RAMALLAH, West Bank – Actress Scarlett Johansson is taking heat from Palestinian activists for becoming a brand ambassador for SodaStream International Ltd., an Israeli company that operates a factory in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim.
SodaStream, which produces machines for making carbonated beverages at home, announced the deal with Johansson this month. She features in an ad for the company that is scheduled to debut during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
Mustafa Barghouthi, who heads the Palestinian National Initiative party, said Johansson “has no excuse for allowing herself to be used to support the violation of international law.”
“This is like supporting the apartheid system in the old South Africa,” he said.
Activists from the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is modeled after a campaign against white minority rule in South Africa, urged Oxfam International to disassociate itself from Johannsson, who has served as an ambassador for the humanitarian group since 2007.
“Palestinian civil society, and indeed all who care about human rights around the world, expects Oxfam to immediately end its relationship with an actress that has knowingly lent her name to whitewashing Israel’s illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian land,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the boycott group. “Without distancing itself from Johansson, the new poster girl for Israeli apartheid, Oxfam’s credibility will be considerably, perhaps irreparably, damaged.”
Oxfam issued a statement last week questioning Johansson’s decision to help promote the Israeli company.
“Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors,” the statement said. “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.”
Johansson addressed the criticism in a statement to the Huffington Post on Friday, saying, “I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an ambassador for over eight years.”
“While I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream, given the amount of noise surrounding that decision, I’d like to clear the air,” she said.
“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.... As part of my efforts as an ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed first-hand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another and feel proud of the outcome of that work in the quality of their product and work environment, in the pay they bring home to their families and in the benefits they equally receive.”
Oxfam said it was “considering the implications” of her statement and “what it means for Ms. Johansson’s role as an Oxfam global ambassador.”
Abukhater is a special correspondent.