Scarlett Johansson announced Wednesday that she is stepping down as “global ambassador” of Oxfam due to the backlash against her role as the new face of SodaStream, an Israeli company that operates a large factory in a West Bank settlement, the Associated Press has reported.
“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” read the statement by her publicist quoted in AP. “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.”
Oxfam, which issued a statement last week questioning and criticizing her SodaStream deal – but without making a decision regarding her position – issued a statement Thursday that it accepted the actress’ decision to step down and is grateful for her contributions. It added that her “role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador (emphasis mine),” and reiterated its opposition to any form of trade from Israeli settlements “which are illegal under international law.” According to Oxfam, businesses like SodaStream that operate in the settlements “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”
Johansson’s statement is a bit muddled and misleading. She cites differences regarding BDS, despite the fact that Oxfam has never come out in support of it, nor has it taken specific position on the movement as a whole as far as I am aware. Rather, Oxfam is against doing business with settlements, which is equivalent to the positions of many Israelis and American Jews. For example, American Jewish columnist Peter Beinart supports a settlement boycott but is not an advocate of an academic boycott, nor a proponent of the BDS movement as a whole.
Johansson’s statement implies that she is choosing SodaStream over Oxfam because she is not an advocate of BDS. But this is an inaccurate and problematic statement, in which she seems to be trying get off the hook under false pretenses. And because she fails to take a clear and specific stand on Israel’s nearly half-century-long military occupation and settlement project (considered illegal by the world), the message she send is that she is pro-occupation, or in the very least, that she is not anti-occupation. That’s a copout, especially considering she has already shown through her political involvement in Oxfam and the Democratic Party that she, as Emily Greenhouse rightly pointed out in The New Yorker, “wants to use her celebrity responsibly.”
Because Oxfam explicitly states that Johansson presented an “incompatibility” with their mission, it is unclear why the organization refused to take a stronger position and inform her from the get-go that she cannot continue to represent them and SodaStream at the same time. I have posed this question to their media spokesperson, and will update the post once I get a response.
UPDATE, 1:45 P.M.: Oxfam media coordinator Alun McDonald responded to my queries. He confirmed that Oxfam does not oppose trade with Israel, but rather is “strongly opposed to trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Regarding their lack of immediate action, he responded: “We made our opposition to settlements clear from the start, and since then we’ve been discussing our different positions with Ms. Johansson to try and reach an agreement on the way forward. We’ve worked with Ms. Johansson a long time and value the relationship so we had hoped to resolve this through dialogue.”