News / Middle East

Actress Johansson, Oxfam Rift Spotlight West Bank

FILE - Actress Scarlett Johansson arrives for the screening of the film 'Her' at the 8th edition of the Rome International Film Festival in Rome, Nov. 10, 2013.
FILE - Actress Scarlett Johansson arrives for the screening of the film 'Her' at the 8th edition of the Rome International Film Festival in Rome, Nov. 10, 2013.
Actress Scarlett Johansson's very public rift with the charity Oxfam over her endorsement of an Israeli firm operating in the West Bank has thrown a Hollywood spotlight on one of the thorniest issues in Middle East peace talks.
Johansson announced on Thursday she had quit her role as an ambassador for Oxfam, shortly before the airing during Sunday's Super Bowl of an advertisement in which she fronts for the Israeli soda maker SodaStream.
The multi-million-dollar sponsorship deal has caused a backlash among activists and humanitarian groups because SodaStream's largest factory stands in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, which Oxfam said was “incompatible” with Johansson's role.
The dispute has won praise for Johansson from the World Jewish Congress (WJC), sharp criticism from a Palestinian group advocating a boycott of all Israeli goods — and a big dose of publicity for SodaStream.
“In a sense, I think everybody in some way has got some attention out of this,” Mark Borkowski, a London-based public relations specialist and author, told Reuters.
SodaStream employs Palestinian and Israeli workers and says its plant offers a model of peaceful cooperation. But Jewish settlements are deemed illegal under international law and are condemned by Oxfam, which has a large operation in the region.
After consultations this week with Oxfam, whose ambassador she has been since 2007, Johansson informed the charity that she would end the relationship.
'Denial of rights'
Announcing its acceptance of her decision, the charity said: “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.”
Yonah Lloyd, SodaStream's chief communications officer, said the company did not court controversy and hoped that potential customers would look beyond it to the firm's product.
“We don't invite this publicity, but we certainly hope at the end of the day it will generate lots of thought on the beautiful thing we are doing for our employees.”
The WJC applauded Johansson for “her forthright defense of economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians and for standing up to the international bullies” and criticized Oxfam.
“By ending its association with Miss Johansson ... Oxfam has chosen to align itself with the unprincipled and anti-Semitic BDS movement,” WJC CEO Robert Singer said in a statement, referring to groups urging boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel and Israeli goods.
“This was a cowardly act that Oxfam should realize is a reprehensible and damaging mistake,” Singer added.
In contrast, Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, claimed a win for his campaign, saying the company and actress had both been weakened by the dispute.
“[SodaStream] was exposed to the whole world as an occupation profiteer. Prior to this, most SodaStream customers had no idea that it is involved in grave violations of human rights,” he told Reuters, adding that “Johansson's reputation as a defender of human rights has suffered irreparably.”
The spat has come at a delicate time for U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli officials fear that if the talks fail, a nascent call for an economic boycott of Israel and its settlements might grow.
In a statement reported in U.S. media, Johansson's spokesman wrote: “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
That movement, sponsored mostly by pro-Palestinian intellectuals and bloggers, campaigns for a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods and questions the Jewish state's legitimacy.
International rights groups including Oxfam seek to discourage trade only with Israeli firms located on land in the occupied West Bank.
“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 New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday.

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
January 31, 2014 4:41 AM
People should shut up if they do not understand very well what they talk about. Israel-Palestine issue is an ongoing one and no one reserves the right to determine who owns what presently, as negotiations are still going on. We should be aware that the so-called occupied settlements also house Israelis who do not have other places to live in except where they presently find themselves. For all you should know, those areas will end up being a mixture of Jews and Arabs living side by side in whatever state the settlements will belong. Therefore Oxfam should be condemned for what it is - an anti human set up with extreme hate mission.

SodaStream is the kind of model firms expected to bridge the gaps existing between Israelis and Palestinians to foster what can be real peace, not the so-called two states solution that is rather divisive and segregation-al, though it will be like camel through the eye of the needle to have true peace between Jews(Israel) and the Arabs in so far as islam - their religion – preaches hate against Israel. Essentially, as you have Arabs and muslims not only living in Israel but are citizens, so also are we going to have Jews and Israelis who will not only live in the islamic Arab Emirate at West Bank (called Palestine), but will be citizens also.
In Response

by: Goose from: CT
February 03, 2014 11:07 PM
Godwin, straight forward and well put, what baffles me, is which part of all this do people find so hard to understand? Is it good old-fashioned anti-semitism? Love for the perceived "underdog"? Or just plain stupidity?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs