mackey cites Electronic Intifada in its reporting.
            The Guardian banned CIF Watch’s Adam Levick from even commenting.
            There’s one difference. Though the comment likely wasn’t deleted for its link. It was deleted for the users repeated violations.

          • Okay, thanks. I didn’t realize the CIFWatch guy was banned from posting on that site. Obviously, once somebody is banned from posting on a blog, or speaking at any given place, that surely means they’re always wrong about whatever it is they have to say!
            Thanks for not answering the question about EI vis a vis its use by a progressive Zionist, by the way.

          • No problem, David. Now are you brave enough to hold a real debate without mass deletion of comments, or do you just prefer to pretend that you are interested in a serious discussion which doesn’t follow the precise tracks of your ideology?

          • .
            I don’t think bravery means what you think it means. And readers will understand after viewing this comment why I will never “debate” you online.
            If you want to ask me questions, you know what to do. I’ll even buy you a beer.

          • By the way, I didn’t write that post, and to insinuate that I did, especially to anyone who knows the history of me and the proprietor of that site, is simply hilarious.
            I’ll save you the legwork, and notify you that I write and comment at Israel Thrives.
            Believe it or not, there is more than one person who disagrees with your writings.

        • The Palestinians who work in the Sodastream factory cannot live in the area where the factory is located; it is an Israeli-only settlement, located on Palestinian land. I think that FACT alone is indicative of the treatment that Palestinians would receive at this place of employment. Zionists do not have a leg to stand on when there are so many Israeli’s also, many military, crying foul to the apartheid treatment of the Palestinian people in this ‘democratic’ state.

  2. If only there were a boycott of the settlements that seeks a two-state solution. Unfortunately, this is being tied to BDS, which seeks an end to Israel. Any suggestion that there is an acceptable resolution to the conflict other than two states is nothing more than an implicit endorsement of
    a one-state end of Israel.

    • In response:
      A) Peter Beinart (and others, such as myself) are proponents of a two-state solution who also recognize the legitimacy of boycotts as a nonviolent form of opposition to pressure Israel to step away from its geo-political polices (which are not only wrong, but self-destructive).
      B) Your recognition of something “implicit” is explicitly rejected by me. Just so that’s clear. What is also clear: Israel’s “Greater Israel” desires are just as much a threat to its survival as a Jewish, democratic state as any outside force. Unless things change, the inevitable conclusion will be a territory, known as Israel, which contains roughly equal numbers of Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians.
      Would you say that such right-wing politicians also seek an “end to Israel”? I assume for consistency’s sake, the answer would have to be “yes.”

      • The right-wing opponents of a two-state solution are indeed contributing to Israel’s downfall. Sad but true.
        But there is no boycott of Israeli settlements in furtherance of a two-state solution. There is BDS, which seeks to end Israel. And even giving implicit support to BDS calls into question one’s desire for a two-state solution.

        • I see we agree about the destructive nature of right-wing policies in Israel, and their implications.
          As for questioning my desire for a two-state solution, I position is clear. That you cannot accept a progressive Zionist simultaneously championing a two-state resolution while viewing nonviolent sanctions as a legitimate form of opposition by Palestinians, without it saying something “implicit,” speaks to your frame of reference.
          Not mine.

          • Implicit support for a cause that seeks to end Israel, like BDS, is not consistent with a Progressive Zionist vision. That’s why progressive Zionist groups oppose BDS, just as they oppose right-wing settlement policies.

          • .
            A) The box you’ve constructed is not a box capable of holding the complexity which exists in the progressive Zionist world.
            B) I oppose the bi-national vision of the BDS movement while viewing outside pressure, from the United States or elsewhere, as the only way Israel’s leaders will be compelled to seriously engage in final-status peace talks.
            C) Enjoyed the conversation. While your ‘boxes’ are not large enough to contain the complex political realities which exist, they are at least larger than most.

          • Then why have progressive Zionist organizations explicitly opposed BDS?
            Given the significant opposition to BDS, and given that BDS seeks the end of Israel, it seems completely implausible that giving a shout-out to BDS activity is consistent with a progressive Zionist viewpoint.

          • Nevermind the difference between a “shout out” and acknowledgement of a noteworthy/significant trend …
            It all comes down, once again, to boxes. Implausible as it may seem.

          • And another point of disagreement: I do not believe that this kind of pressure (to use your term) will do anything to effectuate progressive change in Israel. Israel is a democracy, and its citizens need to come to the realization that moving toward a two-state solution is essential for Israel’s long term survival. But BDS pressure and forging alliances with those that want Israel gone will only unite the various factions in Israel, and not in a way that moves Israel closer to a peace deal.

          • We disagree, though I respect your opinion. The only thing capable of disengaging Israeli leaders from their self-destructive policies is external, international pressure. My hope has long been that such pressure would come from a close ally: the United States.
            As an aside, I offer a sound question for BDS critics, such as yourself, as posed by Corey Robin:

            For the last month I’ve been responding to critiques and challenges of BDS. Now I have a question for its opponents and critics. What do you propose as an alternative strategy? The Palestinians have tried four decades of armed revolt, three decades of peace negotiations, two intifadas, and seven decades of waiting. They have taken up BDS as a non-violent tactic, precisely the sort of thing that liberal-minded critics have been calling upon them to do for years (where is the Palestinian Gandhi and all that). So now you say BDS is bad too. Fine. What would you have the Palestinians – and their international supporters – do instead?

