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

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Kurdish service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs