‘She will be remembered, like those who were complicit with apartheid in South Africa, for standing on the wrong side of history.’
by Les Neuhaus 31 January 2014
International aid group Oxfam accepted Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson’s resignation on Thursday after a recent controversy involving her paid endorsement of SodaStream, an at-home soda-making product made in Ma’ale Adumim, a section of the Israeli-occupied West Bank territory.
The move by Oxfam came after Johansson’s spokesman released a statement late Wednesday, which said, in part, that she had “respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,”according to The Associated Press.
“She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam,” it added.
Johansson, who has become the face and “global brand ambassador” for SodaStream, is due to appear in a slick SodaStream advertisement during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
The international debate had caused a stir around the world. The West Bank and Gaza Strip lands, which are both defined as illegally occupied territories by the U.N., are populated by Palestinians but also dotted with highly contentious Israeli settlements.
Oxfam said in a statement that it “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.” And further, it “is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
Critics said Oxfam should have cut ties sooner with Johansson.
Hubert Murray, grandson of late Professor Gilbert Murray and whose great-uncle Dr. Henry Gillett were both founding members in the 1940s of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief — which later became Oxfam, said the organization could have a tough time overcoming the debate.
“Now that Ms. Johansson has resigned from her post as ambassadress, the remaining casualty of this episode is Oxfam for having prevaricated and procrastinated on the matter, making it look as though compliance with donors’ wishes rather than adherence to principle is their main concern,” Hubert told MintPress on Thursday. “To sacrifice principle to expedience is not a viable strategy for the long-term reputation of a non-profit organization such as this. Oxfam’s reputation has been seriously damaged and as many individuals and organizations have learned to their cost, a reputation once lost is hard to restore.”
However, Hubert said the whole episode has had a positive outcome: shedding light on the “settlement policy and the duplicity of successive Israeli governments in the so-called ‘peace process.’ Secondly, I would like to think that Oxfam, in particular Oxfam-America, has been chastened by this controversy and will take stock of their founding principles and recalibrate accordingly.”
Adding to the chorus of criticism was Ben White, an author and researcher specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations. He said opposition to Israeli violations of international law is now a mainstream position for a leading poverty alleviation and human rights based charity like Oxfam.
“However, it is correct to highlight Oxfam’s weakness in responding slowly and in failing to unilaterally cut ties with Johansson — enabling a kind of ‘face saving’ exercise,” White told MintPress. “Ultimately, the whole episode reinforces the growing strength of campaigns such as BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) that seek to end Israeli human rights abuses, but Oxfam emerges with dented credibility for the way they responded.”
Criticism was also heaved on Johansson.
“By quitting Oxfam and sticking with her endorsement of SodaStream, Scarlett Johansson has confirmed she values profiting from the Israeli occupation and apartheid far above human rights and charitable work,” Ali Abunimah, author of “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” and co-founder of the website The Electric Intifada, told MintPress. “The fact that she quit Oxfam rather than being fired by the charity weeks ago, reflects very poorly on Oxfam. The charity failed to swiftly and clearly uphold its principles and appears to have been taken by surprise by Johansson’s announcement, adding to its humiliation and disarray.”
He added that celebrities, companies and nongovernmental organizations should be on notice that complicity with Israeli occupation, and apartheid, comes “with a high reputational cost. Whatever financial gains Johansson reaps now will fade. She will be remembered, like those who were complicit with apartheid in South Africa, for standing on the wrong side of history.”
Oxfam has accepted Scarlett Johansson’s decision to step down after eight years as a Global Ambassador and we are grateful for her many contributions.
While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.
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.
Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.
Scarlet Johansson Quite Oxfam
Scarlett Johansson in a screenshot from an Oxfam fundraising video.
A statement released by Johansson’s spokesperson said the 29-year-old Hollywood actress “has ‘a fundamental difference of opinion’ with Oxfam International because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights,” the Associated Press reported.
“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement added. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
Oxfam, has not, in fact, endorsed boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), although it opposes trade with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a position it reiterated in a 30 January statement accepting Johansson’s resignation.
“While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador,” the charity says.
“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,” the statement adds. “Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
“New face of Israeli apartheid”
“Scarlett Johansson has abandoned her reputation as a progressive celebrity in exchange for the check that accompanies becoming the new face of Israeli apartheid. Just like the few artists who played Sun City during South African apartheid, Johansson will be remembered for having stood on the wrong side of history.”
Ziadah adds: “This controversy has shined a light on the fact that SodaStream is at the heart of Israel’s system of occupation, colonization and apartheid. Retailers that stock SodaStream can no longer claim they are unaware of the role the company plays in Israeli violations of international law and consumers across the world will now see through SodaStream’s claims to be an ethical company.”
Ziadah also echoed widespread criticism, including by Oxfam’s own Palestinian staff, about the charity’s mishandling of the affair: “Oxfam’s statement today that Johansson’s support of SodaStream was incompatible with her role as an Oxfam ambassador is very welcome, but the great length of time that it took for Oxfam’s leadership to reach this conclusion has disappointed many Palestinians, people of conscience across the world and Oxfam staff and supporters.”
Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK, said that by “choosing to represent a company that operates in an illegal settlement on stolen Palestinian land,” Johansson had “already suffered major reputational damage.”
Colborne thanked activists and supporters “who made it clear to Oxfam that they needed to break from Scarlett Johansson or risk facing a hemorrhaging of support in the UK and internationally.”
Nancy Kricorian of the campaigning group CODEPINK Women for Peace welcomed the news that Oxfam and Scarlett Johansson “have parted ways,” but suggested the controversy would not be over for the Hollywood star: “We look forward to educational leafleting opportunities at Ms. Johansson’s public events.”
Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, observes that the break-up between Johansson and Oxfam over SodaStream “proves that one can no longer claim to be a humanitarian while being associated in any way with the settlement enterprise.”
“That the BDS movement was able to force this decision in a matter of weeks is proof of the growing power of BDS worldwide,” she adds.
Johansson’s departure follows weeks of protest from Palestinians and solidarity groups, and near silence from Oxfam’s bitterly divided management.
The Electronic Intifada’s extensive reporting on this story can be found here.
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