Commentary Magazine


Topic: Oxfam

Liberals Must Learn to Compartmentalize

When it comes to popular culture, being conservative requires a healthy compartmentalization. The bands you like probably think you’re evil, and if you live in or around a major liberal metropolitan area they will very likely tell you so in concert. The actors you admire are probably attending a Democratic Party fundraiser tonight. Or tomorrow. Soon, at any rate. So you learn to love art for art and not make politics too personal.

The alternative to this compartmentalization is–well, it’s this Guardian interview with Scarlett Johansson that ran over the weekend, which finds a complement of sorts in Anthony Lane’s new profile of Johansson for the New Yorker. At issue is, of course, the SodaStream controversy. In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, it was revealed that Johansson–a committed liberal Democrat who spoke at President Obama’s 2012 nominating convention–would star in a SodaStream ad during the big game. This upset Israel’s enemies, because SodaStream has a factory in the West Bank.

Johansson was also working as an ambassador for the “anti-poverty” group Oxfam, which objected to the SodaStream factory that brought good jobs to Palestinian workers, and let Johansson know they didn’t want her representing both companies. Johansson chose SodaStream because it was a boon to local Palestinians as well as a great example of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. She chose wisely, in other words. So how did her interviewers at stridently liberal publications handle the topic? They portrayed her as an airhead. Here is how Lane dismisses the incident:

Read More

When it comes to popular culture, being conservative requires a healthy compartmentalization. The bands you like probably think you’re evil, and if you live in or around a major liberal metropolitan area they will very likely tell you so in concert. The actors you admire are probably attending a Democratic Party fundraiser tonight. Or tomorrow. Soon, at any rate. So you learn to love art for art and not make politics too personal.

The alternative to this compartmentalization is–well, it’s this Guardian interview with Scarlett Johansson that ran over the weekend, which finds a complement of sorts in Anthony Lane’s new profile of Johansson for the New Yorker. At issue is, of course, the SodaStream controversy. In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, it was revealed that Johansson–a committed liberal Democrat who spoke at President Obama’s 2012 nominating convention–would star in a SodaStream ad during the big game. This upset Israel’s enemies, because SodaStream has a factory in the West Bank.

Johansson was also working as an ambassador for the “anti-poverty” group Oxfam, which objected to the SodaStream factory that brought good jobs to Palestinian workers, and let Johansson know they didn’t want her representing both companies. Johansson chose SodaStream because it was a boon to local Palestinians as well as a great example of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. She chose wisely, in other words. So how did her interviewers at stridently liberal publications handle the topic? They portrayed her as an airhead. Here is how Lane dismisses the incident:

She issued a statement, lauding working conditions in the SodaStream factory and the company’s role in “building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine,” but this attempt at clarification made things messier still. Step back a little, and the whole farrago acquires a comic flavor, and Johansson sounds plausibly dumbfounded by her time at the heart of the storm: “I think I was put into a position that was way larger than anything I could possibly—I mean, this is an issue that is much bigger than something I could just be dropped into the middle of.” The only folk who relished the affair, I guess, were the board of Moët & Chandon, who could have told her, holding their noses, to stay away from inferior fizz.

That’s one way to reconcile an admiration for her art with her insufficiently leftist political opinion. Lane just condescends, pats her on the head and treats her like a child; oh that ScarJo, always wandering off! That’s not a very enlightened way to treat a woman who thinks for herself.

Something similar, but more confrontational took place in Johansson’s interview with the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr, who also made a point of insulting Johansson’s intelligence, only doing so repeatedly until the interview was over. At first, Cadwalladr tries the comforting theory that Johansson was just misinformed–those Zionists can tricky, after all:

From afar, it looked liked 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?

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.”

Don’t you love that “Really?” The interviewer is astonished that Johansson knew anything about the company before accepting a check from them. Cadwalladr tries another avenue:

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

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

Now Johansson has turned the tables. She has pointed out not only the truth–that it’s the interviewer who has no idea what she’s talking about–but that the cloistered, suffocating debate in the UK has warped Cadwalladr’s conception of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At this point, Cadwalladr can’t decide whether to stick by her original assessment, that Johansson must be stupid, or whether there is something more insidious at work here: Johansson’s greed and Jewish tribalism:

Half of me admires Johansson for sticking to her guns – 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…

“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.”

Welcome to the illuminating state of leftist discourse on Israel. The interview never gets back around to its ostensible topic–Johansson’s upcoming movie and her recent success on screen–because the interviewer just can’t move on until the actress’s politics align with her own. It’s incidents like this that have actually given me some sympathy for my liberal friends seated around the concert hall or the theater, having their political sensibilities flattered by the obscenely rich people they’re throwing money at, joining in common cause with their idols. No one taught them not to take their entertainment so seriously.

