Scarlett Johansson split with the human rights group Oxfam instead of the home carbonation machine maker SodaStream. PHOTO: Gage Skidmore
Scarlett Johansson’s break-ups are often fodder for the tabloids, but this one is international news. The actress resigned as an ambassador to the human rights group Oxfam, according to the BBC, over a “fundamental difference of opinion” over SodaStream, an Israeli-based company for whom Johansson is now a spokesperson and star of their Super Bowl ad. Johansson, it seems, has a pro-Israel blind spot, perhaps enhanced by a large check from SodaStream.
Why did Scarlett Johansson choose Sodastream over Oxfam?
Johansson, known for her political activism and human rights work, had been with Oxfam for 8 years. So why did she drop her human rights group for a major corporation?
To answer that question, we need to delve deeper into the SodaStream controversy. The maker of the simple device that can turn tap water into sparkling water is based in Israel and has a factory in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
SodaStream has said that the factory is “fantastic sanctuary of co-existence” that encourages peace between Israel and Palestine through economic cooperation.
Oxfam disagrees, and said so in a statement:
“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.”
Scarlett Johansson…sides with SodaStream. She explained that she is a "supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine."
So, who’s right?
For their part, SodaStream released a “don’t believe the haters, everything is great,” promotional video, explaining that the factory workers love their jobs, and that the allegations against SodaStream are false.
But what do the workers say?
“I feel humiliated and I am also disgraced as a Palestinian, as the claims in this video are all lies. We Palestinian workers in this factory always feel like we are enslaved,” a factory worker going by “M.” told the Electronic Infitada.
M. also alleged that the factory is rife with discrimination.
“You will not [find] white Jews wearing yarmulke [a cap worn by Jews] doing the hard work or ‘hand work.’ The supervisors who run the factory are mainly Russian and they are managed mainly by the white Jews, and we are ‘Palestinians,’ only workers.”
M. also explained that workers are given 12-hour shifts, in violation of Israeli law.
“They pick us up at six in the morning or the evening, and we arrive home at least an hour after work. Around 14 hours you are away from home, and there is no time to see our families,” M. said.
Scarlett Johansson has been thoughtful and progressive on a number of political issues, and her involvement with Oxfam shows that. Whether it’s a blind spot when it comes to Israel (as so many American political figures have), an honest belief in peace through commerce or just the massive paycheck she is surely receiving from SodaStream, she is making a dubious choice to leave a leading human rights organization for a big corporation.