Johansson, Oxfam Split On West Bank Issue

January 30, 2014       Patrick Sullivan      

Actress Scarlett Johansson resigned her position as Oxfam International Global Ambassador. Johansson has been criticized for her role as spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli company operating in the West Bank. She’ll star in an ad that will air during the Super Bowl.

Oxfam International, with U.S. offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., has accepted Johansson’s resignation, saying that her role in promoting the company is “incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador,” according to a statement released by Oxfam.

“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,” continued the 124-word statement. “Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

An Oxfam official said the organization does not support boycotts of any country, including Israel, but opposes trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The official added that Oxfam official respect Johansson’s independence and her personal views, but think her commitment to SodaStream was incompatible with her commitment to Oxfam.

“SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights,” said Johansson, who has been an Oxfam Global Ambassador since 2007, via a statement.

The 29-year-old actress continued: “I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over 8 years. Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.”

Tim Jacobson, CEO of Visjonaer Consulting and Communications in Boscobel, Wisc., thought the two parties handled the situation well. “They ended up being professional in communications about it,” he said. “Scarlett Johansson seemed respectful of the organization and said she was proud of her work. Even in parting, it was highlighting the organization and bringing attention to it, which is one of the reasons why nonprofits turn to celebrities in the first place.”

The split is “not that big of a deal in terms of celebrities endorsing nonprofits,” said Jacobson, and is not something that’s going to harm Oxfam. “After a seven-year connection, it’s not all that surprising that an organization and a celebrity may have a difference of opinion.”

Jacobson recommends that nonprofits and celebrity endorsers should, in some cases, think about a contract at the outset of the relationship. For many smaller nonprofits with short-term celebrity relationships, it’s probably unnecessary, he said, “But if you have a major star with lots of money being spent to utilize the relationship for fundraising or marketing purposes, I think formalizing those understandings in writing is an excellent idea.”

He added that nonprofits seeking a celebrity spokesperson need to find someone highly credible and passionate about their cause. “Don’t just latch onto someone with a big name,” Jacobson said. “The celebrity has to truly believe in the social cause and they’re not just doing it for PR. That could help limit later disagreements over a political or social issue.”