Actress Scarlett Johansson offered her most robust defense to date of her role as a spokesman for SodaStream, and slammed the British charity Oxfam from which she stepped down as an ambassador, in an interview Sunday.
Speaking to Britain’s Observer newspaper, Johansson said of Sodastream’s factory at the settlement of Mishor Adumin in the West Bank, which employs Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews, “I’m coming into this as someone who sees that factory as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.”
As for Oxfam, which slammed her for her ties to the soft drinks firm, Johansson said there was “something that feels not right” about “a non-governmental organisation to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause.” She said Oxfam had “funded a BDS [boycott, divest, sanctions] movement in the past.” (The Observer writer added that Oxfam denies supporting BDS against Israel.)
The actress was being interviewed by the Observer (the sister paper of the Guardian, whose content appears on the Guardian website) primarily about her role as an alien in “Under the Skin,” a new sci-fi film, but the final part of the conversation revolved around SodaStream. The interviewer, who did not mention in the article that SodaStream’s West Bank factory employs Palestinians and Israeli Arabs, was openly critical of Johansson for working for SodaStream, writing that “it looked liked she’d received very poor advice; that someone who is paid good money to protect her interests hadn’t done the necessary research before she’d accepted the role and that she’d unwittingly inserted herself into the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflict. By the time Oxfam raised the issue, she was going to get flak if she did step down, flak if she didn’t. Was the whole thing just a bit of a mistake?”
Johansson was vigorous in her response, however. “I stand behind that decision. I was aware of that particular factory before I signed it.”
“Really?” the interviewer interjected, apparently surprised or disbelieving.
“Yes, and… it still doesn’t seem like a problem,” Johansson said. “Until someone has a solution to the closing of that factory to leaving all those people destitute, that doesn’t seem like the solution to the problem.”
When the interviewer then put it to her that “the international community says that the settlements are illegal and shouldn’t be there,” Johansson said: “I think that’s something that’s very easily debatable. In that case, I was literally plunged into a conversation that’s way grander and larger than this one particular issue. And there’s no right side or wrong side leaning on this issue.”
Actually, the interviewer pressed on, “there’s a lot of unanimity… about the settlements on the West Bank.”
“I think in the UK there is,” the actress retorted. “That’s one thing I’ve realised… I’m coming into this as someone who sees that factory as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.”
The interviewer noted that the UN, the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice all agree settlements are illegal and then wrote, “Half of me admires Johansson for sticking to her guns – her mother is Jewish and she obviously has strong opinions about Israel and its policies. Half of me thinks she’s hopelessly naive. Or, most likely, poorly advised. Of all the conflicts in all the world to plant yourself in the middle of…”
She then pushed Johansson on the Oxfam fallout, saying, “… people saw you making a choice between Oxfam – a charity that is out to alleviate global poverty – and accepting a lot of money to advertise a product for a commercial company. For a lot of people, that’s like making a choice between charity – good – and lots of money – greed.”
But Johansson retorted with her critique of Oxfam: “Sure I think that’s the way you can look at it. But I also think for a non-governmental organisation to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause… there’s something that feels not right about that to me. There’s plenty of evidence that Oxfam does support and has funded a BDS [boycott, divest, sanctions] movement in the past. It’s something that can’t really be denied.”
Sunday’s interview marked Johansson’s sturdiest defense of her SodaStream role, but it was hardly her first such defense. Earlier this month, speaking to London’s Telegraph, she said she believed in the company and praised its environmental record. “I’m not an expert on the history of this conflict, and I’ve never professed to be,” Johansson told the British newspaper in the interview. “But it is a company that I believe in, that I think has the ability to make a huge difference, environmentally. [CEO] Daniel Birnbaum has said many times that this factory is one he inherited, and that he doesn’t want to fire people – the majority of those people being Palestinian,” she said.