Read Less

Oxfam-Johansson Saga Takes Sinister Turn

When Scarlett Johansson came under pressure from the charity Oxfam to sever her ties with the Israeli company SodaStream, Johansson took the high-profile move of ending her longstanding relationship with the charity instead. For this stand, Johansson was pilloried by critics. The BBC’s Charlie Brooker portrayed the young actress as having essentially jettisoned a benevolent humanitarian group so as to side with the forces of uncompromising evil.

Now, however, it turns out that it may be the likes of Brooker who is owed some parodying in return. It has become apparent that not only is Oxfam guilty of highly politicized moves against Israel, but that Oxfam also stands accused of indirectly supporting the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In a letter sent to Oxfam by the Israel Law Center, the charity is accused of having given support and funding to what are essentially satellite groups of the PFLP who then channel that funding back to the terror group itself.

Read More

When Scarlett Johansson came under pressure from the charity Oxfam to sever her ties with the Israeli company SodaStream, Johansson took the high-profile move of ending her longstanding relationship with the charity instead. For this stand, Johansson was pilloried by critics. The BBC’s Charlie Brooker portrayed the young actress as having essentially jettisoned a benevolent humanitarian group so as to side with the forces of uncompromising evil.

Now, however, it turns out that it may be the likes of Brooker who is owed some parodying in return. It has become apparent that not only is Oxfam guilty of highly politicized moves against Israel, but that Oxfam also stands accused of indirectly supporting the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In a letter sent to Oxfam by the Israel Law Center, the charity is accused of having given support and funding to what are essentially satellite groups of the PFLP who then channel that funding back to the terror group itself.

The letter calls on Oxfam to sever its ties with the groups in question–the Union of Health Workers Committees and the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees–or face the prospect of legal proceedings against it. Indeed, the PFLP is categorized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government; responsible for some of most gruesome and calculated attacks on Israeli civilians in recent memory. As such, Oxfam could well find itself to be in breach of a number of European and American laws concerning the support of terrorism.

Oxfam has a long record of using its position as a charity to smear Israel and advance the political causes of Palestinians. The charity’s alignment with the boycott campaign that targets companies like SodaStream betrays a total disregard for the welfare of the Palestinians that these companies employ, and that Oxfam claims to care about assisting. Yet, it had already become apparent that Oxfam’s political agenda against Israel trumped any concern for the needs of Palestinians simply trying to make an honest living. They were to be sacrificed as part of the greater campaign to damage the State of Israel and Israelis who had the misfortune of being on the “wrong side” of a defunct and briefly maintained armistice line.

Now these latest allegations suggest that Oxfam may have actually been willing to go much further still to support the war on Israelis. The way in which a group supposedly championing human rights could so invert the values it claimed to stand for is a disturbing statement on just how all-consuming the hatred of Israel appears to become for those who first choose to dabble in it. More gratifying, however, is that those who wished to mock Johansson as having forsaken a much deserving and benign charity have been made to look the most farcical of all in this whole saga. 

Read Less

A BDS Thought Bubble

What a relief that Scarlett Johansson has stepped down as Oxfam ambassador. When it comes to relieving poverty, there is one thing we know: the most important thing is ideological purity.

As the Zionist oppressors at COMMENTARY are doubtless aware, Johansson recently accepted a role as global ambassador for SodaStream. SodaStream contributes to the oppression of Palestinians by employing about 500 West Bank Palestinians at much higher wages than they could earn elsewhere. That is why we say, along with Oxfam, that SodaStream helps “further the ongoing poverty” of Palestinian communities. We regret that Oxfam did not also mention that having Israelis working alongside Arabs in the factory furthers Israeli apartheid.

You will undoubtedly deploy your colonialist “logic” to point out that higher wages do not further poverty and that having Israelis working alongside Arabs does not foster apartheid. It is true that Reuters, that mouthpiece of Zionist colonialist expansion, reports that “in the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees – a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” But Reuters is obviously drinking the SodaStream Kool Aid, which, curse them, they make in three delicious varieties.

Read More

What a relief that Scarlett Johansson has stepped down as Oxfam ambassador. When it comes to relieving poverty, there is one thing we know: the most important thing is ideological purity.

As the Zionist oppressors at COMMENTARY are doubtless aware, Johansson recently accepted a role as global ambassador for SodaStream. SodaStream contributes to the oppression of Palestinians by employing about 500 West Bank Palestinians at much higher wages than they could earn elsewhere. That is why we say, along with Oxfam, that SodaStream helps “further the ongoing poverty” of Palestinian communities. We regret that Oxfam did not also mention that having Israelis working alongside Arabs in the factory furthers Israeli apartheid.

You will undoubtedly deploy your colonialist “logic” to point out that higher wages do not further poverty and that having Israelis working alongside Arabs does not foster apartheid. It is true that Reuters, that mouthpiece of Zionist colonialist expansion, reports that “in the plant, assembly lines buzz to the mixed voices in Hebrew and Arabic of its employees – a rare example of people from the two sides working and talking together.” But Reuters is obviously drinking the SodaStream Kool Aid, which, curse them, they make in three delicious varieties.

