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Scarlett Johansson parrots SodaStream CEO in attack on Oxfam

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Scarlett Johansson. (Photo: Getty Images)

Actress and SodaStream spokesperson Scarlett Johansson accused the international charity Oxfam of “funding” the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in an interview with the Guardian. Journalist Carole Cadwalladr contacted Oxfam for fair comment in her report where Johansson reaffirmed support for the controversial Israeli factory located over the Green Line. But the take was skimpy. Here’s Cadwalladr and Johansson (who is quoted first):

‘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.

After reading the interview I contacted Oxfam for a more detailed response. The head of media Matthew Grainger said via email:

We appreciate Ms Johansson’s past work as an Ambassador for Oxfam International and we share her desire for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East.

Oxfam is not opposed to trade with Israel and we do not fund activities such as BDS that call for a boycott of Israel.  Oxfam works with almost 50 Israeli and Palestinian organisations to reduce poverty and address injustice. Our work focuses on agricultural development, emergency and primary health, education, protection of civilians, and the rights of women. For example, we support cooperatives of women olive producers to improve the quality of their oil and reach wider markets.

In our daily work we see the negative impact of Israeli settlements on the lives and livelihoods of Palestinian businesses, farmers and herders. Some Palestinians do find work in settlement farms and factories, but this is often because they are restricted from pursuing other livelihoods and have little other choice.

In February Oxfam already addressed their stance on BDS in a FAQ on their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One question asked “Does Oxfam support a boycott of Israel?”. The answer:

No. We oppose trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank because they are illegally built on occupied land, increase poverty among Palestinians, and threaten the chances of a two-state solution. However, we are not opposed to trade with Israel and we do not support a boycott of Israel, or any other country.

We do not fund activities that call for a boycott, divestment or sanctions. Oxfam believes that a vibrant civil society is the best way to overcome global poverty and injustice, and we know that a strong civil society will have many different opinions and approaches. We work with more than 30 diverse Israeli and Palestinian partners and we do not expect that all of them agree with us on all policy issues. Some of them may support a boycott, but we do not fund this part of their work.

Oxfam also does not fund or support any organizations that promote anti-Semitic or any other discriminatory practices, or advocate violence. We believe that trade with settlements, or companies located in settlements, contributes to legitimizing their presence and denying the rights of Palestinians. We promote ethical consumption and we support the right of consumers to know the origin of the products they purchase. Therefore we urge the Israeli government to ensure proper labeling of Israeli products and of settlement products so that consumers can differentiate between them. [Emphasis in original]

Moreover, Oxfam runs programs inside of Israel for the benefit of impoverished Israelis, including dialogue programs that do not meet the guidelines set out by the BDS movement. Here’s a description of their work from Oxfam’s website:

In Israel, we work with partners that reach out to communities that have been traditionally marginalized, including impoverished Ethiopian-Jewish communities, Mizrahi and other immigrant women’s groups, disenfranchised youth, Bedouins, and Arab citizens of Israel. We have also supported community groups in southern Israel that promote dialogue and an end to cross border violence. Oxfam also works with Israeli human rights organizations protecting the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Yet the mystery remains, who told Johansson it “can’t really be denied” that Oxfam supports BDS? That answer is SodaStream, specifically its CEO Daniel Birnbaum who  made the first and same public accusation in Haaretz last month. “Unsurprisingly, Oxfam has joined the BDS in this movement [to close down the West Bank factory],” said Birnbaum, continuing, “I’m saying unsurprisingly because we found out that some of the Oxfam branches have been donating funds to the BDS, and this money is used to demonize and attack Israel.”

Birnbaum then went on to stress that he personally advises Johansson, which would explain to followers of “SodaGate” why the actress’s remarks sound like talking points from the company that employs her.  Again from Haaretz:

Birnbaum said he has been in touch with her regularly since her decision to cut ties with Oxfam. ‘She was very disturbed by having to withdraw from Oxfam,’ he said. “In her words, she loved working for them, and she felt that their cause, to fight poverty around the world, was a very important cause. She did not leave them wantingly, and I felt bad for the way it all evolved, but in the end I believe that it will be for the better because by leaving Oxfam – this is my interpretation – she’s actually exposed the hypocrisy of that organization that because of political motivations, perhaps because of financial motivations.

