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March 18, 2014 12:41 pm

Guardian Interviewer is Incredulous at Scarlett Johansson’s Refusal to Cave to BDS Bullies

avatar by Adam Levick

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Scarlett Johansson as the pitchwoman for SodaStream. Photo: SodaStream Facebook page.

In a 2,700 word March 16 cover story about Scarlett Johansson – titled “In Alien Territory” –  published at The Observer (sister publication of the Guardian), roughly 600 words deal with the row involving the actress’s decision to step down as Oxfam ambassador after the NGO criticized her for becoming global brand ambassador for SodaStream.

While Johansson acquitted herself quite well in the interview, conducted by Carole Cadwalladr, what most stands out is how even their media group’s culture critics automatically become experts on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and adopt the Guardian narrative about the conflict.

Cadwalladr is a features writer for The Observer, and though it doesn’t seem she’s ever weighed in on the issues of BDS and Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria previously, she wasn’t shy about boldly making it known which party is in the wrong.

Cadwalladr begins discussing the SodaStream row in the following passages:

I move on to…a difficult subject. SodaStream. When I Google “Scarlett Johansson” the fizzy-drinks maker is the third predictive search suggestion in the list, after “Scarlett Johansson hot” – before even “Scarlett Johansson bum”. A month ago, Johansson found herself caught up in a raging news story when it emerged Oxfam had written to her regarding her decision to become a brand ambassador for SodaStream.

The company, it transpired, manufactures its products in a factory in a settlement on the West Bank, and while “Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors,” it wrote, it also “believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support”.

It of course would be more accurate to say that one of SodaStream’s 13 plants is located in the West Bank’.

Cadwalladr continues:

Johansson responded by stepping down from her Oxfam role. From afar, it looked like she’d received very poor advice; that someone who is paid good money to protect her interests hadn’t done the necessary research before she’d accepted the role and that she’d unwittingly inserted herself into the world’s most intractable geopolitical conflict. By the time Oxfam raised the issue, she was going to get flak if she did step down, flak if she didn’t. Was the whole thing just a bit of a mistake?

Johansson admirably defends her decision:

But she shakes her head. “No, I stand behind that decision. I was aware of that particular factory before I signed it.” Really? “Yes, and… it still doesn’t seem like a problem. Until someone has a solution to the closing of that factory to leaving all those people destitute, that doesn’t seem like the solution to the problem.”

Naturally, Cadwalladr has no rejoinder to Johansson’s central point: that Oxfam and the BDS crowd would evidently rather see hundreds of Palestinians lose a good paying job than tolerate an Israeli factory in the West Bank.

Cadwalladr continues, and pivots to the desired talking points:

But the international community says that the settlements are illegal and shouldn’t be there.

Johansson replies:

“I think that’s something that’s very easily debatable. In that case, I was literally plunged into a conversation that’s way grander and larger than this one particular issue. And there’s no right side or wrong side leaning on this issue.”

Cadwalladr, the Guardian Group journalist that she is, obviously has a little stomach for nuance on the dreaded ‘settlements’ issue, and feigns expertise:

Except, there’s a lot of unanimity, actually, I say, about the settlements on the West Bank.

Evidently, we can assume that the Observer journalist has thoroughly read Article 49(6) of the1949 Geneva Convention (the primary document cited by international bodies in their determination that Settlements are illegal). Further, we can be confident that she has come to the conclusion that Israelis who voluntarily moved beyond the green line in ’67 evoke the inhumane practices of the Nazis during and before World War II, which that article of the Convention was meant to address. And, she no doubt also believes that the Convention text concerning “the mass transfer of people into and out of occupied territories for purposes of extermination, slave labor or colonization“ should be read to prohibit an Israeli factory in one such ‘settlement’ which employs both Jews and Palestinians.

Johansson responds:

“I think in the UK there is,” she says. “That’s one thing I’ve realised… I’m coming into this as someone who sees that factory as a model for some sort of movement forward in a seemingly impossible situation.”

Cadwalladr smugly replies:

Well, not just the UK. There’s also the small matter of the UN security council, the UN general assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice… which all agree that they’re in contravention of international law

Then Cadwalladr gets patronising:

Half of me admires Johansson for sticking to her guns –

Then she gets insulting:

her mother is Jewish and she obviously has strong opinions about Israel and its policies. Half of me thinks she’s hopelessly naive. Or, most likely, poorly advised. Of all the conflicts in all the world to plant yourself in the middle of…

Cadwalladr of course has no idea whether the fact that Johansson’s mother is Jewish influenced her decision to represent SodaStream.

