In a meeting at Oxfam America’s Boston headquarters Tuesday afternoon, local human rights advocates urged representatives of the international aid agency Oxfam to be true to the organization’s principles and cut ties with their Global Ambassador Scarlett Johansson if she remains the Global Brand Ambassador for SodaStream, a company that operates a factory in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. In Los Angeles and New York, human rights groups delivered a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to Johansson’s representatives at Creative Artists Agency. The petition calls on the Hollywood actress to end her relationship with SodaStream.
Also Tuesday, Oxfam America’s Washington D.C office refused to meet with a visiting delegation, or to receive the same petition addressed to Johansson.
The meeting and visits in four U.S. cities came amidst a viral debate in mainstream and social media about Johansson’s role as a Global Ambassador for both Oxfam and SodaStream. On Tuesday a Twitter Thunderclap organized by CODEPINK: Women for Peace with the message “Tell Oxfam to drop SodaStream Ambassador Scarlett Johansson. Occupation isn’t green or ‘guilt free’” had a social reach of nearly 2 million people. Online memes contrasting Johansson’s support for a settlement-based “green” drink company with Israel’s systematic repression of the Palestinian people have also captured media and popular attention.
In Boston advocates from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights(BCPR), American Jews for a Just Peace, and First Church in Cambridge (UCC) Israel/Palestine Task Team told Oxfam staff they needed to take a stand after Johansson came out in support of Israeli occupation and settlements in a Friday statement.
Nancy Murray, a member of BCPR explained, “Among our group that met with Oxfam were four people who had recently been to the West Bank and who spoke about the destructive impact on the ground of the city-settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim where SodaStream is manufactured. Oxfam has stated that it is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. It should now stand by these words.”
In response, Oxfam representatives told the group that the matter was under “serious consideration.”
A Los Angeles delegation from JVP and Christian Peacemakers Team explained their concerns about SodaStream to assistants for Bryan Lourd and Jim Toth, Johansson’s agents at Creative Artists Agency. They gave her agents the petition with 10,000 signatures, which calls on Johansson to “stand on the right side of history and end your [her] relationship with SodaStream,” plus letters from JVP, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and CODEPINK addressed to both Oxfam and Johansson. In New York, a delegation from CODEPINK and Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel delivered a similar information packet to the assistant of Joe Machota, Johansson’s Talent Agent at CAA.
But in Washington, D.C., Oxfam America staff turned away a delegation from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, CODEPINK, JVP, and the US Palestinian Community Network, saying that their concerns and information could only be received by their office in Boston.
A large network of Palestinian non-profits, including some Oxfam partners, and Palestinian civil society groups have both issued statements criticizing Oxfam for failing to distance itself from Johansson over her support for SodaStream.
Responding to criticism, Johansson said on Friday, “I stand behind the SodaStream product.” Oxfam followed with a statement saying, “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… We have been engaged in dialogue with Scarlett Johansson… Oxfam is now considering the implications of her new statement and what it means for Ms. Johansson’s role as an Oxfam global ambassador.” The organization has made no further comment, with the exception of a quickly deleted tweet from Oxfam GB on Monday promising “a fuller statement very soon.”