- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network.
Scarlett Johansson has decided that she’d rather represent homemade bubbles than international development. After several years as a global ambassador for Oxfam, she’s chosen to part ways with the development and disaster relief organization over "a fundamental difference of opinion" with the group’s support for an intensifying effort to boycott goods made in Israeli-occupied portions of the West Bank.
The controversy started when Johansson inked an endorsement deal with SodaStream, an Israeli company that manufactures gadgets for making carbonated water at home. The New York Times described the arrangement with SodaStream as a brand ambassadorship, "in the way that, say, Jennifer Aniston is for SmartWater or George Clooney is for the Nespresso coffee-making system." SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum explained that Johansson — and the upcoming Super Bowl commercial in which she stars — will "demonstrate how easy it is, how sexy it is, to make your own soda."
The sexiness of carbonated water aside, the partnership didn’t sit well with Oxfam. They said Johansson was wrong to endorse SodaStream because it operates a factory in the West Bank next door to one of Israel’s largest settler communities. "Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors," the organization said in a statement. "However, Oxfam believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law."
Johansson replied with a statement of her own: "I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that 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." Johansson, who hasn’t said how much she’s being paid, says she sees the SodaStream factory’s employment of Israelis and Palestinians as a promising step.
On Monday, Oxfam said it was "considering the implications of her new statement and what it means for Ms. Johansson’s role as an Oxfam global ambassador." That consideration ended yesterday when Johansson announced she was parting ways with Oxfam. A statement released by Oxfam said that they accepted her decision to resign and remain "grateful for her many contributions."
A similar incident occurred in 2009, when Oxfam ambassador Kristin Davis briefly partnered with another Israeli company operating in the West Bank, cosmetics company Ahava. Davis eventually parted ways with Ahava and continued her role as an Oxfam ambassador.
Meanwhile, SodaStream’s Super Bowl ad is continuing to garner publicity, even before its air date on Sunday. FOX — which is televising the game, screening potential commercials and reaping the bounty that comes from selling 30-second spots for $3.5 million — announced on Monday that it was rejecting SodaStream’s initial submission because it too directly attacked competitors Coca-Cola and Pepsi. SodaStream is expected to edit out the line, "Sorry, Coke and Pepsi" for Sunday’s game. SodaStream’s first draft of its commercial was rejected last year for the same reason.
For better or worse, SodaStream’s "better bubbles, made by you and Scarlett" campaign will live on.