But the SodaStream plant is located in Maale Adumim, a piece of the occupied territories east of Jerusalem, which already contains tens of thousands of radical Israeli suburban commuters. Almost no one thinks that Maale Adumim will become part of a future Palestinian state, but a movement can dare to dream, can it not? That is why some Oxfam insiders worried that keeping Johansson on would threaten its relationships with Palestinian partners. These Palestinian partners sensibly stand by this principle: no one who supports a company that employs Palestinians in a territory certain to be ceded to Israel as part of a peace agreement will be permitted to help Palestinians. We hold that truth to be self-evident.

The fact is, it’s not just the settlements. We in the BDS movement oppose all joint Israeli-Palestinian projects, wherever they take place. As the guidelines for our academic and cultural boycott plainly state, we must “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions.” Johansson therefore crossed a line when she expressed support for “economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.” Even COMMENTARY readers, if they are willing to relax their ideological pose for a moment, will grasp why those words are so hateful. We don’t care how effective Scarlett Johannson is as an anti-poverty advocate, or how good she was in Iron Man 2, a movie we permitted ourselves to enjoy before we realized that it glorified an industrial capitalist.

Although we are deeply disappointed that Johannson beat Oxfam to the punch by resigning, we still say good riddance. And don’t think that Oxfam needs you either, Ms. Johansson. They’ve still got Annie Lennox and Desmond Tutu.

Read Less

Will ScarJo Pay a Price for Her Principles?

The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

Read More

The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

It is possible that Oxfam’s decision wasn’t entirely based on the anti-Israel bias of its London-based leadership. One of the leading corporate donors to Oxfam just happens to be the Coca Cola Company that has given millions to the group. That tie between a company that can be linked to obesity and bad nutrition and a charity that promotes feeding the hungry is seen as a contradiction by some and only explained by the cash that flows from Coke to Oxfam. But the fact that SodaStream is a competitor that is already eating into Coke’s market share could account, at least in part, for Oxfam’s speed in denouncing Johansson.

But even if contributions from Coke had nothing to do with Oxfam’s decision, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the way this controversy developed is the ease and speed with which a theoretically apolitical charity like Oxfam publicly embraced the BDS stand even though it meant losing the services of such an effective ambassador as Johansson. The decisiveness and alacrity  with which Oxfam’s leaders condemned her ties with an Israeli company may well have come as a rude shock to Johansson after she signed on to appear in SodaStream commercials, including one scheduled for broadcast during the Super Bowl. Though she is an active supporter of many liberal causes who embraced Oxfam because of its apparent compatibility with her personal values, it may not have occurred to her that in international progressive circles such associations with Israel aren’t kosher.

The point here is not simply the factual inaccuracy of Oxfam’s accusations that settlements further Palestinian poverty or deny Palestinian rights. Having seen SodaStream’s operations herself, Johansson knew that charges that it exploited its Arab workers were nothing but propaganda and absurd lies. She rightly understood that its owners were committed peaceniks who genuinely believe that the cooperative and mutually profitable relations between Jews and Arabs that go on at SodaStream are exactly what the region needs. But in the world of Oxfam, opposition to West Bank settlements isn’t about what’s good for the Palestinians. The factory’s location, a few miles from Jerusalem’s city limits in territory that almost certainly would be incorporated into Israel in the event of a peace treaty, is merely an excuse to continue a campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state. And in that struggle, there can be no exceptions or even any grey areas where people of good conscience may differ.

The arrogant moral certainty of Oxfam’s statement simply assumes that the presence of Jews in what is, under international law, disputed territory rather than that of a sovereign state, is repugnant. That is exactly the mindset of BDSers whose purpose is not aiding poor Palestinians but to further impoverish them by destroying businesses that provide them with income and an opportunity to better themselves that is largely denied them by the corrupt governments led by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.

But now that Johansson has rejected the leftist groupthink of Oxfam that assumes the Jewish state to be beyond the pale, it remains to be seen whether there will be a price to be paid for her principled choice. As I noted earlier this week, it is possible that in the future Johansson may become the focus of a concerted boycott by Israel-haters. Though their efforts won’t put even a minor dent in her career prospects in the United States, it is entirely possible that she will be become better known in Europe and Asia as a supporter of Israel than as a gifted A-list actress. The implications of such a development would not be trivial for film producers who increasingly rely on international markets to realize profits, nor for other companies seeking film stars to promote their products.

If Johansson had abandoned SodaStream it would have signaled an immediate and high-visibility victory for the BDS campaign, certainly its most important victory in the United States. But having cast her lot with defenders of the Jewish state, the actress must understand that this isn’t the end of the story. She may have thought her work for Oxfam gave her common ground with progressives in Europe and around the globe. But she may now discover that, from this day forward, they will only see her as a public figure to be rejected and shunned as a principled Jew who stands with Israel.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.