Scarlett Johansson chooses SodaStream over Palestinians

Israeli settlements in the West Bank cause misery for Palestinians - but, of course, one must lend equal weight to the joy that bubbly soft drinks bring to the rest of us.

Scarlett Johansson has been a global ambassador for Oxfam since 2007. In that time she has travelled around the world, meeting people that the charity works with - including refugees, children unable to afford schooling, and survivors of natural disasters - and raising awareness of programs that urgently need funding.

Scarlett Johansson has been a global brand ambassador for SodaStream - an Israeli company that makes a range of products for carbonating soft drinks at home - for about a month, and is due to appear in the company's Super Bowl ad on 2 February. The company's main production site is located within an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumim. It's one of the settlements that Oxfam opposes "all trade" with, saying they "further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support".

All week there have been calls from a multitude of groups for Johansson to drop her deal with SodaStream in recognition of its violation of international law. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation started a petition calling for her to choose not to be "the face of the occupation", arguing that "as an Israeli settlement manufacturer, [SodaStream] exploits Palestinian land, resources and labor and actively supports Israel's military occupation".

This contradiction between her longstanding charity work and her most recent ad deal couldn't stand - so she's chosen SodaStream over Oxfam:

Oxfam has accepted Scarlett Johansson’s decision to step down after eight years as a Global Ambassador and we are grateful for her many contributions.

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.

Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, 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. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

Who can blame her? It's not like that Super Bowl ad is incredibly tacky or anything. And imagine the free soda she must get. Quite the deal for the actor.

In its defence, the current CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum, told Forward magazine that he inherited the "pain in the ass" factory that was built by the company's previous owners and that he would "never" have chosen to build it there himself. However, as 500 of the plant's 1,300 employees are Palestinian and closing it down now would financially ruin them, he "will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda."

Johansson released a statement last week when the controversy first appeared, defending her choice: "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."

Alas, it seems the dialectical merger of the two ambassadorial roles was futile.

Scarlett Johansson: she loves the bubbles. (Photo: Getty)

I'm a mole, innit.

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Building peace in a dangerous world needs resources, not just goodwill

Conflict resolution is only the first step.

Thursday 21 September is the UN-designated International Day of Peace. At noon on this day, which has been celebrated for the last 25 years, the UN general secretary will ring the Peace Bell on the UN headquarters in New York and people of good will around the world will take part in events to mark the occasion. At the same time, spending on every conceivable type of weaponry will continue at record levels.

The first couple of decades after the end of the Cold War saw a steady reduction in conflict, but lately that trend seems to have been reversed. There are currently around 40 active armed conflicts around the world with violence and suffering at record levels. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index worldwide military spending last year amounted to a staggering $1.7 trillion and a further trillion dollars worth of economic growth was lost as a result. This compares with around 10 billion dollars spent on long term peace building.

To mark World Peace Day, International Alert, a London-based non-government agency which specialises in peace building, is this week publishing Redressing the Balance, a report contrasting the trivial amounts spent on reconciliation and the avoidance of war with the enormous and ever growing global military expenditure.  Using data from the Institute for Economics and Peace, the report’s author, Phil Vernon, argues that money spent on avoiding and mitigating the consequences of conflict is not only morally right, but cost-effective – "every dollar invested in peace building reduces the cost of conflict".

According to Vernon, "the international community has a tendency to focus on peacemaking and peacekeeping at the expense of long term peace building."  There are currently 100,000 soldiers, police and other observers serving 16 UN operations on four continents. He says what’s needed instead of just peace keeping is a much greater sustained investment, involving individuals and agencies at all levels, to address the causes of violence and to give all parties a stake in the future. Above all, although funding and expertise can come from outside, constructing a durable peace will only work if there is local ownership of the process.

The picture is not wholly depressing. Even in the direst conflicts there are examples where the international community has help to fund and train local agencies with the result that local disputes can often be settled without escalating into full blown conflicts. In countries as diverse as East Timor, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Nepal long term commitment by the international community working with local people has helped build durable institutions in the wake of vicious civil wars. Nearer to home, there has long been recognition that peace in Ireland can only be sustained by addressing long-standing grievances, building resilient institutions and ensuring that all communities have a stake in the outcome.

At a micro level, too, there is evidence that funding and training local agencies can contribute to longer term stability. In the eastern Congo, for example, various non-government organisations have worked with local leaders, men and women from different ethnic groups to settle disputes over land ownership which have helped fuel 40 years of mayhem. In the Central African Republic training and support to local Muslim and Christian leaders has helped reduce tensions. In north east Nigeria several agencies are helping to reintegrate the hundreds of traumatised girls and young women who have escaped the clutches of Boko Haram only to find themselves rejected by their communities.

Peace building, says Vernon, is the poor cousin of other approaches to conflict resolution. In future, he concludes, it must become a core component of future international interventions. "This means a major re-think by donor governments and multilateral organisations of how they measure success… with a greater focus placed on anticipation, prevention and the long term." Or, to quote the young Pakistani winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousufzai: "If you want to avoid war, then instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of tanks, send pens. Instead of soldiers, send teachers."

Redressing the Balance by Phil Vernon is published on September 21.   Chris Mullin is the chairman of International Alert.