Scarlett Johansson was accused on Thursday of standing “on the wrong side of history” for leaving her post as an Oxfam ambassador and instead endorsing a drinks company operating in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Hollywood star recently signed a multimillion dollar deal to become the face of the Israeli firm SodaStream. But Oxfam said the role was incompatible with its objective to fight poverty and injustice because the company’s largest factory is based in a Jewish settlement built on illegally-occupied Palestinian territory.
The controversy comes as momentum is slowly building for an economic boycott of Israeli firms operating in settlements, which are seen as a major barrier to any future peace deal and a future Palestinian state.
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement yesterday welcomed the end of Johansson’s work with Oxfam.
“Scarlett Johansson has abandoned her reputation as a progressive celebrity in exchange for the cheque that accompanies becoming the new face of Israeli apartheid,” said BDS spokesman Rafeef Ziadah.
“Just like the few artists who played Sun City during South African apartheid, Johansson will be remembered for having stood on the wrong side of history.
He said companies like SodaStream were “at the heart of Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid”.
The company, which employs both Palestinian and Israeli workers, says its plant offers a model of peaceful cooperation. But settlements are deemed illegal under international law and are condemned by Oxfam, which has a large operation to help Palestinians.
Oxfam said it accepted Johansson’s announcement early on Thursday to end her work with them.
“Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the continuing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support,” the charity said.
Johansson’s decision came ahead of her global debut as the face of Sodastream in a prime time advert during the US Super Bowl.
In a statement, Johansson’s spokesman wrote that “she and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement”.
SodaStream, which is based near Tel Aviv and manufactures a device for making carbonated drinks, has 25 factories worldwide, including one at the Israeli-run Mishor Adumim industrial park, near Maaleh Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem.
After details of her deal emerged, Johansson quickly came under fire from boycott activists, who posted a series of images online showing the actress promoting the drinks machine in front of destroyed Palestinian homes and Israel’s towering West Bank separation barrier.
The BDS movement, sponsored mostly by pro-Palestinian intellectuals and bloggers, advocates for a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods and questions the state’s legitimacy.
There is a different consensus among international rights groups such as Oxfam, however, which discourages trade only with Israeli firms located on land in the occupied West Bank.
Johansson had served as a global ambassador for Oxfam since 2007, travelling to India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to highlight the effect of disasters and chronic poverty.
The controversy has come at a delicate time for US-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians as Israeli officials fear that if the talks fail, an economic boycott of Israeli firms operating on occupied territory will grow internationally.
European officials have warned that Israel could face deepening economic isolation if it presses forward with the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, land that Israel seized in 1967.
A small but growing number of European companies and pension funds have already ended or limited trade with Israeli firms.
The Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid this week warned that Israel would lose markets in Europe, which accounts for about one third of Israeli trade, if it fails to strike a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Should a boycott ensues, Mr Lapid predicted that Israel’s GDP would suffer and thousands of workers would lose there jobs.
But Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline Likud Party, yesterday played down the boycott risks.
Israel “has the tools to prevent boycotts”, Mr Steinitz said.
With reporting by Reuters and Associated Press