Scarlett Johansson in a screenshot from an Oxfam fundraising video.
The dispute within the global charity is largely along transatlantic lines, with Oxfam America stamping on anything seen to be critical of Israel.
The insider, who is familiar with the organization’s internal deliberations, asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to media.
The insider decided to speak out from a belief that Oxfam was suffering serious damage to its credibility by standing with Johansson.
“We do a lot of good work, but it is being overshadowed by all the negative publicity,” the insider said.
The Johansson affair “has really brought out one of the thorniest issues within Oxfam,” the insider said.
Although Oxfam has done a lot of lobbying both publicly and privately on the issue of Israeli settlements, it has faced intense resistance from Oxfam America.
Oxfam operates as an international federation with national affiliates including Oxfam America, Oxfam GB, Oxfam Belgium and, in The Netherlands, Oxfam Novib.
Unlike other national affiliates, “Oxfam America doesn’t invest one cent in the Palestinian territories, or even Israel. They don’t have any programs in the West Bank or Gaza,” the insider explained.
“Yet they [Oxfam America] always claim that anything Oxfam says on Palestine or Israel affects their fundraising. They almost have veto power on what Oxfam does on Palestine,” the insider added.
While these tensions have been present for some time, the Johansson episode has brought the “anger” to the surface within the organization, the insider said.
The insider noted that the situation became much worse after Matt Herrick, spokesperson for Oxfam America, told The New York Times’ blog The Lede last week that Oxfam had not even asked Johansson to end her deal with SodaStream.
“There are a lot of good people at Oxfam who are really pissed off at what Johansson did and even more pissed off at Matt Herrick’s comment,” the insider said.
One unmistakable sign of the disarray at Oxfam came this morning when Oxfam GB tweeted, and then a short time later deleted, a statement on the controversy.
Hurting Palestinian partners
Now the insider fears that Oxfam’s position could harm its programs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip which provide vital support to Palestinian communities.
“Oxfam has a lot of Palestinian partners and is one of the more respected international organizations working in Palestine,” the insider said.
These fears could be right. It was revealed today that the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) has written to Oxfam calling on it to sever its ties to Johansson. PNGO includes virtually all of Oxfam’s Palestinian partners.
It remains to be seen whether the internal struggle will be resolved in favor of a principled stance and solidarity with Palestinians under occupation, or whether those more concerned with protecting Israel and Oxfam America’s bottom line will ultimately prevail.