Home Features Columnists Scarlett Johansson: The Face of Illegal Israeli Settlements?

Scarlett Johansson: The Face of Illegal Israeli Settlements?

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Following her recent Super Bowl advert, Thea Osborne, Online Features Columnist, asks whether Scarlet Johansson is endorsing Illegal Israeli Settlements by promoting SodaStream.

Most people will have some idea of who Scarlett Johansson is. The twice named “Sexiest Woman alive” is a Hollywood starlet with blockbusters and worldwide success to her name. She was perhaps lesser known for her role during the last eight years as the Oxfam ambassador.  Recent controversy, however, has swung into light not only her now resigned ambassadorial position but also key debates concerning the difficult balance between celebrity advocacy versus celebrity endorsement, and the industries operating within the illegal Israeli settlements within the West Bank.

The split between Oxfam and their voluptuous ambassador is due to her decision to become the face of the Israeli company SodaStream. Oxfam, who consider ‘businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in the settlements as furthering the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support’, understandably considered the recent decision of the actress as indicating a ‘fundamental difference of opinion’ with the humanitarian group.

Scarlett Johansson in her new SodaStream campaign. Image Credits: AP
Scarlett Johansson in her new SodaStream campaign.
Image Credits: AP

The combination of a Hollywood beauty, politics, capitalism and moral opinion all unleashed just in time for SodaStream’s launch of their new advertising campaign, at arguably the biggest American sports event of the year, the Super Bowl, has created unprecedented coverage for SodaStream, Johansson and hopefully, the illegal Israeli settlements. While Daniel Birnhaum, the Chief Executive of SodaStream, might be rubbing his hands in glee at the unexpected coverage of his bubble making industry, we can only hope that this might also shine a much needed spotlight on the debate concerning the 500,000 Jews currently living illegally in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.

The SodaStream factory is based in the settlement of Maale Adumin which, along with the other settlements, is built upon land seized by the Israelis during the 6 day war of 1967. Maale Adumim is built on the rubble of the Palestinian villages of Abu Dis, Al Izriyyeh, Al Issawiyyeh, Al Tur, Khan al Ahmar and Anata – names that now only exist in memories and archives.

By the standards of the Geneva convention, the Rome Statute and the international court of justice, Israel has illegally developed the land including creating industrial parks like the one where the SodaStream factory is based. The European Union has called the settlements illegal and recently had a vote which called for clear labelling of all goods produced within the settlements, so that consumers can have a more transparent choice about whether they wish to support the settlements or not.

Scarlett Johansson has undoubtedly become then, whether one approves of them or not, the face and most likely pin up of the Israeli settlements. The mutual appreciation between Israel and Johansson was clearly displayed in the Israeli Embassy’s tweet in response to the initial airing of SodaStream’s new advertising campaign; ‘Love this, & Scarlett Johansson”.

SodaStream claims that it is a ‘model for peace which promotes coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis’ and that it provides employment for five hundred Palestinians who would otherwise struggle to find jobs. It is arguable that the Palestinians would suffer from unemployment without the factory whilst living within the context of the settlements and occupation of their land, however; if they were, as they should be under international law, allowed to be free from the Israeli occupation it is likely that their economical opportunities, along with almost every other aspect of life, would improve.

Furthermore, away from the factory, Reuters quoted one unnamed Palestinian employee as saying “there’s a lot of racism” at work, “most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced,” he added.

The working conditions only add to the plight of the Palestinians but are superfluous to the initial issue, as an Oxfam spokesperson has said: “It’s not about their labour practices or conditions for workers in the factory, it’s about the factory’s location in an illegal settlement built on the land and resources of Palestinian communities.” It may be that the recent news has focused upon the muddle of whether it is necessary for Hollywood good looks to have moral integrity when clearly selling fizzy drinks at a sports match is supposed to be the most important end goal. Yet, perhaps it might actually have a silver lining of illuminating the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the subservience and lack of opportunities for so many Palestinians under the shadow of Israeli settlements.

 Thea Osborne, Online Features Columnist

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