How Scarlett Johansson Got in the Business of Whitewashing Israeli War Crimes
Scarlett Johansson at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International in San Diego, California.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The actress Scarlett Johansson is enamored with the Israeli-owned company SodaStream, and now she has the chance to show the world. Johansson, famous for her roles in movies like Her and Lost In Translation, inked a deal with SodaStream, the producer of home carbonation devices that create seltzer water or flavored sodas, on January 10 to become their first international spokesperson.
Johansson's newfound role will be prominently featured during the Super Bowl on February 2. TV viewers will see Johansson in a commercial for SodaStream touting the ability of consumers to make their own bubbled water.
“I think it was really a natural partnership because I’ve been using SodaStream for five or six years, and it’s a product I found on my own because I like carbonated water but I hated the waste of bottles,” Johansson said in a preview video for the Super Bowl ad. “My favorite thing about SodaStream is that I don’t feel guilty when I enjoy beverages at home.”
But activists and supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel are now trying to make Johansson feel guilty enough to break off the multiyear deal with the soda making company. The reason? SodaStream’s main factory is located in an illegal settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Johansson won’t hear the end of it until she’s no longer beautifying a war crime under the Geneva Convention. What was supposed to be a boon for the company, whose stock recently slid, has turned into a potential debacle as media coverage pointing to SodaStream’s location in the settlement of Mishor Adumim mounts.
After days of criticism, Johansson responded to the controversy by saying she "never intended on being the face of any social or political movement" and that she stands "behind the SodaStream product."
Johansson remains under pressure on a variety of fronts. Activists for Palestinian rights, including the groups CodePink and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, have set up a petition calling on the actress to “end your recent agreement to become a Global Brand Ambassador for SodaStream.” The company is “actively supporting Israel's military occupation of the West Bank, including the environmental destruction this occupation has brought to Palestinian lands,” the groups’ petition states.
Those on social media have taken to parodying the slogan of SodaStream: "Set the bubbles free.” In one widely circulated image, Johansson is depicted in front of the West Bank separation wall with the mocking caption, “Set the bubbles free! Palestinians can wait.”
In addition, Palestine solidarity activists have been emailing Oxfam over Johansson’s deal with SodaStream. Johansson is a “global ambassador” for Oxfam, a humanitarian relief organization that has an explicit policy against Israeli settlements and has cut off ties with other ambassadors for the group who affiliate with settlement products.
Oxfam’s leadership has heard the calls from activists. In an email reply to someone describing Johansson’s deal with SodaStream, Oxfam UK CEO Mark Goldring lauded Johansson’s work with the group but said that “Oxfam is opposed to trade from Israeli settlements, in which Sodastream is engaged. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and have a devastating effect on the lives and livelihoods of the Palestinian communities that Oxfam works with...We have made our concerns known to Ms. Johansson and we are now engaged in a dialogue on these important issues.”
Still, Oxfam has yet to take the leap of dropping Johansson as a global ambassador. The New York Times’ Lede blog reported that an Oxfam spokesman said “that the group had not asked Ms. Johansson to withdraw from her endorsement deal with SodaStream.” Activists have shot back, saying Oxfam has an obligation to drop Johansson as long as she violates the organization’s policy on settlement products.