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.
Reuters
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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More