Defending SodaStream during a recent interview, Scarlett Johansson states she doesn’t see the problem in the seltzer-maker’s operations in a West Bank settlement. Johansson endorsed the product in a highly-controversial Super Bowl ad last month. But regarding the legality of Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine, she says: “that’s very easily debatable ….there’s no right side or wrong side leaning on this issue.”
And Johansson answered with a definitive “No” when Guardian reporter, author Carole Cadwalladr, suggested perhaps she’d “unwittingly inserted herself ” into the conflict, and this was all some sort of mistake. It’s a startling conversation.
Cadwalladr’s article, daring in its purview, is titled Scarlett Johansson interview: ‘I would way rather not have middle ground’, in reference to the actress’s line on the mixed audience reaction after a premier viewing of her new sci fi flick “Under the Skin” at the Venice Film Festival .
Then Johansson is queried about the pedophilia allegation against her director Woody Allen: “It would be ridiculous for me to make any kind of assumption one way or the other.”
That’s when a gutsy Cadwalladr steps up her game and inserts SodaStream into the discourse. Some of Johansson’s comments– she knew about the settlement issue ahead of time, that “still doesn’t seem like a problem,” but “there’s something… not right” about Oxfam’s position on settlements– are simply stunning. Check it out:
She’s flustered [by the Woody Allen question], and since I’ve been given the wind-up signal by the publicist, I move on to an even more difficult subject. SodaStream. When I Google “Scarlett Johansson” the fizzy-drinks maker is the third predictive search suggestion in the list, after “Scarlett Johansson hot” – before even “Scarlett Johansson bum”. A month ago, Johansson found herself caught up in a raging news story when it emerged Oxfam had written to her regarding her decision to become a brand ambassador for SodaStream. The company, it transpired, manufactures its products in a factory in a settlement on the West Bank, and while “Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors,” it wrote, it also “believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support”.
Johansson responded by stepping down from her Oxfam role. From afar, it looked liked she’d received very poor advice; that someone who is paid good money to protect her interests hadn’t done the necessary research before she’d accepted the role and that she’d unwittingly inserted herself into the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflict. By the time Oxfam raised the issue, she was going to get flak if she did step down, flak if she didn’t. Was the whole thing just a bit of a mistake?
But she shakes her head. “No, I stand behind that decision. I was aware of that particular factory before I signed it.” Really? “Yes, and… it still doesn’t seem like a problem. Until someone has a solution to the closing of that factory to leaving all those people destitute, that doesn’t seem like the solution to the problem.”
But the international community says that the settlements are illegal and shouldn’t be there. “I think that’s something that’s very easily debatable. In that case, I was literally plunged into a conversation that’s way grander and larger than this one particular issue. And there’s no right side or wrong side leaning on this issue.”
Except, there’s a lot of unanimity, actually, I say, about the settlements on the West Bank. “I think in the UK there is,” she says. “That’s one thing I’ve realised… I’m coming into this as someone who sees that factory as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.”
Well, not just the UK. There’s also the small matter of the UN security council, the UN general assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice… which all agree that they’re in contravention of international law. Half of me admires Johansson for sticking to her guns – her mother is Jewish and she obviously has strong opinions about Israel and its policies. Half of me thinks she’s hopelessly naive. Or, most likely, poorly advised. Of all the conflicts in all the world to plant yourself in the middle of…
“When I say a mistake,” I say, “I mean partly because people saw you making a choice between Oxfam – a charity that is out to alleviate global poverty – and accepting a lot of money to advertise a product for a commercial company. For a lot of people, that’s like making a choice between charity – good – and lots of money – greed.”
“Sure I think that’s the way you can look at it. But I also think for a non-governmental organisation to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause… there’s something that feels not right about that to me. There’s plenty of evidence that Oxfam does support and has funded a BDS [boycott, divest, sanctions] movement in the past. It’s something that can’t really be denied.” When I contacted Oxfam, it denied this.
Very strange. If Johansson doesn’t see herself as supporting a political cause, she’s blind.