Actress Johansson-Oxfam rift puts spotlight on West Bank

Thu Jan 30, 2014 4:40pm EST
 
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By Noah Browning and Michael Roddy

JERUSALEM/LONDON (Reuters) - Actress Scarlett Johansson's very public rift with the charity Oxfam over her endorsement of an Israeli firm operating in the West Bank has thrown a Hollywood spotlight on one of the thorniest issues in Middle East peace talks.

Johansson announced on Thursday she had quit her role as an ambassador for Oxfam, shortly before the airing during Sunday's Super Bowl of an advert in which she fronts for the Israeli soda maker SodaStream.

The multi-million-dollar sponsorship deal has caused a backlash among activists and humanitarian groups because SodaStream's largest factory stands in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, which Oxfam said was "incompatible" with Johansson's role.

The dispute has won praise for Johansson from the World Jewish Congress (WJC), sharp criticism from a Palestinian group advocating a boycott of all Israeli goods - and a big dose of publicity for the company SodaStream.

"In a sense, I think everybody in some way has got some attention out of this," Mark Borkowski, a London-based public relations specialist and author, told Reuters.

SodaStream employs Palestinian and Israeli workers and says its plant offers a model of peaceful cooperation. But Jewish settlements are deemed illegal under international law and are condemned by Oxfam, which has a large operation in the region.

After consultations this week with Oxfam, whose ambassador she has been since 2007, Johansson informed the charity that she would end the relationship.

"DENIAL OF RIGHTS"   Continued...

 
Cast member Scarlett Johansson arrives for a red carpet event for the movie "Her" at the Rome Film Festival, November 10, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi