Johansson steps down as Oxfam ambassador

Actress cites ‘a fundamental difference of opinion’ with humanitarian group over SodaStream and its West Bank operations

Scarlett Johansson in SodaStream's Superbowl ad (screen capture: YouTube)
Scarlett Johansson in SodaStream's Superbowl ad (screen capture: YouTube)

Scarlett Johansson is ending her relationship with a humanitarian group after being criticized over her support for an Israeli company that operates in the West Bank.

A statement released by Johansson’s spokesman Wednesday said the 29-year-old 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.

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “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.”

On Thursday, Oxfam released a statement that it had accepted Johansson’s resignation, adding that the NGO was “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,” the statement read. “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. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.”

Scarlett Johansson with Sodastream's Daniel Birnbaum (photo credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream/via JTA)
Scarlett Johansson with Sodastream’s Daniel Birnbaum (photo credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream/via JTA)

Earlier this month, “The Avengers” and “Her” actress signed on as the first global brand ambassador of SodaStream International Ltd., and she’s set to appear in an ad for the at-home soda maker during the Super Bowl on February 2.

Israel-based SodaStream has come under fire from pro-Palestinian activists for maintaining a large factory in Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement in the West Bank. Many in the BDS movement, a global campaign that urges its supporters to withhold patronage of Israeli-made goods and services, employed the term “blood bubbles,” while others cried foul over Johansson’s role as an Oxfam ambassador.

In response to the criticism, Johansson said last week in a statement that she was a “supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”

“SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine,” she continued, “supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.”

She added: “I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them.”

Johansson had served as a global ambassador for Oxfam since 2007, raising funds and promoting awareness about global poverty. In her role as an Oxfam ambassador, she traveled to India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to highlight the impact of traumatic disasters and chronic poverty.

Anti-Zionist sites like The Electric Intifada and Mondoweiss have referred to the 900 Palestinian employees at SodaStream’s West Bank facility as working in slave-labor-like conditions, but on Tuesday, Al Arabiya wrote a story questioning whether or not the anti-bubble backlash would, in fact, harm those very Palestinians first.

The Super Bowl ad featuring Johannson was rejected this week by Fox, the network carrying the big game, because it contained a dig at big soda manufacturers Coca-Cola and Pepsi. An edited version that doesn’t mention the large soft drink companies will air instead.

JTA contributed to this report.

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