New Yorker writer Emily Greenhouse has picked up the story of Scarlett Johansson becoming a “Global Brand Ambassador” for SodaStream and says Johansson may catch some fallout.
SodaStream, an Israeli company, has a factory in the Mishor Adumim Industrial Zone, in the occupied West Bank. Companies in the region, SodaStream included, have faced boycotts and even import bans, part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, an international campaign that exerts political and economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Arab land and establish a Palestinian state. Obama and both of his Secretaries of State have criticized aspects of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. On Wednesday, some online commentators were less than pleased to see the Hollywood starlet lauding a company that manufactures in the Occupied Territories. She stood before a backdrop that read “set the bubbles free,” after the C.E.O. had lauded the “empowerment” his company brings.
And after laying out examples of celebrity misbehavior injuring the brands they were associated with, Greenhouse says the inverse may be true here:
But in all these cases, it has been the human partner whose behavior causes friction. In the case of Johansson and SodaStream, the opposite is true. Any excoriation of Johansson will come not from the company but from the public—especially in countries less politically friendly with Israel, who may label her as insensitive or irresponsible.
Greenhouse then gets to the nut of the piece, which includes a mention of our very own Annie Robbins:
How accountable should a brand ambassador be for the actions of a company she represents? Johansson hasn’t been criticized much for the prison sentence handed down to Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana for considerable tax crimes; should she be—or is it different because she’s only their model, not an “ambassador?” The Daily Beast somewhat flippantly dismissed the conversation over Johansson’s joining up with SodaStream as a “fake” controversy stirred up by Al Jazeera—among the first to draw attention to the issue—based on a handful of angry tweets. But, regardless of whether you support or oppose SodaStream’s plant location, doing business in the Occupied Territories seems, by its very nature, political. . .
Last fall, Johansson told Harper’s Bazaar that she wouldn’t rule out a political career in the future. If she runs for office, many Americans wouldn’t be fazed by her allegiance with the brand SodaStream; most likely, only a minority would agree with the blogger Annie Robbins, who wrote on the Middle East news site of Philip Weiss, an anti-Zionist Jewish-American journalist, that Johansson’s ties with SodaStream make her “the new face of apartheid.” But surely it would matter to some. Even if Johansson stays out of politics, this dust-up could impact her image. That’s the problem with celebrity ambassadorship: you agree to a quasi-diplomatic role without being trained whatsoever in the art of diplomacy. Ambassadors—the traditional sort—spend years navigating the minefields of political relations; Johansson has spent her career in ball gowns and lace, Vermeeresque pearls, and cat suits.
The piece even includes a sly endorsement of BDS. Greenhouse references the common claim that a SodaStream boycott will hurt its Palestinian employees and responds, “Perhaps this is P.R.-minded nonsense. But who can measure, or say, whether boycotting SodaStream would help the intangible cause of Palestinian nationhood more than it harms the lives of tangible Palestinian employees?”
Interestingly enough Greenhouse uses the story of Kristen Davis as a cautionary tale for celebrities that end up on the wrong side of a corporate endorsement in Israel/Palestine. You may remember that Davis’s role as an “Oxfam Ambassador” was threatened by her association with Ahava cosmetics, also based in the occupied territories. In the end Davis stayed with Oxfam after severing ties with Ahava. Greenhouse mentions Johansson also serves as Oxfam’s “global ambassador.” How soon before her ties to SodaStream bring this relationship into question?