She then suggests a less than admirable motive which ‘some’ may impute:

“When I say a mistake,” I say, “I mean partly because people saw you making a choice between Oxfam – a charity that is out to alleviate global poverty – and accepting a lot of money to advertise a product for a commercial company. For a lot of people, that’s like making a choice between charity – good – and lots of money – greed.”

Johansson responds:

“Sure I think that’s the way you can look at it. But I also think for a non-governmental organisation to be supporting something that’s supporting a political cause… there’s something that feels not right about that to me. There’s plenty of evidence that Oxfam does support and has funded a BDS [boycott, divest, sanctions] movement in the past. It’s something that can’t really be denied.”

Finally, Cadwalladr writes:

When I contacted Oxfam, it denied this.

Oxfam may deny it all they like, but as NGO Monitor (NGOM) demonstrated, they simply are not being honest.

Not only is Oxfam – as Johansson said – a highly politicized organization, NGOM’s director Gerald Steinberg has written the following in response to Oxfam’s denial that they support BDS:

Oxfam denied that it was involved in BDS, but the facts proved the contrary. Between 2011 and 2013, the Dutch branch, known as Oxfam Novib, provided almost $500,000 (largely from government funds provided ostensibly for humanitarian aid) to one of the most radical BDS leaders, the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP). This group also received funds from Oxfam GB (Great Britain). The discrepancy between Oxfam’s claims and the documentation of its role in BDS was highlighted by SodaStream executives and in a number of media articles.

Although CWP is technically an Israel-based NGO, almost all of its activities are focused externally in promoting boycott campaigns, particularly in Europe. (For political purposes, ever since the NGO Forum of the infamous 2001 UN Durban anti-racism conference, the Arab and European leaders of BDS often use fringe Israeli and Jewish groups as facades, and this is the case with CWP.)

Though Cadwalladr was wrong on the facts, “half of me admires” her “for sticking to her guns.” But “half of me thinks she’s hopelessly naive…or, most likely, poorly advised” by her Guardian handlers.

“Of all the conflicts in all the world to plant yourself in the middle of…”

Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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  • Christopher Proudlove

    Those who claim Israel is an illegal occupier in Judea and Samaria are wrong. The San Remo Treaty, which became operative in 1923 after being unanimously approved by the League of Nations, gave the future state of Israel the right to settle Jews anywhere between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea provided existing communities were not affected. It is being airbrushed out of history in one of the biggest scandals of the 20th/21st centuries. Details of this treaty ought to be taught in Israeli schools. Instead, the Palestinian Arabs are winning the propaganda war by repeating the lie that Jews stole their land.

  • Leslie Satenstein

    I read on the web that the senior executives salaries at Oxfam are in the “hundreds of thousands per year”, as much as a president and owner of a privately held company.

    Further, it was stated that only one cent of every US Dollar goes to charity, the rest to overheads. Thats 1% distribution.

    In comparison, the Salvation Army has 99 % to charity and 1% for administration costs.

    • Julian Clovelly

      Sorry but your figures are based on hearsay, Leslie rather, than actually researching the vast amount of publicly available material on Oxfam’s finances

      For the Google impaired, the annual reports, including accounts, can be downloaded via their webpage:

      For information relating to the national branches you can go to the various national Oxfam pages. The Australian one informs me that in special appeals (emergencies), which are the ones many of us contribute to, 90% of the funds raised go to the relief activities. 10% goes to promotion and administration costs, including accounting and collection. For other general combined income the figure for my national Oxfam organisation would appear to be 71% goes to the programs

      If you would like to examine one independent Oxfam organisation you can view the Australian one via:

      As an occasional contributor for my entire life of over 65 years, I am totally satisfied with the integrity of Oxfam. I am afraid I cannot echo that compliment for whoever misinformed you Leslie. I would like to think it wasn’t deliberate – but people with a political agenda often tell lies. Look how many they tell about the Jewish people, a people who have – in my opinion, a poignant reason for ensuring truth always outweighs the effects of malignant and mischievous propaganda.

      You can also Google information about salaries and salary policy. Senior staff earn far less than they would in the commercial world. Critical reports relating to many charities can be found on pages such as that of the London Daily Telegraph

      • Joseph Kelly

        History will judge the gullible Oxfam and the petro dependent EU very harshly for tolerating Assad butcher innocent children, his snipers deliberately making children maimed for life. Instead of Oxfam calling for him to be tried at the Hague, all they and the EU can think if that an equal opportunity employer such as Soda stream should be boycotted. More people were killed by Assad, then in the entire Israeli Arab wars. I am sure this fact is not there in the Guardian or Haaretz.

