In response to my piece on Scarlett Johansson yesterday, a spokesperson for Oxfam e-mailed me to claim that it “doesn’t support a boycott of Israel, or any other country, and we are not opposed to trade with Israel. Our discussions with Ms. Johansson were not about our position on Israel but our opposition to Israeli settlements inside the West Bank . . . While Oxfam doesn’t oppose trade with Israel, we do oppose trade with settlements in the West Bank.” The e-mail continued: “Oxfam funds Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations on projects to reduce poverty and address injustice. We value the independence of our partners and we do not expect our grantees to agree with us on all policy issues, however we don’t support partner activities that call for the boycott of Israel.”
Let’s begin with the last remark and its logical inconsistency. Money is fungible. If Oxfam gives funds to a group actively and openly supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movements, it is in fact subsidizing those activities. Surely it could find groups fighting hunger that don’t support the BDS movement.
Moreover, Oxfam has a track record that belies its claim not to be anti-Israel. NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg responded to Oxfam’s defense via e-mail, telling me that the BDS movement is itself an action designed to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, not simply force return of the post-1967 territories: “Oxfam claims that their funding for [Coalition of Women for Peace] CWP (which led the attack on SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson) as well as similar activities related to demonization does not constitute supporting “a boycott of Israel”. But the explicit goal of the BDS movement is to use boycotts of Israel to achieve ‘the complete international isolation of Israel as an apartheid state,’ as stated in the Final Declaration of the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban conference. This NGO declaration launched the BDS and demonization campaigns.” He went on to cite evidence that the BDS movement is not merely about the 1967 territories:
Omar Barghouti (head of PACBI [Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel]), said that “The only ethical solution is a (single) democratic, secular and civic state in historic Palestine” which means “by definition, Jews will be a minority.” And Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada), another BDS leader, is a leading advocate of the “one-state solution” (no Israel). To actualize this, he says “coercion is necessary,” and dismisses Jewish concerns of living under an Arab majority as “irrational, racist fears.” According to Abunimah, Zionism “is one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today,” claiming that it “dehumanizes its victims, denies their history, and has a cult-like worship of ethnoracial purity” (Twitter; October 26, 2010). He also calls Gaza a “concentration camp” and repeated a claim that IDF statements are the words “of a Nazi.”
Nor is the claim that Oxfam doesn’t support BDS activities sustainable. Steinberg pointed out, “In November 2008, Oxfam Novib funded a conference in Cairo (with the EU) on ‘the Impunity and Prosecution of Israeli war criminals’. The proceedings were broadcast on al Jazeera.” (The poster with the sponsorship logo is here: http://www.ngo-monitor.org/data/images/Image/pchrgaza_2boxes_2.jpg.)
Steinberg also argued that Oxfam engages directly in anti-Israel advocacy:
In a July 2012 briefing paper, Oxfam recommended that NGOs should engage in explicit violations of international law by “initiat[ing] and support[ing] development projects in the Jordan Valley and other parts of Area C . . . even if they have not been approved by the Israeli Civil Administration. . . . ” (emphasis in original). In 2009, Oxfam was accused of involvement in constructing a water-siphoning system, which illegally diverted water from the “main authorized Palestinian water supply.”
In response to increased (mutually beneficial) cooperation between the EU and Israel, Oxfam called on the EU to sanction Israel with “urgent and concrete measures to push for an immediate end to settlement construction and the unlawful demolition of Palestinian civilian infrastructure.” Oxfam also called on the EU to sanction Israel regarding the blockade of Gaza.(2010)
In the meantime, the actual Palestinians working at SodaStream have made up their own minds:
Palestinian Nabil Basharat has worked for years for Israeli-owned SodaStream, where he has risen up to shift manager in its West Bank factory.
He supports his wife and six children on an income he says is quite high by both Palestinian and Israeli standards. Though he’d like to see Palestinians get their own state someday, he doesn’t want it to come at the expense of his career.
“They need to understand what the factory gives the Palestinian workers and there are a lot of factories in this area doing the same thing,” says Basharat, 40, who lives in a village near Ramallah.
The “they” he alludes to are the European and American groups pushing a boycott of Israeli products to get Israel to relinquish claims to the West Bank, a region the size of Delaware on Israel’s eastern border where about 375,000 Israelis and 2.1 million Palestinians live.
One supposes that if the Palestinians are to have their own state, they’ll need a lot more economic development of the type SodaStream provides. Readers can decide for themselves whether Dr. Steinberg, Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream’s Palestinian workers (and their dependents) have the better argument.