Hollywood Meets International Relations

Scarlet Johansson, Oxfam SodaStream's Global Ambassador.

Scarlet Johansson, Oxfam’s SodaStream’s Global Ambassador.

Scarlett Johansson quit as an Oxfam Global Ambassador last week, amid growing concerns about her connection with the Israeli company SodaStream. Johansson had held the post with Oxfam for more than eight years, drawing attention to the impact of natural disasters and helping in the organization’s fund raising efforts. But Johansson’s ties to SodaStream, which has a factory in an illegal Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim in the West Bank, had drawn criticism.

Johansson’s statement, issued Wednesday, said that she had “respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam,” adding that “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 during her tenure with Oxfam.” Oxfam responded with a statement declaring that Oxfam “respects the independence of [its] ambassadors” but noting that “Ms Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.”

Johansson countered, maintaining that “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”

Johansson has been critizied as naïve and irresponsible for endorsing SodaStream. But many of the company’s Palestinian employees argue that a boycott of SodaStream and other Israeli companies could have unintended negative impacts on their ability to earn a living.

It’s not the first time that a celebrity has come under fire for their position a global issue. Less than a month ago, Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea—under the self-promoted label of “basketball diplomacy”—was rounding criticized. But many A-listers have used their celebrity to draw attention to important global issues. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon, and others have all used their star power to draw attention to issues they feel strongly about.

What do you think? What are the advantages and disadvantages of Hollywood stars campaigning on global issues? Do you think that their celebrity helps or hurts their causes? Why? And with respect to this case, was Johansson right to terminate her relationship with Oxfam in favor of her ties with SodaStream? Why?

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