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Scarlett Johansson's Middle East Flap ... Over Soda

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Scarlett Johansson's Middle East Flap ... Over Soda

Scarlett Johansson's Middle East Flap ... Over Soda

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

After serving eight years as a celebratory representative for Oxfam International, the actress Scarlett Johansson has parted ways with the global aid organization over soda.

NPR's Emily Harris explains.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: SodaStream makes machines for making your own soda at home. As many as half a million of those machines a month are made in a factory in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

DANIEL BIRNBAUM: I don't like the settlements.

HARRIS: That's Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream. But he doesn't want to close his factory in the settlement either. The factory employs 500 Palestinian workers and the company estimates that many more people would be affected economically if those workers lost their jobs.

BIRNBAUM: I don't want to send 5,000 people into hunger because some activist group thinks that that's going to promote peace. I just don't see how that will serve any good purpose.

HARRIS: Some activist group in this case means Oxfam International. Oxfam is against doing business of any kind with Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which many countries including the U.S. view as illegal under international law.

The actress Scarlett Johansson stepped into this controversy when she, an Oxfam celebrity ambassador, signed on as a spokesperson for SodaStream.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Like most actors, my real job is saving the world. Start with plain water, add bubbles...

HARRIS: That's Johansson in a SodaStream Super Bowl ad scheduled to run Sunday. Fighting criticism for her endorsement of the company, she released a statement late last week calling SodaStream a bridge of peace between Israel and Palestine, a place where neighbors working alongside each other get equal pay and equal rights.

So, is it?

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

HARRIS: In the factory, line workers on 12-hour shifts make about $7 an hour, a hair above Israel's minimum wage and three times higher than the average Palestinian salary. We didn't want to quiz employees under the boss's eye but in a mini mart in the nearby Eizariyah, we met a three-year SodaStream employee who showed us his ID but he didn't want his name used.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through Translator) I would say it's an excellent place to work. It provides a good salary and they treat us very well. At SodaStream, they do not discriminate between Arabs, Jews or any ethnic group.

HARRIS: As we wrap up, another man wants to talk. He works for the Palestinian Authority and hates the Israeli homes and factories in the West Bank.

MOHAMMAD: (Through Translator) Having Israeli factories on Palestinian land helps the Israeli economy and consolidates settler presence on our land. When they provide work for the Palestinians, it's a way of beautifying the image of the occupation.

HARRIS: It seems everyone in this town knows someone who works at SodaStream. While it's seen as a good job, college senior Fadi Abu Nemeh says after Israel built its separation barrier in and around the West Bank, people here have few real choices.

FADI ABU NEMEH: A lot of people had their jobs in Jerusalem, like in Arab companies or at like Arab businesses in East Jerusalem. And after the wall, they lost their jobs, so they had to work in places like SodaStream.

HARRIS: Johansson will keep promoting the company. Oxfam will keep opposing made-in-settlement products.

Hubert Murray, the grandson of an Oxfam founder, says Oxfam should have let Johansson go before she resigned.

HUBERT MURRAY: This is a very subtle and complex ethical issue. That's why it is so important for organizations like Oxfam to have paid very clear adherence to principle, and not shilly-shally and prevaricate.

HARRIS: If SodaStream's Super Bowl ad helps market shares significantly, U.S. consumers may be drawn more in to the political fray over made in settlement products.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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