Bubbled Over

Oxfam Cuts Ties to Scarlett Johansson Over SodaStream Ads

A Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream has put an end to the actress’s work for the humanitarian group. How an Israeli factory’s location led to the star’s charity breakup.

After a fruitful eight-year relationship, Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam International have called it quits.

The rift began when the A-list actress signed on to star in SodaStream’s upcoming Super Bowl commercial and serve as the carbonated-beverage company’s first brand ambassador in mid-January. The partnership prompted anger from Palestinian advocates: an Oxfam ambassador would be representing an Israeli company that operates in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

For a week, it seemed to bubble beneath the surface.

But last Wednesday, Oxfam, the international aid and development group, proved it had been paying attention when it announced talks were in the works with Johansson, though it did not ask the actress to sever her new endorsement deal. Two days later, Johansson defended herself in a blog post on The Huffington Post, writing she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement,” but stood behind SodaStream and hoped it would “contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two-state solution in the near future.”

As international media attention on the issue ramped up, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement urged Oxfam to drop Johansson. On Wednesday, Johansson made the first move, saying in a statement she would step down from Oxfam, due to a “fundamental difference of opinion” with the international organization. The next day, Oxfam wrote in a statement that it had accepted Johansson’s resignation, and that while their ambassadors are independent, her “role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”

SodaStream, an Israeli company with 25 plants around the world, operates its main factory in a West Bank settlement called Ma’ale Adumim, an industrial park 15 minutes outside Jerusalem. The facility sits on land that is under Israeli government control, on ground claimed after 1967’s Six-Day War, in a zone known as Area C, on the line separating Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In all, West Bank settlements host an estimated 600 Israeli-owned factories.

After being featured in an advertisement that was banned at last year’s Super Bowl, SodaStream faced an onslaught of criticism for its West Bank location. The company defends the site, where it says it’s a much-needed economic opportunity for workers in the area, including Palestinians. Chief Executive Daniel Birnbaum has long touted the equal wages and benefits his company provides to its 500 West Bank Palestinian workers, 400 Arabs, and 200 Jews and foreign refugees. “We’re very proud to be here and contribute to the coexistence and hopefully the peace in this region,” Birnbaum recently said.

On Thursday, the conflicting viewpoints between Oxfam and Johansson finally boiled over.

In its statement, Oxfam noted it opposed all trade with companies aligned with the occupied territories, and said SodaStream and other businesses in Israeli settlements ”further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”

On a separate page, Oxfam lauded Johansson’s “many contributions” to international relief effort, from her first involvement after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to her recent video appealing for help to the areas hit by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

But it’s not the first time Oxfam has severed ties because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2009, Sex and the City actress and Oxfam ambassador Kristin Davis was suspended from her role after partnering with Ahava, an Israeli beauty company that also manufacturers products in a West Bank factory. Davis was later dropped by Ahava and returned to promoting Oxfam’s causes.

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Johansson’s departure drops the number of Oxfam celebrity ambassadors to 16. The organization won’t be lacking in star power for its causes: Its list of representatives boasts the likes of Colin Firth, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Helen Mirren.

Meanwhile, Johansson will be sipping her home-carbonated beverage on your TV screen this Super Bowl Sunday, with no strings attached.