Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream: What’s the Big Deal?

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Scarlett Johansson, who starred in films including Lost in Translation and The Avengers, is presently in the middle of a publicity mess involving Arab-Israili-politics, the super bowl, and her role in both Oxfam and SodaStream. Johansson was, up until recently, the celebrity representative for Oxfam International, a non-profit international aid organization. She also took the position of spokesperson for SodaStream, which makes machines used for homemade carbonated beverage.This last resulted in her appearing in a commercial for SodaStream.

The reason that the whole thing has become such a hotly contested media fest stems from the location of SodaStream’s factories, which is in the West Bank in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, according to NPR. Palestinians are angry with the present Israeli settlements built there, and in other areas in that region, making the location of the factory controversial. The factory itself employs both Palestinians and Israelis, and not all Palestinians are as against it.

“I don’t like the settlements,” said the CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum, to NPR. He has spoken against discrimination of the Palestinian workers there, and notes that his displeasure regarding the settlements doesn’t mean he wants the factory closed. “I don’t want to send 5,000 people into hunger because some activist group thinks that’s going to promote peace. I don’t see how that’s going to serve any good purpose,” said Birnbaum.

Oxfam International and all other nations consider the Israeli settlements to be illegal, and Johansson’s role as spokesperson for the the factory there has led her to leave her position as Oxfam’s ambassador. Earlier, before this whole mess came to a head, she called the factory “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits, and equal rights,” according to NPR.

She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam,” said a statement from her spokesperson provided to the Associated Press. The Oxfam founder, Hubert Murray, told NPR that the group should not have waited for Johannson to resign, but rather, to let her go. “This is a very subtle and complex ethical issue. That’s why it’s so important for organizations like Oxfam to have very clear adherence to principle, and no shilly-shally and prevaricate,” said Murray.

In an interview with the Jewish Daily Forward, Birnbaum went so far as to call the factory location “a pain in the ass,” but added that, “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda. [I] just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them.” SodaStream was the first Israeli business to find its way into advertising during a cushy Super Bowl slot, but even that has hit a bit of a bump.

The latest SodaStream commercial, with Scarlet Johansson starring, was set to appear during the Super Bowl. Now, it’s last lines of, “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi,” have been cut in order for it to be accepted by networks concerned about antagonizing the bigger beverage industries. This marks the second time networks, including Fox, have had problems with the commercial for market reasons rather than political, and last year it did not air SodaStream’s commercial, though this year the line cut may solve that problem.

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