Scarlett Johansson rejects criticism of her SodaStream role

Actress counters BDS cries of apartheid, saying firm, with plant in West Bank, employs Israelis and Palestinians as ‘bridge to peace’

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)

American actress Scarlett Johansson released a statement Friday about the controversy surrounding her role as the first-ever brand ambassador of the Israeli company SodaStream, describing the firm as “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine,” and making clear that she would not stepping away from it. Her public comments were made after she came under fire for the endorsement deal — which is to include a TV ad screened during the Super Bowl — from the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

“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,” Johansson’s statement, published by The Huffington Post, read.

Since SodaStream named Johansson the first-ever brand ambassador of its sleek, sassy seltzer makers earlier this month, the BDS movement has demanded that the star step down from the post, plastering the Twittersphere with blood-soaked ads bestowing upon Scarlett an “A for Apartheid.”

The beef with the beverage company? Its principal manufacturing plant, which is located in the industrial strip of Ma’aleh Adumim, a major West Bank settlement. Many in the BDS movement, a global campaign that urges its supporters to withhold patronage of any Israeli-made goods and services, began tossing the term “blood bubbles” around the Internet, while others cried foul over Johansson’s role as an Oxfam ambassador.

Johansson’s statement addressed her critics’ concerns: “I remain 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, 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 continued: “I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them.”

As of Thursday morning, Oxfam had added a paragraph to its online bio of Johansson, writing beneath descriptions of her work with Sri Lankan tsunami survivors and Kenyan refugees:

Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors. 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.

We have made our concerns known to Ms. Johansson and we are now engaged in a dialogue on these important issues.

Speaking to Oxfam’s remarks about her involvement with SodaStream, Johansson stated: “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.”

In conclusion, she wrote: “I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over 8 years. Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.”

The Jewish “Her” actress, who will star in a February 2 SodaStream commercial airing during the Super Bowl, had previously remained mum on the controversy. Supporters and detractors of the company continue to howl across the Internet, with anti-SodaStreamers hurling cries of apartheid and pro-Israeli shoppers hailing the actress as a sexy sign that the BDS movement is failing.

Israeli company Sodastream syrups (photo credit: courtesy)
Israeli company Sodastream syrups (photo credit: courtesy)

In the Jewish Daily Forward, Elisheva Goldberg wrote that the factory’s location is in an area “which will likely be incorporated into Israel in any future deal,” but she added, “it does exploit the commercial benefits of its location, essentially profiting from occupation.”

The Daily Beast last week attempted to burst the media-generated soda bubble, snapping back to an Al Jazeera post on the topic by declaring it a “puny controversy” that was “based on four tweets.”

But the Internet is a thirsty place, and the posts and tweets have since only continued to pile up. Writing for New York Magazine, Kat Stoeffel admits that after facing backlash, she now lies and tells friends her SodaStream was a gift. The New Yorker published a lengthy piece entitled “The Politics of Celebrity Ambassadors” noting Johansson’s long history of human rights work as well as the troubling precedent of “Sex and the City” good girl Kristin Davis, who was nixed as Oxfam spokesperson after signing an endorsement deal with Ahava, another Israeli company with manufacturing facilities in the West Bank.

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 clear-headed story questioning whether or not the anti-bubble backlash would, in fact, harm those very Palestinians first.

JTA contributed to this report.

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