Birnbaum’s accusations were lobbed at Oxfam during a press call organized by The Israel Project, an advocacy group whose raison d’être is connecting journalists—from Wolf Blitzer to Jon Stewart—to pro-Israel talking points.

Mislabeled SodaStream mailing label. List origin as "Airport City, Ben Gurion Airport," instead of Mishor Adumim, an Israeli settlement industrial zone in the West Bank. (Photo: Who Profits)

Mislabeled SodaStream mailing label. List origin as “Airport City, Ben Gurion Airport,” instead of Mishor Adumim, an Israeli settlement industrial zone in the West Bank. (Photo: Who Profits)

Still some confusion over Oxfam’s stance on the BDS movement is warranted. In the past they funded the Coalition of Women for Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian feminist organization that oversees the Who Profits from the Israeli Occupation? project. Who Profits was “initiated in response to the Palestinian call for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement,” but the organization’s role is not advocacy. They produce reports and have a popular online portal with information about Israeli and international companies that violate international law by setting up shop on occupied territory. With respect to SodaStream, the group drafted a case study that implicated the carbonated device manufacturer with trade fraud. Who Profits discovered SodaStream products shipped to the European market mislabeled as being produced in “Airport City, Ben Gurion Airport,” rather than in a settlement.

Because of Who Profits’s research mislabeled products, or products and services that violate a corporation’s social responsibility policy have lost contracts. Indeed Birnbaum have even stated the BDS movement is a financial “risk factor” for SodaStream. It may be understandable that there was an initial misunderstanding regarding Oxfam’s policy towards BDS, however the charity has repeatedly provided clarification that Birnbaum and through his advisement, Johansson, have chosen to ignore.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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14 Responses

  1. alan on March 18, 2014, 9:34 am

    Good investigation! (but please sort out the last paragraph – its a mess!)

  2. Kathleen on March 18, 2014, 10:08 am

    Keep digging Scarlet

  3. hophmi on March 18, 2014, 10:44 am

    Again, you guys are not intellectually consistent. I’m sure you understand the Oxfam-supports-BDS argument. Oxfam supports a number of Palestinian NGO’s. These NGO have pro-BDS stances. Therefore, Oxfam supports BDS, if only indirectly, even if they take no position, or an anti-position, on the BDS movement.

    You make exactly the same argument Johansson and NGO Monitor does to justify your academic and cultural boycott. Israeli academic institutions sometimes work with the Israeli government on joint projects. The Israeli government supports the settlements and is responsible for occupation policy. Therefore, even though academic institutions may take no position, or even an anti- position, with regard to the occupation, you argue that they are complicit by virtue of their relationship to the Israeli government, no matter how attenuated. The argument for Israeli cultural institutions is probably even more indirect.

    So if you’re going to argue that Israeli civil society should be subjected to a boycott for these indirect relationships, you must accept Scarlett Johansson’s argument that Oxfam is a supporter of BDS because of its indirect support.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on March 18, 2014, 3:28 pm

      Except that Johansson didn’t make the argument you are helpfully attributing to her. Given that she can’t form a coherent sentence, articulating any kind of ‘argument’ would be beyond her. Even when the argument is as bogus as yours.

      ”So if you’re going to argue that Israeli civil society should be subjected to a boycott for these indirect relationships”

      So working on an Israeli government project is an ‘indirect relationship’? I wonder what your idea of a ‘direct relationship’ is?

      ”even though academic institutions may take no position, or even an anti- position, with regard to the occupation”

      Can you provide details of all the these institutions which take an ‘anti-position’ (sic) on the occupation? While you’re at it, could you also detail the practical measures these institutions take in support of their ‘anti-position’ on the occupation?

  4. ivri on March 18, 2014, 10:56 am

    Israel seems like a “black hole” that devours all those that want to hurt it or even just defame it (whatever other good things they might be doing). This includes the Human Right council in the UN, which lost its credibility when it turned out that the vast majority of its condemnations were of Israel, the Human Right Watch was disowned by its founder when it turned once against Israel, Amnesty made itself several times look ridiculous by a strong bias against Israel (and a “recommendation: that nobody pays attention to of stopping arms supply to Israel) and now Oxfam – and that is just few examples that come to mind. The reason is that the anti-Israel stance is often a litmus test for general integrity and readiness to see things fairly, while not succumbing to what “the mob” advocates (a test that this actress did pass)

    • talknic on March 18, 2014, 4:41 pm

      ivri ” includes the Human Right council in the UN, which lost its credibility “

      Is that the same Human Rights Council Israel joined?

