The film star Scarlett Johansson, a former Oxfam ambassador, has questioned the charity’s position on political boycotts of Israel and told the Observer that she has no regrets over her decision to promote SodaStream, a company headquartered in Israel, with a controversial factory in a settlement on the West Bank.
The actress stepped down from her role with Oxfam a month ago, when the international relief organisation wrote to her criticising her decision to sign a contract with the maker of carbonated drink machines.
Talking to the Observer ahead of the release of her new sci-fi horror film, Under the Skin, Johansson denied that her SodaStream deal was a mistake. “No, I stand behind that decision,” she said. “I was aware of that particular factory before I signed. And it still doesn’t seem like a problem – at least not until someone comes up with a solution to the closing of that factory and leaving all those people destitute.”
Oxfam wrote to her explaining that, although it understood the independence of the stars who volunteer to help, as an organisation it officially “believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support”.
Johansson said she did not think the case against the factory was clear. “I think that’s something that’s very easily debatable … In that case, I was literally plunged into a conversation that’s way grander and larger than this one particular issue. And there’s no right side or wrong side leaning on this issue.”
Johansson added that she now understands that British opinion on the status of the West Bank is generally more clearcut than she had found elsewhere. “That’s one thing I’ve realised,” she said. “I’m coming into this as someone who sees that factory as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.”
The fact that the UN, the Red Cross and the International Court of Justice also agree that the SodaStream factory is in contravention of international law did not sway her, she added. “Sure, I think that’s the way you can look at it. [Soderbergh.] But I also think for a non-governmental organisation to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause … something feels not right about that to me. There’s plenty of evidence that Oxfam does support and has funded a BDS [boycott, divest, sanctions] movement in the past. It’s something that can’t really be denied.” Speaking to the Observer, Oxfam denied this allegation.