Originally published at Green Left Weekly.
The movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against
Israel has captured headlines around the world after actress Scarlett
Johansson signed a promotion deal with Israeli company SodaStream.
Johansson signed the deal to become SodaStream's first “global brand
ambassador” on January 1. A Super Bowl halftime commercial starring the
actress airing on February 2.
However, the deal resulted in an instant furore due to the company's
use of an Israeli occupied industrial settlement zone in Palestinian
West Bank to make their home soda machines.
Oxfam, who Johansson has represented as a “global ambassador” for
eight years, released a statement one week after the deal with
SodaStream was signed, declaring
that “businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing
poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work
“Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law,” it said.
The international aid group announced
on January 30 that it had accepted Johansson's resignation as
ambassador, as her deal with SodaStream was “incompatible” with her
In 2009, actress and Oxfam ambassador Kristin Davis signed a deal
with Ahava, a cosmetics company that also makes its products in West
Bank settlements. Oxfam condemned the deal, but did not formally sever
its relationship with Davis ― making Johansson's resignation a first.
SodaStream claims to be an ethical product, with a byline of “set the bubbles free”.
On its website, SodaStream boasts
that it is an “'Active Green' solution that minimises the huge
eco-footprint caused by the manufacture, transport and waste of plastic
The company's ethics, however, have not stopped it running a plant in
the Mishor Adumim industrial settlement zone. It was built in 1996 on
stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank adjoining the large residential
settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.
Of the factory's 1300 workers, 950 are Palestinian ― 500 from the West Bank and 450 with Israeli citizenship.
Johansson has endorsed
the company's decision to operate there as a way of “building a bridge
to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working
alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal
But this line of argument ignores that the West Bank workers are
unable to speak out for fear of having their work permits revoked by the
company. It also bypasses the questions of land ownership and
self-determination inherent in any discussion of the settlements.
Alun McDonald, an Oxfam spokesperson on Israel and the occupied West
Bank, told IBTimes.com that “the problem at the moment is it’s in an
illegal settlement on occupied land”.
“If it’s an Israeli factory in a future Palestinian state, paying tax
in Palestine and genuinely benefiting the economy, then it could be a
good thing,” McDonald said. “Our opposition is not that it’s an Israeli
company ― our position is the same for any company from any country
working in settlements.”
A 2011 Who Profits report
into the operations identified that the factory's municipal taxes go to
the Ma'ale Adumim settlement Municipality, funding the growth of the
Who Profits quoted a 2000 interview with SodaStream founder
Peter Wiseburgh stating that the decision to set up the plant was “not a
political act”, but made because of the settlement's cheap rent and lax
The report also said the settlement block is strategically located on
the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, creating a barrier between the
Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah, south and north of
Jerusalem. The settlement and surrounding apartheid wall actively
prevent economic activity or freedom of movement between the north and
south of the West Bank.
The settlements are the front line of Israel's continued colonisation
of Palestinian lands. More than 1000 Palestinian Bedouins were forcibly relocated so that Johansson's “bridge to peace” in the settlement block could be built.
In many ways, SodaStream's bid to downplay or nullify the controversy reflects the growing strength of the BDS movement.
Campaigners have been delighted to see the company suffer, with share values plummeting on the back of worse than forecasted earnings, and Johansson's Super Bowl ad being poorly received.
But the news has been overshadowed by Israel issuing final approval of 558 new settlements in East Jerusalem on February 5.
Further Israeli colonisation of Palestine, and the need for BDS to counter it, is only growing more urgent.