Scarlett Johansson as pitchwoman for SodaStream..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On the face of it, Oxfam is as irreproachable as motherhood and apple pie. Who can be against the international organization’s declared aims of combating hunger and poverty, and promoting justice? Oxfam’s confederation of 17 organizations and its charity shops are familiar features in some 90 countries. Founded in the city of Oxford in 1942, it crusaded for allowing food relief into German-occupied Greece. Ever since, Oxfam has embedded itself in the public perception as the harbinger of goodness and goodwill. It has initiated many programs and accomplished much in its efforts to enable people to exercise their rights and manage their own lives.
As such, it became de rigueur to champion its causes.
Numerous celebrities have been quick over the years to identify with the organization and star as Oxfam campaigners.
Actress Scarlett Johansson was one of many who joined the Oxfam family as spokespeople... until the recent SodaStream flap, where she dared defy the outfit’s dogma.
To her credit, rather than back down, Johansson terminated her eight-year stint as an Oxfam global ambassador, and thereby risked being pilloried as politically incorrect.
As with many seemingly righteous philanthropic associations, the controversy revolved around Israel and the trendy pretext of the illegality of the settlements – i.e., any Jewish presence beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Although no borders ever existed, Israel is judged as the occupier there and its so-called occupation draws fire of the sort never aimed, for example, at the Turkish-controlled areas of Cyprus.
The trouble is that Oxfam’s movers and shakers cannot reasonably be suspected of weighing the issues on balanced scales. In 2009, Barbara Stocking, Oxfam GB’s former chief and later president of a Cambridge University college, famously defined the organization as “impartial but not neutral.” Such sanctimonious obfuscation opens the door wide for holding Israel to double standards not applied to others, for delegitimizing and demonizing it.
The watchdog NGO Monitor, which checks for bias in nongovernmental organizations, concluded in its recent report that Oxfam “distorts economic analyses of the West Bank and Gaza, repeatedly arguing that the sole impediment to Palestinian development is Israeli policy, ignoring intra-Palestinian limitations and factors.”
According to NGO Monitor, “Oxfam consistently paints a highly misleading picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict, departing from its humanitarian mission focused on poverty.
Most Oxfam statements erase all complexity and blame Israel exclusively for the situation, and these distortions and their impacts contribute significantly to the conflict.”
Johansson exposed herself to attack by appearing in a Super Bowl commercial for Israeli carbonated drink maker SodaSteam, which operates factories around the world including one in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in Ma’aleh Adumim. That factory is located just over the Green Line and therefore beyond the pale by Oxfam strictures.
It matters little that the area is sure to remain Israeli under whatever arrangement may ever be reached.
It likewise makes no difference to Oxfam that hundreds of well-paid Palestinians work right alongside Israeli counterparts at SodaStream, all earning equal pay, receiving identical social benefits and eligible for the same workplace perks. There are 1,300 employees in that given industrial facility – 442 are Palestinian Arabs, 237 are Israeli Arabs and the rest are Israeli Jews. All SodaStream employees are paid an equitable living wage and the company has even provided space for a mosque on its premises.
The SodaStream Mishor Adumim plant is precisely what Oxfam should promote as its ideal for coexistence and cooperation.
Would it be better by Oxfam’s yardstick if the factory were shut down and its Palestinian employees went hungry (and subsequently perhaps needed Oxfam handouts)? In all likelihood, Oxfam would then vociferously denounce Israeli occupation for creating poverty, a charge Oxfam executives relentlessly level against Israel.
Such lopsided logic not only offends common sense, it exposes deep-seated anti-Israel bigotry. In effect, Oxfam tells us that it is acceptable for Palestinians to work for any firm, so long as it is not Israeli. Does this not negate the very notion of peace?