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Profit Over Principle: Scarlett Johansson's Disturbing Choice to Front For a Settlement Product

The actress' decision to represent a company expropriating Palestinian land at favorable tax rates is shocking.
 
 
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Scarlett Johansson at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International in San Diego, California.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

Massachusetts did not have a team in this year’s Super Bowl.  And last week brought news that Boston-based Oxfam America would not have an Oxfam ambassador appearing in a Super Bowl commercial either.  Scarlett Johansson's work for SodaStream violated the anti-settlement and anti-discrimination principles of the international Oxfam confederation.  As a consequence, Johansson chose her hefty contract with SodaStream over the social justice work of Oxfam.  As a rabbi and a long-time Oxfam supporter, I find Johansson’s decision to support a company exploiting Palestinian workers living under decades of occupation, expropriating Palestinian land at favorable tax rates, and setting back the prospects of a just resolution to the conflict to be.profoundly disturbing. 

Johansson’s decision to serve as the brand face for SodaStream, a company based in an illegal Israeli settlement, is shocking.  How could a global ambassador for Oxfam, a celebrity who has shed light on suffering and poverty around the world, be the face of a product created in an illegal Israeli settlement?  How can she justify being the face for a company that profits from the brutal Israeli occupation?

Not only did Johansson agree to a contract with Soda Stream, but she also recently defended her decision by claiming that SodaStream is a company that is “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other.”  Although this is SodaStream’s official claim, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Building Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory violates international law.  These settlements also violate the Jewish commandment to pursue justice and peace.   The Israeli policy to build Jewish settlements all over the West Bank is designed to confiscate large tracts of Palestinian land, to settle Jews on this land, and to prevent the possibility of a Palestinian state with contiguous territory on the West Bank.   

While Israel denies Palestinians the right to build homes or create new economic ventures in most of the West Bank, some 500,000 Jews have settled in exclusive Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem and Israeli companies are encouraged to locate in occupied Palestinian territory.   

SodaStream is located in Maaleh Adumim, one of more than 125 Jewish settlements and 100 Jewish outposts, facts on the ground, that most analysts believe have already made a contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank an impossibility.   Maaleh Adumim, with a population of close to 40,000 Jews, effectively divides the northern part of the West Bank from the south.  I visited Maaleh Adumim in October 2012 and saw the beautiful homes, landscaping, swimming pools, and other facilities being enjoyed only by Jews.  

SodaStream and other Israeli Jewish companies are given tax breaks and incentives for locating their businesses on the West Bank. The settlement itself pays taxes to Israel and all the municipal taxes go to benefit the settlement.  

Is this what Johansson calls “a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine” or “neighbors working alongside one another”?  Is this an example of the “economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine” that Johansson claims to support?

Would she say the same of white-run businesses in apartheid South Africa exploiting black South African workers?  I grew up in South Africa where white South Africans made the same racist argument about how whites benefited black South Africans by providing them with employment.  Fortunately, international activists ignored these false depictions regarding apartheid South Africa just as supporters of the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement are not taken in by Johansson’s outrageous misrepresentations about the settlements as a force for good rather than a violent imposition stealing Palestinian land and resources.

 
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