By Ali Abunimah
Human rights defenders took some encouragement yesterday from a statement by Oxfam implicitly criticizing Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson for a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with the Israeli-occupation profiteering firm SodaStream.
Johansson is also an “Oxfam Global Ambassador,” representing the human rights and development charity and helping it raise money around the world.
The Oxfam statement said that it was in “dialogue” with Johannson, suggesting that action might be forthcoming.
But yesterday, an excellent post on the growing controversy, by Robert Mackey, for The Lede blog at nytimes.com, revealed:
A spokesman for Oxfam, Matt Herrick, told The Lede in an email on Thursday that the group had not asked Ms. Johansson to withdraw from her endorsement deal with SodaStream. Oxfam objected in 2009 when another ambassador, the American actress Kristin Davis, agreed to endorse Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics company that also has a factory in a West Bank settlement. After a wave of negative publicity, Ahava and Ms. Davis quickly parted ways.
This is quite disturbing. Given the facts, the very least Oxfam could do is to give Johansson a clear choice: them or us. It is impossible to be an “ambassador” both for a human rights group and for human rights abusers!
Oxfam’s earlier statement said that it had informed Johansson “that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”
Mackey’s post provides details about SodaStream’s presence in an illegal West Bank settlement, as well as providing information on the routine abuses in industrial zones in the occupied West Bank (among other sources, Mackey cites The Electronic Intifada’s report from last year “SodaStream ‘treats us like slaves,’ says Palestinian factory worker”).
“Oxfam has been clear about settlements being a major barrier for peace, which makes it baffling that they would not ask their own Global Ambassador to end her support for a company based in a settlement and profiting from exploiting Palestinian land, labor, and resources,” Ramah Kudaimi of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, wrote The Electronic Intifada in an email.
“We call again on Oxfam to hold up its values and cut ties with Scarlett,” Kudaimi added.
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation recently issued an action alert asking people to contact Oxfam America president Raymond Offenheiser, to urge that Oxfam “press Scarlett to end her deal with SodaStream or…end its relationship with the actress to send the message that supporting companies that profit from occupation and human rights abuses is unacceptable.”
Oxfam’s hiding behind “dialogue” while failing to act is no different from the US-sponsored so-called “peace process” in which Palestinians are invited to engage in endless “dialogue” with Israel, while Israel continues to gobble up their land.
Groups like Oxfam are supposed to provide a civil society alternative to such government duplicity. Instead, we see Oxfam emulating it in the most cowardly way.
It’s time for Oxfam to act on its principles instead of just talking about them.
I will be tweeting this post at @Oxfam and @OxfamAmerica as well as some of the key personnel who have been disseminating the “dialogue” statement online.
These include @Winnie_Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam international, @Mark_Goldring1, chief executive of Oxfam UK and @mattmherrick, director of media for Oxfam America.
While Oxfam hides, the controversy and attention Johansson’s shameful deal with SodaStream is attracting only continues to grow.