“If only I could make this message go viral,” Scarlett Johansson says during her steamy Superbowl commercial for Soda Stream. Her wish appears to have come true, though perhaps not in the way she expected, as her involvement with the Israeli company has blown up into what some have called the “Blood Bubbles” controversy. Now, outraged campaigners have taken to Twitter under the #NoScarJo hashtag as they continue to call for Oxfam to drop the actress as their ambassador.
Activists representing a number of pro-Palestine groups have attempted to deliver a petition with 10,000 signatures to the offices of Oxfam International in Washington DC. The campaigners said that Oxfam officials refused to meet them in person to collect the petition, which calls for the charity to sever its ties with the actress, although Oxfam have not commented on the matter
The controversy stems from the fact that the Israeli company SodaStream International Ltd is partly based in the West Bank. Oxfam themselves are one of many groups worldwide who are opposed to trade with companies based in Israeli settlements. In a recent statement on this matter, the charity said that trade with such companies can help to “further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities” and stated that trade with such settlements is illegal under international law.
However the charity has also reiterated that it is “proud” of its association with Scarlett Johansson and that it respects the independence of its ambassadors. This statement has not appeased Oxfam’s critics, who are hoping that the #NoScarJo campaign will force the organization’s hand on this issue.
Johansson herself has not been silent on the issue and issued a statement last week to defend SodaStream International Ltd. Speaking to The Huffington Post, she expressed support for peaceful cooperation between Israel and Palestine and pointed to the company’s West Bank facility as a place where the 550 Palestinians enjoy the same benefits and pay as their Israeli colleagues.
The actress went on in her statement to reaffirm her commitment to both SodaStream and Oxfam, while calling for a two-state solution in Israel. SodaStream followed this up by releasing a video showing conditions at their West Bank facility.
This video was dismissed in some quarters as a publicity stunt. One worker, speaking to political blog The Electronic Intifada, claimed that Palestinian workers there feel “enslaved,” although this report is unverified.
It caps a difficult week for the 29-year old actress. Johansson is a vocal campaigner for a number of environmental and social justice charities but has rarely run into any trouble over these causes, instead being better known for things such as her role in the third highest-grossing movie of all time, Marvel’s The Avengers.
Meanwhile the controversy is believed to have caused divisions within Oxfam itself, highlighting once more the pros and cons of using celebrity endorsement to drive awareness. Workers in many NGOs have complained that the quick hit of celebrity appeal can often undermine the long-term work being done by staff, and Scarlett Johansson is a classic example of this. However, for the time being, it seems unlikely that the charity will listen to critics and their #NoScarJo campaign.
By: Bernard O’Leary