        By letting the EU and its affiliates such as Oxfam target Israel, they have created a lost generation and failed states in the Middle East.

    • Julian Clovelly

      And there is more Leslie – You see I checked your other claim taking the Australian example. The primary Salvation Army appeal here is the Red Shield appeal – Australians support it because of the magnificent social work the Salvos do – Their figure for what can be applied to programs, after other costs is 85%. Im happy with that figure too.

      However the Salvation Army, of course, is able to work through an existing separate administrative and religious administration structure. The cost of running the Salvos as a complete organisation are colossal. Their work is very complex and rightly receives government grants. But the comparison you make is neither valid nor particluarly enlightening, or favourable, to one party over the other

      Check your facts please.

  • Julian Clovelly

    Nice try to divert attention from the core issue – which is not Oxfam’s charitable enterprises, or indeed their official public working position on political issues – which being mostly to steer clear of engagement. But in the real world this journalistic “nice try” to divert attention simply flops and is profoundly distasteful.

    The issue is the settlements themselves, whether they are beneficial or detrimental to the peace process, whether their use of land, in the particular location, to house only Jewish families is acceptable and reasonable, whether the settlements are legal or illegal in terms of international law, whether the settlers themselves behave in a reasonable and respectful manner towards their Palestinian neighbours. The questions that need to be asked include those involving whether the settlements assist in the creation of a functional Palestinian authority or State, that can evolve over time into one that has a good neighbourly relationship with Israel, and perhaps co-operates in developing the entire region. I’d also ask if the existence of the settlements brings Israel friends and supporters, or repels those who might otherwise be sympathetic to the plight of all the peoples of the region. Do the settlements perhaps create what the world sees as “sides” between which they have to choose, rather than a situation requiring assistance and healing?

    This is not about a celebrity who chooses, as is her right, to hold a differing view, and as such respectfully, and with integrity, leaves her position with the charitable organisation which she has nobly assisted in the past. Nor is it about a structure of boycotts that are nothing to do with, and not advocated by, the charitable organisation concerned

    Nor is it about the fact that that the largely Murdoch Press inspired American and English speaking Conservative Right does not happen to like the most respected and influential independent news and comment publishing organ in the Western world – one that it is unlikely ever to be able to silence or purchase. In my home country of Australia it is the only major media source, apart from the public broadcasters, that breaks through a duopoly – two empires that dominate much of our media. Downunder we need the Guardian.

    Political issues, such as the settlements, should be discussed within relevant parameters and not be the subject of diversionary propaganda campaigns. The impression I am getting is that there is a core group determined under no circumstances to ever consider their closure. As an opinion I find that acceptable, whether or not I share it. But I find the pressing of that cause in this rather defamatory propagandist manner rather distasteful and lacking in journalistic integrity.

    Let us all be honest and deal with the core matter directly. We might even assist in finding a compromise solution that works. At the moment I feel articles like this are like throwing gallons of petrol on smouldering embers.

    In the meantime Oxfam will still receive contributions from people like myself, who share their priorities of providing rescue, food, sanitation, clean water, shelter, education, health services etc for the desperate – and recognise sadly, that even an organisation dedicated for over seventy years to the good of man, is likely to come, from time to time, under ill infomed and beat-up attack. I would remind you that it was the original Oxford Committee for Famine Relief that made many people aware of their humanitarian duty to assist the victims of the Nazi era and for many made it possible to carry out that moral duty, trying to save the world entire through preservation of those they could lovingly assist.

    • June Grant

      Since “settlement” in the plural has become a dirty word, let’s discuss ‘settlement’ in the context of peace. Whether settlements in the disputed territories are legal, as some claim, or illegal as others claim, there is no doubt that Israel will be willing to negotiate their presence in the framework of real, sustainable peace with the Palestinians. Meantime, Sodastream provides work for Palestinians and Israelis alike, which is surely an example of co-existence.It is obvious that the real aim of the BDS movement, supported by Oxfam and other naive organizations, is the elimination of the Jewish state. This is unacceptable, not only to a thoughtful Scarlett Johansson but also to a left-leaner like myself.

    • Stanley

      The real issue, which people like Mr. Clovelly never admit, is whether the Jewish people, like other peoples, are entitled to their state. There are really only two answers to this: Yes, which is the pro-Israel position, and No, which is the position of the Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, BDSers, the Left and apparently Mr. Clovelly. The “No” position is clearly racist in its effect if not in its intention.

      If one asks whether Israelis (note the change from “Jews”) are entitled to a state, one encounters the same problem. The pro-Israel position is yes, and the same collection is seen to answer “No”. The implication of this is that the collection of “No”-people makes no distinction between Jews and Israelis, and thus the anti-Israel position is revealed to be explicitly racist.

