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.

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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?

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