In January 2014, Scarlett Johansson made headlines when she was announced as the new face of Sodastream, an at-home carbonation machine.
The announcement was criticized by some who accused Sodastream of complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Johansson responded to the criticism by saying she was a “supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.” However, she ultimately decided to end her association with the company.
Sodastream is an at-home carbonation machine that allows users to make soda water and soft drinks.
The company has come under fire for its factory in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, which is considered illegal under international law.
Critics have accused Sodastream of complicity in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and they have called for a boycott of the company’s products.
How Sodastream Controversy Exploded
Advertisers work hard on the roll to the Super Bowl to get their money’s worth well before their commercial airs. They release teasers and promote the celebrities who will appear, creating controversy if they can find a way.
SodaStream is already the big winner in the controversy segment since one skirmish involves a dispute between SodaStream and Oxfam Worldwide over Scarlett Johansson. She recently admitted a part with the carbonation corporation and will appear in its Super Bowl commercial.
Johansson resigned her eight-year-long goodwill ambassadorship with Oxfam on January 29, citing a “fundamental dispute of opinion.”
The issue is that the rapidly increasing SodaStream happens to manufacture the majority of its goods in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
“Oxfam believes that SodaStream operates in settlements furthermore on the ongoing poverty and denial of their rights of the Palestinian communities that they work to protect and support,” the international charity said in a statement.
Scarlett, the daughter of an American-Jewish mother and a Danish-Christian father, defended SodaStream as a “bridge-builder” between Palestinians and Israelis, noting that the company hires Palestinians.
However, supporters of the Divestment, Boycott, and Sanctions movement started demanding that Oxfam cut ties with Johansson, comparing South African entertainers who ignored racism to benefit from performances.
Reasons Behind Sodastream Controversy
1. Israeli settlers produce SodaStream equipment.
SodaStream’s main manufacturing plant is in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement’s industrial park, a community of about 40,000 people located about seven km from Bethlehem, well within Palestinian territory.
The E1 highway project, which would link Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem and divide the West Bank, has drawn attention to the third-largest West Bank deal because it would make it more difficult for Palestinians in the north to go to the south and East Jerusalem.
The settlement was dubbed “The Settlement that Broke the Two-State Solution” in the December 2012 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, and Ma’ale Adumim’s former mayor was quoted as stating that the agreement was built to make a consecutive Palestinian state impossible.
According to SodaStream’s website for the industrial estate houses, the location now has 230 plants and businesses.
2. Under International Law, Settlements are prohibited.
Settlements are Israeli communities established outside the 1967 armistice line (known as the “Green Line”).
Under international law, Israeli construction in the West Bank, defined as Israeli occupation, is illegal, and settlements house approximately 350,000 Israelis.
While some settlements near the Green Line may be part of a negotiated “land swap,” settlements like Ma’ale Adumim are too far inside Palestinian territory to be considered and are too large and established to be easily given up by the Israelis who live and work there.
3. Palestinians can find employment at SodaStream.
According to the World Bank, the West Bank has a 22% unemployment rate. SodaStream employs about 900 Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, creating it among the largest Palestinian employers.
The West Bank plant predates SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum, who stated that he would not have built a plant there and is currently developing a giant plant within Israel.
However, he also notes that he provides equivalent compensation and treatment to his Palestinian employees and refuses to cave to being forced to close the plant, saying in an interview with The Forward, “I just don’t see how firing them would help the Palestinian.”
4. The BDS campaign wants to put pressure on Israel.
The anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement is modeled after the advertising used to force South Africa to end discrimination.
It calls for a boycott of Israeli brands, boycotts of sporting, cultural, and educational events held in Israel, and divestment from Israeli businesses until Israel ends its job of Palestinian territory.
The movement has resulted in some stores refusing to stock Israeli products, requiring products manufactured in settlements to be labeled, and decreasing revenue for Israeli products.
Many artists have also declined bookings in Israel. The 5,000-member American Studies Association recently passed a resolution prohibiting “formal cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, or with academics who are formally serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions.”
Some American mainline church bodies supporting the BDS movements have asked their congregations to boycott brands such as SodaStream, Ahava cosmetics, and Sabra hummus.
5. The “two-state solution” supporters may disagree with the BDS campaign.
BDS is a step too far for some followers of the two-state solution. Some see it as a way to punish Israel and all Israelis for occupying Palestinian territory. Others argue that it harkens back to when Jews were shunned, and Jewish companies were goals of anti-Semitism. Some believe it is part of a global campaign to delegitimize Israel.
The American Jewish writer Peter Beinart distinguishes between Israeli brands and those produced in Israeli settlements. In his book “The Crisis of Zionism,” Beinart advocates for a boycott of products produced in settlements while embracing products made in Israel.
Some Israelis also distinguish between villagers hostile to Palestinians and those who want to coexist peacefully, including those who work in settlements.
Most Palestinians, however, reject this viewpoint, believing it is, at best, an attempt to “normalize” the current situation and, at worst, a cooperation with the enemy.
While some have called Johansson naive or accused her of simply taking a better offer, others have welcomed the opportunity to talk about the situation.
The Super Bowl commercial and its new spokeswoman will draw attention to a company that claims to be doing the right thing in a bad case.
The Controversy Surrounding Scarlett Johansson and Sodastream is an important story because it shines a light on the issues faced by Palestinian workers.
It is important to learn about these issues to make informed choices about the products we buy and support companies that respect human rights.