News Carol Hunt

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Scarlett clear in her reasons for ending role as Oxfam ambassador

Scarlett and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion when it comes to boycotts, writes Carol Hunt

Published 09/02/2014 | 02:30

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Actress Scarlett Johansson is ending her relationship with Oxfam International after being criticised over her support for an Israeli company that operates in the West Bank. AP
Actress Scarlett Johansson is ending her relationship with Oxfam International after being criticised over her support for an Israeli company that operates in the West Bank. AP

Poor Scarlett Johansson. Once the liberals' favourite luvvie, she now stands accused of being a money-grabbing, apartheid-supporting, anti-democratic hypocrite. From icon to demon in a matter of weeks. Dear me. What on earth did the sweet-faced, pillow-lipped actress do? Agree to get paid millions to star in a film eulogising North Korea? Tweet her support for Bashar al-Assad? Invade Iraq?

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Nope, it was worse than that. What Scarlett did was to agree to become the brand ambassador for a SodaStream company. Meanwhile, Johansson has also worked as a global ambassador for Oxfam for the past eight years, visiting places like post-tsunami Sri Lanka, drought-hit Kenya and India – where she personally provided three years' funding for an Oxfam school. By all accounts, including Oxfam's, she was a very successful and dedicated ambassador.

So what's the problem? Well, SodaStream International is an Israeli company. Perhaps that's why Scarlett accepted the post as its brand ambassador, being half Jewish herself. But the SodaStream factory is built in what is called Zone C – right in the middle of the disputed area of the West Bank. Though the area is technically under Israeli control, it is still subject to disputes between Israelis and Palestinians. However, former Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, praised the Soda-Stream factory just last November, calling it a "beacon of co-operation" between Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinian workers say they take home "three to four times the common wages in the territories as well as pensions and medical insurance".

Nevertheless, Oxfam wasn't too happy when it heard about Scarlett's new job. Its bosses hummed and hawed for a while and then, under pressure from the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, voiced their disquiet at their ambassador becoming involved with such a company. No doubt they expected that Scarlett would quickly cave in, apologise, and promise never, ever to do anything so ridiculous again.

But she didn't. Scarlett decided to give up her role as ambassador for Oxfam and go with SodaStream. The reason? A statement released said: "She [Johansson] and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement."

But Scarlett is a good girl, a charity worker, a defender of human rights. Why would she have a "fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement"? Why would she risk her career and good name for a bit of extra cash from a foreign fizzy-drinks company?

Perhaps it has something to do with the aims of the BDS movement. They're the people who boycott and protest against shops that stock Israeli produce, theatres and cinemas that show Israeli productions, and academics who come from Israel. They denounce any artist who visits Israel. Strangely, these people never advocate a boycott of other Middle Eastern countries that horrifically oppress their own citizens, nor did they suggest a boycott of American and British goods during those countries' occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. No, it's always just 'evil Israel' that gets singled out.

Last year, intellectual Norman Finkelstein, long a critic of the Israeli government and supporter of Palestinian rights, explained the "three tier" aims of the BDS movement.

One: that Israel end its occupation of Arab lands conquered from Jordan and Egypt in 1967. (The West Bank was annexed by Jordan and the Gaza Strip occupied by Egypt following the 1948 war – neither was remotely interested in the establishment of a Palestinian State.)

Two: that Israel end all forms of discrimination and guarantee equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Three: that Israel respect the rights of Palestinian refugees, including the right of return.

All of the above sounds very desirable, doesn't it? Except what, exactly, does "right of return" entail? Well, essentially, it means that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants who left the area now known as the State of Israel, from 1948 and onwards, have the right to return to that land. That still sounds fair, doesn't it? Except, as Finkelstein put it, "they [BDS supporters] think they are very clever, because they know the result of implementing all three is what? You and I know what the result is: there's no Israel."

And there really is no disputing this. The Israelis have known for years that right of return, coupled with a democratic one person, one vote, would mean that Israel would immediately be voted out of existence. There would be no two-state solution. The only democracy in the Middle-East would vanish – and then what would happen to the Jewish population living there? I suspect we could have a good, if gruesome, guess.

This is why, although there are many Israelis who disagree with settlements – and are very vocal about this – there are some who believe that they are a powerful negotiating tool. Last week, Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon said (at the Munich Security Conference) he was not willing to talk about giving up "one inch" unless the Palestinians agree that "at the end of the [current] process, the framework of the negotiations will include the recognition of our right to exist as a nation-state of the Jewish people, a finality of claims, giving up the right of return and addressing our security needs".

Israel is, understandably, terrified that the continual refusal of many of her neighbours (and remember Israel is about the size of Leinster) to recognise her right to exist will result in her eventual annihilation. Certainly, Hamas has repeatedly insisted that this is its ultimate intention. And the insistence of BDS supporters on the Arab "right to return" bolsters this aim.

Perhaps this is why Scarlett Johansson, half Jewish herself, anxious not to be seen to support the extermination of the Jewish State, decided to stick with SodaStream rather than Oxfam.

Since that decision, a multitude of reporters have descended on the Soda-Stream factory to talk to the Palestinian workers there. One young woman, proudly displaying her Palestinian flag bracelet, said: "We are human, we earn good money and the work is good."

"I talk a lot to friends abroad," said a young man. "They say, 'You are an Arab. How can you work there?'" He answered: "Nobody knows there are 1,000 people and their lives will be turned upside down by the boycott. You are killing them, so stop it."

Irish Independent

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