Scarlett Johansson SodaStream row: what's going on?

Jan 30, 2014

Actress quits as ambassador for Oxfam amid row over her support for Israeli drinks maker

SCARLETT JOHANSSON has quit her role as an Oxfam global ambassador over a bubbling controversy involving drinks maker SodaStream. The actress has faced criticism since she showed support for the Israeli company a few weeks ago. So what exactly is going on? 

Why is SodaStream so controversial?

The drinks maker has come under fire from pro-Palestinian activists for maintaining a large factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Critics accuse SodaStream of exploiting the cheap land, labour and tax breaks afforded to Israeli industries in the occupied West Bank – territory seized in the 1967 war, which the Palestinians want for their eventual future state.

How is Johannson involved?

Earlier this month, the actress signed on as the first global brand ambassador for SodaStream, and she is set to appear in an advert for the drinks maker during the Super Bowl on 2 February. Oxfam criticised her support for the Israeli company. The charity opposes trade from settlements, which is considered illegal under international law. It released a statement to say that businesses operating in settlements "further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support" and said it was "considering the implications" for Johannson's Oxfam role.

Why has Johannson left Oxfam?

A spokesman for Johansson said she has "respectfully" decided to end her ambassador role after eight years because of a "fundamental difference of opinion". Previously, Johansson argues that she is a "supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine". She says that SodaStream is a company that is "not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine".

What does SodaStream say?

The company's chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, insists his Israeli and Palestinian staff are treated equally, that his company helps put food on the table for hundreds of Palestinian families daily and calls his factory "a model for peace". However, one unnamed Palestinian employee told Reuters there was "a lot of racism" at work. "Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can't ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced," he added.

Wasn't Johannson's SodaStream advert banned?

The original advert has had to be edited, but this was not related to the West Bank row. In the last few seconds of the advert, Johansson originally said: "Sorry, Coke and Pepsi". Fox – which will air the Super Bowl – apparently feared this would upset its halftime sponsor, Pepsi, and asked for the line to be pulled.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

Well done Scarlett

Brava, Scarlett!!

Oxfam's got it wrong; Johansson's got it right. It may seem counter to the prevailing 'right-on' opinions of popular opinion in the West, but you'd be shamefully wrong to think that prevailing opinion's got it right. It hasn't. There's NO good guys here; NO simple or straightforward solutions. You can pretty well say that each side is as stubborn as the other. And it's interesting how little support or aid ever comes from all the wealthy Arab countries in the Middle East. And they almost never stump up any meaningful assistance. They sit on the fence on the issue of the Palestinians' future, preferring the gesture politics of pretending to hate the Israelis - a far easier, if somewhat pointless, political target. Yet if you look closely, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are closer politically to Israel than to their Palestinian 'brothers' - and much the same can be said for Turkey. Hmm ... not so straightforward after all, is it? So Johansson is no pariah or sell-out queen, thank you, but actually rather an astute young woman - as anyone who's ever spoken with her should know by now. She ain't at all your typical Tinseltown pretty face. If you think that, you know nuttin'. It's Oxfam who, not for the first time, end up looking like undergrad students with their simplistic, single-issue attitude to politics. They do themselves no favours by looking like hot-air merchants, yet again.

Sodastream? what year is it? 1984?