Guardian amends Scarlett Johansson report to be “fairer” to Palestine campaigners

Responding to my correspondence, The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor has amended an article written last week by Matthew Kalman.

Kalman’s article reported on the controversy over Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson ditching her role as humanitarian ambassador for the charity Oxfam, which objected to her endorsement deal with SodaStream, an Israeli company with a factory in a settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The piece, “Oxfam under pressure to cut ties with Scarlett Johansson over SodaStream ad,” now appears with the following appended text:

In a sub-heading and in the body of the text campaigners seeking to pressure Oxfam to sever ties with Scarlett Johansson were described as “anti-Israel.” To clarify: the campaigners are opposed to settlements.

When the article was first published, I highlighted Kalman’s “anti-Israel campaigners” language on Twitter, prompting him to justify his turn of phrase in the following terms:

He repeated this line to a number of others, yet it is highly disingenuous. The analogy to his choice of language would be if “anti-apartheid” campaigners had been called “anti-South Africa” campaigners instead (terminology that doubtless would have pleased the apartheid government).

Revealingly, Kalman has now written an article for Haaretz, in which he questions the “ethics” of Oxfam policy on Israel and boycott, and claims that the Johansson saga showed that the charity “is now a fully-fledged political campaign group.” A nice narrative – as long as you forget Oxfam campaigns on issues like, say, corporate land grabs, a tax on bankers and the arms trade.

In an email to Chris Elliott, The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor, I pointed out how “describing the campaigners as ‘anti-Israel’ mirrors the language used by pro-Israel advocates, who wish to give the impression that the activists are merely ‘against’ something in a negative, hateful sense – rather than being ‘for’ something in a positive sense (i.e. Palestinian rights, equality, freedom etc.).”

Elliott accepted my complaint, saying it is “fairer” to clarify the activists’ opposition to the settlements.




You oppose the existence of a state based on ethnicity, where minorities are treated as second class citizens.
Others may support the boycott while also supporting that state.

Kalman is conflating the two for his purposes, don't conflate them for yours.
You oppose the existence of "Israel" and so do I


You are not reading the article and the parallels it draws with South Africa (against the system, not the state, etc).

If I oppose the existence of "A friend", it doesn't make you go away. I'd prefer to focus on your behaviour/policy... Without that focus, there'll never be peace for all in that region (or should I say "region"!!)/


"Revealingly, Kalman has now written an article for Haaretz, in which he questions the “ethics” of Oxfam policy on Israel and boycott, and claims that the Johansson saga showed that the charity “is now a fully-fledged political campaign group."

'revealingly' ..... "In 1983/84, Kalman had been chairman of the Union of Jewish Students."


Alec, please don't conflate being Jewish, or even being a Jewish activist (and three decades ago at that), with being a supporter of apartheid Israel. Many Jews, and many Jewish activists, have learned and reflected on the truth, and changed their position.
On the other hand, you can judge by stated opinions. Kalman's writing reveals strong and disingenuous support for the apartheid state.


Upon reading carefully Max Blumenthal's recent book, GOLIATH: LIFE AND LOATHING
IN GREATER ISRAEL ( Nation Books, 2013) I must say with pride that I am
anti-Israel. I speak not as a "Jew" but as one of "Jewish heritage." Focusing on
settlements is important. Anyone of whatever heritage or belief must oppose such
hate as Israel embodies. We cannot take on everything at once. Read, internalize
and follow the three major principles of the BDS [Boycott, Divest, Sanction] movement
and you will have made a beginning.
Peter Loeb
Boston, MA USA


A useful object lesson (one in a series): though a courageous and worthwhile newspaper in many respects, The Guardian can't be trusted wholeheartedly. It may be the best of the mainstream, but still needs to be read skeptically.

Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.