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HindustanTimes Wed,01 Oct 2014

Oxfam vs SodaStream: the predicament of Scarlett Johansson

Gautaman Bhaskaran , Hindustan Times  Chennai, February 05, 2014
First Published: 11:31 IST(5/2/2014) | Last Updated: 11:59 IST(5/2/2014)

Curiously, American actress Scarlett Johansson - like one of her mentors, Woody Allen - seems to be in a fix. While Woody is trying to swim out of the murky waters of sexual allegations, Scarlett is probably wondering how to jump out of a sticky situation involving two institutions.

Johansson has been a brand ambassador for Oxfam, an internationally renowned charity institution, since 2007. Last year, she did an advertisement for SodaStream that begins with her proclamation: "Like most actors, my main job is saving the world." In this case, it is presumably to get people to make soda at home, rather than buy Coke or Pepsi. This may sound silly to a lot many of us, but then that is how ads go.
 
However, the content of the advertisement for Johansson is the least of her problems. What is a real serious issue is the fact that SodaStream has a factory on the Israeli West Bank where 500 Palestinian workers and an equal number of Israelis are employed.
 
Now Oxfam is opposed to all forms of trade from Israeli settlements, and West Bank is one. Oxfam has been urging Scarlett to choose either them or SodaStream. 
 
Some writers have jocularly compared Johansson's film roles to her real life dilemma. In Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona, she plunges into the "psychotic ménage a trois" with the characters played by Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (the two are now actually married).
 
In the earlier Match Point, also by Allen, Scarlett is caught in a passionate affair with Jonathan Rhys Meyers' adulterous character, and in the end he is wondering what to do with her.
 
Likewise, Johansson appears to have been caught in a triangle with Oxfam and SodaStream, and the latest quip about her is that she has "landed in the arms of the Israelis, who, like the Meyers' character, are wondering what to do with her".
 
Initially, Scarlett tried to have the cake and eat it too, to use a timeworn cliché. Reportedly, SodaStream touts itself as a model employer, committed to the creation of the Palestine State, committed to bridging the tricky distance between Israel and Palestine.
 
Johansson happily took this line telling Huffington Post that "SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights."
 
This was rubbished by Palestinian groups, which averred that SodaStream paid less to Palestinians than what it did to Israelis. And Oxfam added that Israeli companies operating in West Bank settlements made the occupation legitimate.
 
Pushed to the wall, Scarlett went with SodaStream, probably because it did not ask her to make a choice. And, maybe money flowed as easily as fizz did from the soda bottles.
 
But there could have been something more than money that drove Johansson to opt for SodaStream. The campaign against this firm is part of a larger movement which calls on consumers to boycott all Israeli organisations till Tel Aviv makes peace with Palestine. Incidentally, even liberal American Jews - not strictly anti-Palestine - view this thinking as awfully extremist. And Scarlett, who herself is a Jew, would have found it difficult to quit her SodaStream assignment without being seen as supporting the boycott movement.
 
One does not need to go further into the Palestine-Israeli conflict politics here, but suffice to say that Johansson - like many movie stars -- might not have understood the real implications of saying yes to the soda maker. Perhaps, much like the way she could not have realised the mess she was walking into in Match Point or Vicky Christina Barcelona. In the former, she ends up paying a terrible price. In the latter, she escapes with a little knock on her emotions.

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