      There is no acceptable reason to allow the racists to control the debate, so here’s the reality on the settlements: They do NOT violate international law. The Geneva Convention usually cited against them does not even address what they realy are, real estate in an “occupied” territory acquired by citizens of the “occupying” power.

      Article 2 makes the Geneva Convention applicable only where the parties involved are signatories to the Convention. There has never been a state of “Palestine”, so it cannot be a signatory, and the entire Convention is therefore inapplicable. The specific article cited, Article 49, addresses forcible transfers. If that were the case with the settlers, no-one would need to discuss measures to encourage them to leave. The fact that there are lots of people who agree the Convention prohibits the settlements doesn’t mean it actually does. People who cite this Convention should do everyone a favor, and actually read it.

      Meanwhile, the settlements are the only arrow in Israel’s quiver that might convince the Palestinians that it is time to settle the conflict. Since they are less concerned about lives than land, only the prospect of losing further land will push this conflict toward a resolution. It is no coincidence that since the anti-settlement campaign gained strength, movement toward a solution has ground to a halt.

      Sometimes you actually need to look at the evidence and think about what it means.

      • Julian Clovelly

        Stanley – I entirely agree with you as to the core issue. My objection to the article was that what I felt was an extremely partisan commentary article seemed to be being treated as accurate news. For the record I do not question the right of the State of Israel to exist, just as I am sympathetic to the plight of all people in the region and am understanding of the difficulties of negotiation viewed from all sides. The past traumatises all of us everywhere – it is one of the burdens of self consciousness. The measure of our humanity is how we look forward rather than back, how we never lose sight of the fact that our ultimate aim should always be reconciliation.

        However on a point of simple fact I cannot agree with your assertion that the Geneva Convention does not apply. Article 47 in section 3 (Occupied Territories) makes it perfectly clear that it does:

        “ART. 47. — Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced, as the result of the occupation of a territory, into the institutions or government of the said territory, nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory.”

        With the usual reservations relating to any information source, Wiki has a useful article that provides links to basic source documents

        I suggest interested persons examine it

        I would like to thank Algemeiner for hosting this discussion

    • Lynne T

      The Sodastream contraversy is largely about “normalization” and not the ability of the Palestinians to form a viable state beside a secure Jewish state in Israel.

      Yesterday, on CBC Radio, Haaretz reporter Ari Shavit spoke at some length about the settlements and noted that out of 375,000 Israelis residing in settlements, 275,000 live in areas designated for the land swaps. He also dealt with the “contiguity” issue. In both points he made it clear that the settlements are far less the sticking point that the BDS supporters (most of whom are overtly in favour of a binational state) are making of it.

  • Daniel

    Scarlett is amazing!! Love her!!

  • Dita Gould

    Just ask the workers in the Industrial Park in Maale Adumim working for Soda Stream & others if they want the plant to close.
    They are happy.

  • Gregg Solomon

    How funny that the reporter uses the word “naïve” to describe Johansson.

    As many of us have studied the issue, not gone on blind faith, I imagine it pains all of us to hear a reporter refer to someone who does not support BDS or Oxfam and the like as naïve.

  • Bernard Ross

    the wonderful thing is the exposure of Oxfam as a political organization who masquerades as a charitable organization to raise funds FRAUDULENTLY.

  • Barbara Sugarman

    Good going Scarlett….Soda Stream deserves all your support,
    as well as support from the rest of the world!
    We admire you for making the correct choice and standing up to
    There is only one right way in this outrageous conflict.

    Thank you.

  • dan kaplan

    “Well, not just the UK. There’s also the small matter of the UN security council, the UN general assembly, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice… which all agree that they’re in contravention of international law”

    back a few centuries ago, everybody -everybody – said that earth is flat, and you can sail off the edge. and besides, the sun goes round the earth. everybody knows that. well, almost everybody. there were some, though, that dared to know and think the truth.

  • LouA

    The Jew haters are showing less and less skill in their vitriol.

  • nelson marans

    Oxfam has had the funds and the nerve to print full page ads costing at least $100,000 each in leading newspapers, certainly not using the same moneys to support their stated programs. Let us be clear, Oxfam has turned into a politically and morally corrupt organization.

  • rudy hoffmann

    M A Y T H E Y G O T O H E L L , A L L O F T H E B D S !!!

  • Mort Angerstein

    you’ve got to admire Scarlett for sticking to her guns!
    The opposition is not used to someone doing that.

  • relda

    Go Scarlett!