When Scarlett Johansson defended her lucrative endorsement deal with SodaStream, she forfeited any claim to be a champion of human rights and development, a role she has played since 2007 as one of Oxfam’s Global Ambassadors.
SodaStream manufactures its trendy home carbonation machines in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
As the international charity itself told Johansson, “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.”
But the Hollywood star brushed this off, repeating SodaStream’s talking points that the factory represents an example of “economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”
Johansson has made her stance crystal clear: she is on the side of Israeli settlement and occupation—a decision that might have been a little easier for her given how much SodaStream is padding her bank account.
But what’s astonishing is Oxfam’s refusal to dissociate itself from Johansson. Oxfam runs a number of projects with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and its credibility as a voice for human rights is now at stake.
A large coalition of Palestinian civil society groups is now calling on Oxfam to sever ties with her “immediately.” Hubert Murray, the grandson and grand-nephew, of two of Oxfam’s founders, has urged the charity to dissociate from Johansson, calling her an “ambassador of oppression.” And KQED, northern California’s public broadcaster, announced last week that it would stop giving away SodaStream machines as premium gifts to donors because “the controversy” surrounding the company “would undermine the spirit of our impartiality and unbiased mission.”
But so far, Oxfam just won’t let Johansson—SodaStream’s brand ambassador—go. It’s time for the charity to take a stand: will it throw Palestinian rights and international law under the bus to stick with a discredited celebrity at any cost, or will it demonstrate that it still stands by its principles?
If Johansson is forced to back down, or Oxfam removes her as an ambassador, it will put other celebrities and companies on notice that there is a high reputational and likely a financial cost to ignoring Palestinian rights.
That, not Johansson’s shilling for SodaStream, will truly bring us a step closer to justice and peace.