Scarlett Johansson has issued a statement in response to criticisms of her being the new face of the Israeli company SodaStream, which operates in the West Bank. She basically regurgitated the company’s own PR, saying it
is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.
Equal pay? Equal benefits? Equal rights? That is what is happening every day?
Nothing could be further from the truth. For starters, the factory was constructed illegally on land expropriated from its Palestinian private owners. Israel expropriates land and resources from Palestinian territory and profits from it while severely constricting the ability of the Palestinians to develop their own economy in the occupied West Bank. A company like SodaStream receives benefits from the Israeli government, which seeks to incentivize such businesses to operate in illegal West Bank settlements with subsidies, tax benefits, grants, etc. The occupying regime denies many Palestinians a livelihood, leaving them with little choice but to work for their oppressors under discriminatory conditions. In addition to the other benefits granted by the Israeli government that serve to further entrench the illegal settlements and block the two-state solution, companies like SodaStream can take advantage of not having to pay their employees the minimum wage, as they would if they operated in Israel. Palestinian workers also typically do not receive holidays, overtime pay, health insurance, or sick pay, as mandated by law for Israeli workers.
While Palestinian employees of SodaStream may be better off having that job than the alternative of having no employment at all, the company’s propaganda serves to mask the fact that the Palestinians wouldn’t need to make that choice in the first place if it wasn’t for Israel’s occupation and illegal settlement regime violating their rights and preventing them from developing their own economy.
Scarlett Johansson must know this. She was, after all, until very recently an ambassador for Oxfam, which pointed out that her role at SodaStream was incompatible with her role as an ambassador for human rights. Her choice was to quit Oxfam and remain with SodaStream — no doubt the more monetarily lucrative of the two.
She said in her statement was that her time with Oxfam allowed her to
witness first-hand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another and feel proud of the outcome of that work in the quality of their product and work environment, in the pay they bring home to their families and in the benefits they equally receive.
But surely what her time with Oxfam really taught her that the economic “progress” Israel gains from its illegal factories in the West Bank comes at the expense of the Palestinians, whose land and resources are expropriated for it and whose own economic progress is severely constrained by this occupation regime. Again, she must know this. But she’s content to take the SodaStream paycheck and serve as the company’s propagandist.
In her statement, she said she believes in
conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them. I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over eight years.
But if she believes in “conscious consumerism and transparency”, then why is she acting as the mouthpiece for a company that exports its products manufactured in its illegally-constructed factory in the occupied West Bank under the label “Made in Israel”? How can consumers make their own educated choice if they are being lied to?
Johansson’s statement closed with:
Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.
Indeed, it is a positive development that Johansson has unwittingly managed to draw much-needed attention to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and how Israel’s illegal actions prejudice their rights, including their right to self-determination. The sad thing about it is that she had to sell-out and sacrifice her integrity in the process.
UPDATE: Please see this follow-up post for more information, including a few clarifications.
“Sorry, Coke and Pepsi“, SodaStream ad, YouTube, January 7, 2014.
“In response to critics, Scarlett Johansson says she supports two-state solution“, Haaretz, January 25, 2014
“Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements“, International Federation for Human Rights, October 30, 2012