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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Why did the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

It is a fitting that in a tumultuous year for global peacemaking, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the little-known Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a coalition made up of the union federation UGTT, the employers’ institute, the Tunisian human rights league and the order of lawyers . Over the past few years, the Quartet has been quietly shepherded in democracy to the country that lit the fuse of the Arab Spring. In part thanks to the efforts of this broad cross-section of civil society, Tunisia has stayed the course in transitioning from an authoritarian past to a democratic future, even in the face of terrorist violence and as other revolutions in the region have faltered.

The award comes at a time of escalating sectarian conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Islamic State’s campaign of terror has uprooted Iraqis and Syrians alike, driving desperate refugees into small boats to battle the waves of the Mediterranean. They join others fleeing to Europe from political and economic crises in Africa and Asia, forming a stream of humanity symbolising failures in leadership in three continents.

Among all this, it is not hard to identify why the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s most coveted peace prize to the Tunisian Quartet.

First,Tunisia deserves to be celebrated for its momentous achievements in consolidating democracy. Unlike other countries in the region, it has trodden a path that is slow but solid, adopting a comprehensive and consensus-building approach to decision-making.

In this it provides a rare and extremely important example, not only for the region but also for the world. Thanks to Tunisia, it is no longer possible to argue that the Middle East and North Africa are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence.

Civil society steps up

Second, the role of civil society is fundamental for bringing about sustainable peace. Political leadership is important, but the scale of the challenge in transitional societies means that we cannot simply leave things to political leaders to sort out.

At local level especially, peace feels a lot more real when it comes with tangible improvements to quality of life. Citizens want to see the economy motoring again and to have confidence in the state’s institutions. They want to know that they can sleep soundly and safely, without fear of violence, persecution or poverty. Governments often lack the capacity and credibility to deliver these dividends alone. Civil society must step up to the plate – particularly the associations of trade, justice and human rights of which the Quartet is formed.

And third, the Quartet’s work relies heavily on forming constructive relationships across the political spectrum – from secularists to fundamentalists. It has walked a fine line, keeping disparate groups with diverging interests invested in an inclusive national process of dialogue. It has, in the words of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, laid the “groundwork for a national fraternity”.

Politicians are often the most cynical of creatures, yet the Quartet has managed to build a sense of collective endeavour among them. It has encouraged them to put the country’s best interest ahead of personal or sectarian interests, making this the guiding principle for decision-making.

Other bright spots

The transition in Tunisia is a work in progress and there will be more setbacks and successes. The country was left reeling from two terrorist attacks earlier this year, when 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and another 39 people died during an attack on a tourist resort in Sousse. But the message today is clear – Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2010, despite the odds. This is in large part due to a credible and engaged civil society, a remarkable achievement in a new democracy. The country has forged a path of inclusive national dialogue from which many lessons can be learned.

Elsewhere this year, Myanmar goes to the polls in November – the country’s first free national ballot since 1990. Colombia is closer to lasting peace than ever, ending half a century of war that has taken 220,00 lives and uprooted six million people.

The US restored diplomatic relationships with Cuba, and also struck a landmark agreement with Iran over its nuclear programmes. And the UN has adopted the sustainable development goals, explicitly recognising peaceful and inclusive societies as a development priority for the first time. Behind every step forward there is an individual or institution worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but only one can win and the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet is a worthy laureate.

Laura Payne is a Research Fellow and Director of RISING Global Peace Forum, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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