      “..strong bias against Israel…”

      Reminders to Israel of the law, UN Charter and relevant conventions aren’t bias, they’re OPPORTUNITIES for Israel to adhere to the law. Israel instead builds more illegal facts on the ground, slaughters more non-Jews and whines incessantly that it’s the victim. It’s one sick little puppy spewing on everyone’s carpet

  5. amigo on March 18, 2014, 10:58 am

    Note to miss scar-jo.

    You are on the payroll of a war criminal!!.

    “UN report says Israel could be prosecuted for war crimes over settlements
    UN human rights investigators called on Israel on Thursday to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half a million Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.

    A three-member UN panel said private companies should stop working in the settlements if their work adversely affected the human rights of Palestinians, and urged member states to ensure companies respected human rights.

    “Israel must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedy to the victims of violations of human rights,” Christine Chanet, a French judge who led the inquiry, told a news conference.

    The settlements contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory and could amount to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations report said. ”

    Remember Scar-jo, you are who you hang around with.

  6. seafoid on March 18, 2014, 11:27 am

    What an airhead. Dan Quayle standard

  7. Rusty Pipes on March 18, 2014, 1:00 pm

    Of course ScarJo parrots SodaStream’s CEO, she’s signed on to be the ambassador for an Israeli company for the next year. Just as Israeli ambassadors parrot the Foreign Ministry’s hasbara, ScarJo parrots SodaStream’s hasbara. Surely you weren’t expecting diplomacy.

  8. Denis on March 18, 2014, 5:26 pm

    Haven’t we driven this ScarJo thing into the ground? Who cares if SJ talks to Birnbaum?

    The SuperBowl is over, the ad’s done with and forgotten, both SS and SJ made out big time by all the poopaa.

    The conversation on MW is beginning to sound like a bunch of beauty parlor patrons whose understanding of world events is limited to what they find in Entertainment Today. Surely the bandwidth could be used for something more meaningful, and yes, I know, stop calling you “Shirley.”

  9. DICKERSON3870 on March 18, 2014, 11:51 pm

    RE: “Yet the mystery remains, who told Johansson it ‘can’t really be denied’ that Oxfam supports BDS? That answer is SodaStream, specifically its CEO Daniel Birnbaum who made the first and same public accusation in Haaretz last month.” ~ Deger

    MY COMMENT: It’s never really been a mystery to me. Scarlett Johansson, being the ever dutiful, airhead* actor/actress, is merely reciting the lines scripted and given to her by SodaStream (her employer). Johansson is saying what SodaStream is paying her to say (irrespective of the truth). And that is how capitalism works!

    * SEE: “Scarlett Johansson reveals ‘pretty low’ SAT score”, by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper,, 10/02/13

    [EXCERPT] High school was half a lifetime ago, but actress Scarlett Johansson, 28, still remembers her SAT score.

    The “Don Jon” star sat down for a chat with director Darren Aronofsky for Interview magazine, and the question-and-answer format made her think of that long-ago exam.

    She asked Aronofsky for her SAT score, and the director at first said he didn’t remember. But Johansson recalled hers, from her days at New York’s Professional Children’s School.

    “I think the way it worked when I took them was that they were out of 1,600, so maybe you’d get a 1,240 if you were a smarty-pants,” she said. “I got a 1,080, which was pretty low. But that was probably because I didn’t answer half of the math questions.”

    Aronofsky later confessed he did know his SAT score, which was 1,360. “You suck,” said Johansson. “Damn it … Now I feel like a big dummy with 1,080.” . . .

    SOURCE –

  10. Citizen on March 19, 2014, 7:19 pm

    So ScarJo can read a script from Sodastream’s CEO…. well, she is an actress. But her films don’t support ethnic cleansing and belligerent occupation in daily real life. At least not so far… Mommy’s proud of her?

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