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Johansson quits Oxfam over Israeli settlement trade spat


US actress Scarlett Johansson has ended her role as Oxfam ambassador following a dispute over her ad campaign for a firm operating in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Johansson's departure, announced overnight by her publicist, was welcomed by Palestinian activists on Thursday, although some criticised Oxfam for not acting itself to sever ties with the Hollywood star they branded the "new poster girl for Israeli occupation."

In a statement, Oxfam confirmed accepting Johansson's decision to step down, saying her promotion of Israeli drinks firm SodaStream, which has a factory in a settlement east of Jerusalem, was "incompatible" with her role at the international aid agency.

"Oxfam believes that businesses, such as Soda

Stream, that operate in settlements, further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support," it said.

"Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law."

The incident shines a spotlight on the creeping success of a campaign to boycott trade linked to Israeli settlements that are built on land seized during the Six-Day War of 1967, and viewed by the international community as illegal.

The 29-year-old actress, who has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and was recently crowned the "sexiest woman alive" by Esquire magazine, came under scrutiny earlier this month after she was named global brand ambassador for SodaStream.

The firm, which is based near Tel Aviv and manufactures a device for making carbonated drinks at home, has 25 factories around the world, including one in Mishor Adumim industrial park, near Maaleh Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem.

Johansson quickly came under fire from boycott activists, who posted a series of provocative images online showing the actress promoting the drinks machine in front of destroyed Palestinian homes and Israel's towering West Bank barrier.

And Oxfam itself weighed in with a statement expressing its opposition "to all trade from Israeli settlements."

In response, Johansson insisted SodaStream was committed to "building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights".

"That is what is happening in their Maaleh Adumim factory every working day," she said in a statement to The Huffington Post.

Her remarks sparked a firestorm of criticism, with the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement demanding Oxfam immediately sever ties with the Hollywood star over her "vocal support for illegal Israeli settlements."

"There is a clear choice to be made between celebrity and principle," the movement said earlier this week.

Following Johansson's announcement that she was leaving Oxfam, the movement accused her of abandoning her principles to become "the new face of Israeli apartheid."

"Scarlett Johansson has consciously decided to be the new poster girl for Israeli occupation and apartheid," co-founder Omar Barghouti told AFP.

"Choosing her shameful propaganda role with an occupation profiteer like SodaStream over her human rights work for Oxfam reminds us of the few unprincipled artists who during the struggle against South African apartheid sold their souls and stood on the wrong side of history."

But Barghouti also had a few choice words for Oxfam, describing its failure to take its own action to end the relationship with Johansson as an "astounding moral failure."

The BDS movement has chalked up a growing list of achievements in recent years in its attempt to convince governments, businesses and celebrities to cut all ties with Israel over its activities in the occupied territories, in a bid to repeat the success of the boycott which ended apartheid in South Africa.

Separately, the European Union recently moved to block all grants and funding to any Israeli entity operating beyond the 1967 lines, sparking growing alarm in Israel.

And top EU officials have warned that further Israeli construction in the West Bank would fuel private European moves to boycott products and services linked to the settlements.

Born in New York to a Jewish mother and a Danish father, Johansson has been nominated four times for Golden Globes, including for her roles in "Lost in Translation" and "Girl with a Pearl Earring" in 2004, and in Woody Allen's "Match Point" a year later.

As well as her stellar acting career she is known for her political activism, and appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention to call for the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012.

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