Oxfam’s Palestinian partners have strongly condemned the charity’s handling of the Scarlett Johansson affair and urged it to “sever” its ties with the Hollywood star as long as she remains a spokesmodel for the Israeli-settlement profiteering firm SodaStream.
Johansson also represents Oxfam as one of its “Global Ambassadors.”
The rebuke – and a warning that Oxfam is damaging its reputation globally and in Palestine – came in a letter sent to Oxfam by PNGO, the Palestinian Non-governmental Organizations Network on 27 January.
PNGO represents 135 Palestinian organizations including many that partner with Oxfam on development and relief projects in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“PNGO is astonished that Oxfam remains ‘in dialogue’ with global ambassador Scarlett Johansson even after her clear, public refusal to sever ties with Israeli-owned, settlement-based company SodaStream,” the letter states.
“By choosing to remain an ambassador for SodaStream, Johansson also choses to remain an ambassador for forced displacement,” the letter adds.
It notes that some 200 Palestinian families were forcibly displaced to build the illegal West Bank colony of Maaleh Adumim, where SodaStream manufactures its trendy home carbonation machines.
Another 2,300 Palestinians face a similar fate if Israel goes through with its plans to expand the colony.
By keeping Johansson on as its representative, PNGO says that Oxfam faces a “damaged reputation as a respected human rights and development body” not only “within Palestine, but globally.”
“We implore Oxfam to move beyond statements and ‘dialogue’ by severing ties with Scarlett Johansson should she remain unwilling to voluntarily relinquish her contract with SodaStream immediately,” the letter states.
PNGO’s letter also directly addresses the claim made by Johansson, SodaStream and pro-Israel propagandists that the campaign against SodaStream hurts the approximately 800 Palestinians who work at its factory in Mishor Adumim, an industrial zone attached to the Maaleh Adumim colony.
PNGO rejects Johansson’s claims, made in a statement last week, that SodaStream’s employment of Palestinians reflects “working alongside one another” and that this “builds bridges” for the development of a peaceful, two-state solution.
The letter argues: “Palestinians are not employed at the factory of their own free will; the intentional economic suffocation of the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli state through extensive taxation, restrictive trade relationships, land annexations and mass resource expropriation puts Palestinians in a desperate position whereby their only means of income is often through illegal Israeli economic endeavors in the occupied lands, such as settlement work.”
Far from “building bridges” for economic development and peace – as Johansson has claimed – the settlements reinforce “inequality” while “any existing or future bridges for peace are being burnt in a bid to progress the self-elevated interests of one group of people at the expense of the freedom of another.”
As The Electronic Intifada has reported, Palestinian workers must endure horrifying conditions at prison-like Israeli checkpoints to reach settlement jobs.
Earlier this month, Adel Muhammad Yakoub, 59, a father of seven, was crushed to death at an overcrowded Israeli checkpoint in the northern West Bank used by more than 10,000 workers every day, Ma’an News Agency reported.
PNGO closes its letter urging Oxfam to act in a manner consistent with its mandate to “influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods.”
Despite the growing number of appeals to dump her, Oxfam – riven by internal divisions – is still standing by Johansson.
The charity failed to respond to a request from The Electronic Intifada, sent yesterday morning, for a statement clarifying its position.
In the space of a few days, Oxfam has transformed itself from a powerful voice against Israeli colonization to just another complicit corporation putting its own interests before human rights and international law.
Palestinian civil society to Oxfam: “match words with action,” break ties with Scarlett Johansson
As the representative body for over 135 Palestinian NGOs [non-governmental organizations] working tirelessly to assert the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, PNGO is surprised by Oxfam’s mishandling of the current SodaStream ambassadorship issue given their long and well-established commitment to improving the lives and livelihoods of the Palestinian people throughout the occupied territories.
Specifically, PNGO is astonished that Oxfam remains “in dialogue” with global ambassador Scarlett Johansson even after her clear, public refusal to sever ties with Israeli-owned, settlement-based company SodaStream. In this context, the PNGO reminds Oxfam that, in order to be effective, its ambassadors must demonstrate consistent ethical standards across all of their public roles and, furthermore, that Oxfam must take all necessary steps to ensure that contradictions in these standards are held to account.
As a long-term, highly valued advocacy and development body committed to asserting the human rights of Palestinian people within the occupied territories, Oxfam understands that the standards of international law on the status of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is clear and leaves no room for rebuttal; as stated in the Fourth Geneva convention, “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
These settlements (of which there are approximately 250 across the West Bank, with a total of 520,000 individual Israeli settlers) and all economic activities within them – including those that take place in the Maaleh Adumim settlement where the SodaStream factory exists – are wholly illegal.
Important here is the way that these ever-expanding settlements intentionally and tactfully displace Palestinians in order to further the strategic colonization project of the Israeli state.
Approximately 200 Palestinian families were displaced in the 1990s for the construction of Maale Adumim settlement; further, Israel has announced its plans to displace a further 2,300 Palestinians in order to make way for the growth of the settlement in the future.
By choosing to remain an ambassador for SodaStream, Johansson also choses to remain an ambassador for forced displacement. With this in mind, in electing to retain Johansson as an advocate, Oxfam exposes itself to the possibility of a damaged reputation as a respected human rights and development body (not only within Palestine, but globally) and we therefore urge Oxfam to seriously and urgently reconsider its decision to retain her as a representative.
In line with SodaStream’s own propaganda on this issue, Johansson’s press release response to recent criticisms referred to SodaStream’s employment of Palestinian workers in this settlement factory as a positive reflection of communities “working alongside one another” to receive equal benefits and pay, and that this “builds bridges” for the development of a peaceful, two-state solution.
Indeed, PNGO recognizes that the factory employs over 800 Palestinians who are dependent on the company to meet the income needs of themselves and their families. However, this position obscures the underlying question that we must address: why is it that Palestinians do not have access to their own, sovereign means of income generation, independent of the economy of the Israeli state?
Palestinians are not employed at the factory of their own free will; the intentional economic suffocation of the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israeli state through extensive taxation, restrictive trade relationships, land annexations and mass resource expropriation puts Palestinians in a desperate position whereby their only means of income is often through illegal Israeli economic endeavors in the occupied lands, such as settlement work.
This is far from “building bridges” for economic development and peace; rather, by reinforcing inequality, any existing or future bridges for peace are being burnt in a bid to progress the self-elevated interests of one group of people at the expense of the freedom of another.
On behalf of its many NGOs working tirelessly to protect and actively assert Palestinian human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, PNGO is disappointed by Oxfam’s refusal to address this issue in a timely manner that remains consistent with their mandate to “influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods.”
With this goal in mind, we implore Oxfam to move beyond statements and “dialogue” by severing ties with Scarlett Johansson should she remain unwilling to voluntarily relinquish her contract with SodaStream immediately.
Whilst Israel maintains full control of economic growth, land development and infrastructure creation within the occupied territories, advocacy is paramount; Whilst Palestinian homes are being demolished to make way for settlements such as Maaleh Adumim, advocacy offers a voice for the voiceless; Whilst Palestinians are routinely cut off from their few remaining methods of earning an income independent of the occupying state, advocacy is one of the few remaining vehicles through which this state of dependency can be held to account and pushed to cease.
Realizing Oxfam’s incredible advocacy work to date, the PNGO encourages Oxfam to not let their positive reputation as a key supporter of human rights in the territories be tarnished by allowing its ambassadors to remain complicit in the de-development of Palestine, while the organization itself struggles daily to uproot this process at every level.
The Palestinian Non-governmental Organizations Network