            Interested in giving that one a shot?

          • I couldn’t possibly disagree more with that statement. Liberal critics did not ask them to take up a cause seeking an end to Israel. And what should they do instead? How about a cause seeking an end to the occupation via a two-state solution? That just might get support from Isrselis and progressive Zionists. But I don’t think BDS types would have much interest in that.

          • You wrote:

            How about a cause seeking an end to the occupation via a two-state solution?

            That’s already been tried with no result — remember, “three decades of peace negotiations” have yielded Palestinians nothing.
            Do you have a new, unique suggestion?

  3. I’ll take this one.
    Unilateral declaration of final borders, with the IDF permanently withdrawing behind said lines excepting future provocations.
    Reasonable people can disagree on just what those borders should be, but stop implying that there is no other option than BDS.
    What do you say on that, David? Are you up to the challenge?

    • Unfortunately, you didn’t answer the question. Please read closely and try again, if you like. And remember: entering into peace negotiations with Israel is not a “new” tactic on the table, since they have not yielded anything but delay.
      I’d be very interested to hear a unique suggestion for the Palestinians to try, since you find nonviolent sanctions to be untenable.
      Challenging, yes. But it would be amazing if you could come up with an alternative.

      • Peace negotiations is indeed not a new tactic. But it is the only one with a chance of working. BDS has the same goal as the terrorism that has rained down on Israelis since its inception. And just like the terrorism that preceded it, it will only serve to unite Israelis in their opposition.

        • .
          I accept that you cannot answer the question. I admit to being unable to fully answer it myself with regard to what would be a “better” tactic for Palestinians to use than nonviolent protest.

          • There is no substitute for negotiations. And there is no possibility for a solution that doesn’t include Israel’s existence. Your comments demonstrate that BDS supporters are still unwilling to let go of that “dream.” And that, among mamy other things, helps perpetuate the status quo.

          • .
            A) You still can’t answer the question.
            B) You’re fixated on the “motivation” as opposed to the tactic. So I’ll give you an easier question: would you support economic sanctions if the motivation was to pressure Israel into a two-state settlement by boycotting businesses, commerce …?
            Very interested.

          • You are fixated on the tactic and are ignoring the goal.
            I personally could never envision purchasing a product from the settlements. I could envision supporting a boycott of the settlements. But your “clever” question envisages a boycott of Jewish Israelis but exempting Arab Israelis. That does not interest me.

          • .
            You answered the question: you would not support, and do not support the idea of, economic sanctions or boycott of the State of Israel. It’s an admirable position — one shared by Peter Beinart — who supports boycotting “undemocratic Israel,” but not the whole state.

          • .
            So let’s be clear: you are okay with the idea of boycotts, sanctions and divestment being levied against Israel — by say the EU and academic organizations like ASA — so long as they don’t seek “an end to Israel”?

          • I am not ok with a boycott that seeks to end Israel. I am not ok with a boycott of Jews. I have no problem with a boycott of settlements. And I think that a boycott of the kind you support encourages hatred and, as such, will not bring peace.

          • .
            And I do not support all BDS boycotts, or tactics, and do not share the bi-national state goal of the movement. However, the pressure being placed upon Israel is the best chance for peace. Why do I think this? It’s the only thing which will compel Israel to seek it, as business leaders quietly press the government to do something as businesses loose hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. Without such pressure, Israel’s leaders certainly aren’t capable of reversing its policies on its own.
            As for Palestinians, it’s their right to engage in whatever form of nonviolent protest they like. To say otherwise is to say they have no rights at all.

          • BDS “pressure” unites the left and the right among Israelis and their supporters reminds everyone that Israel still has enemies that want it gone. We need to move past that but BDS is not helping tomake that happen.
            And the lack of violence does not make an ugly objective virtuous.

          • Your statement that they have the “right to engage in whatever form of protest they like” means nothing. The same could have been said regarding the Tea Party rallies, but it doesn’t follow from that that they are necessarily worthy of support.

      • So do we have you on record as stating that ‘they’ (i.e.- Israel) are not interested in peace, and that the Palestinians are?
        We can quote you on this, David?
        Link to PA acceptance of Israel, please?

          • Your final comment to me makes an important point that warrants a final reply before we end this, so I will make it here because you have prevented me from replying above: I get it that Palestinians and their BDS supporters believe that opinoons like mine mean nothing. That’s a huge problem for them because if they can’t find common ground even with progressive Zionists, and only find it with those who have an open mind to ending Israel, they will end up with . . . nothing.

  4. I will be going to a demonstration against SodaStream this afternoon in downtown San Francisco.
    I worked in Palestine. I met Palestinian people who worked in Israeli factories in the settlements. The Israeli law does not apply in the factories. Labor is cheap there and people are treated cheaply also. It is easy to discriminate and fire because unemployment is so high in Palestine. Their economy is controlled by Israel completely.
    Even the goods – including most fruits and vegetables – sold in Palestine come from the settlements – stolen and where crops now raised were formerly raised and sold by Palestinians.

    • What do you propose for them? Where are the Palestinian companies that would hire them? What rights would they enjoy as employees under Palestinian law?
      Perhaps if Palestinians spent less time focusing on hate and aggrievement, as if only they have suffered, they could turn to more productive activities. Unless destroying Israel is productive.
      Finally, the stolen land meme is a fabrication designed for those who willingly swallow, who that cannot understand that “stolen” for Palestinians means something much different than most people, without anti-Israel bias, conceive.

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