Jason Kenney supports SodaStream, jabs Oxfam on Twitter

Employment Minister Jason Kenney tweeted a photo of his newly purchased SodaStream, in response to Oxfam parting ways with actress Scarlett Johansson over her partnership with the Israel-based company.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney tweeted a photo of his newly purchased SodaStream, in response to Oxfam parting ways with actress Scarlett Johansson over her partnership with the Israel-based company. (File photo). THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

*Please note: This story has been updated to include comments from Oxfam Canada

Celebrity endorsements may work well to get consumers to buy a product, but apparently so does controversy.

That appears to be what led Canada’s Minister of Employment Jason Kenney to pick up a SodaStream — the popular Israeli-made water carbonation system that has been caught in a public relations debacle as of late.

In a tweet posted Monday, Kenney said he bought a new SodaStream and thanked international aid organization Oxfam for the tip.

Last week, Oxfam parted ways with actress Scarlett Johansson after she became SodaStream’s brand ambassador and face of the company’s Super Bowl ad campaign. She had worked with Oxfam since 2005 and served as one of its Global Ambassadors since 2007.

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Although SodaStream is headquartered on the outskirts Tel Aviv, one of its factories is located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

In acknowledging Johansson’s decision to step down from her post, Oxfam said her promotion of the company was “incompatible with her role as Oxfam Global Ambassador.”

“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,” the organization said in a statement on its website. “Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

Kenney and the Conservative government are staunch supporters of Israel, however the Government of Canada officially considers Israeli settlements within Palestinian territory to be illegal.

WATCH: Thornhill MP Peter Kent officially rose in the House of Commons Tuesday to offer words of support for SodaStream

In his tweet, Kenney indicated that his $149.99 purchase — which his office confirmed was a personal purchase — was going against a boycott of Israeli products.

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Pro-Palestinian activists have rallied against SodaStream and its presence in occupied Palestinian territory and the company is among those targetted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

Palestinian BDS National Committee spokesperson Rafeef Ziadah said the “controversy has shined a light on the fact that SodaStream is at the heart of Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid.”

The group also compared the Jewish actress to performers who ignored an international boycott against apartheid-era South Africa, saying she “will be remembered for having stood on the wrong side of history.”

The criticism over SodaStream’s West Bank factory has also been linked to the company seeing a 3.3 per cent dip in its stock value in New York, Bloomberg News reported on Monday.

In the wake of Johansson’s resignation from Oxfam, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum has come out in defence of the company, saying it employs about 500 Palestinians and more than 400 Israeli Arabs at the plant, and relocating the plant would put them out of work.

“We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” Israel’s Haaretz reported Birnbaum saying. “[I] just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them.”

An article in the Christian Science Monitor last week highlighted the opinions of Palestinian workers who said they feel boycotting the company would do more damage than good.

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Global News attempted to get a comment from Kenney on Tuesday, but spokesperson Alexandra Fortier said he was meeting with provincial representatives to discuss the Canada Job Grant program and would not be available.

Fortier referred to an interview Kenney gave Sun News Network last week, saying it provided the context for his SodaStream purchase and subsequent tweet.

Kenney said in the Jan. 30 interview he was ending his support for Oxfam and its work.

“I didn’t know Oxfam was involved in crazy politics like this,” the minister said. “I’ve given money to Oxfam in the past because I thought they helped poor people, not marginalize Israelis and make Palestinians unemployed. So, I’m dropping Oxfam as a charity and I’m picking up SodaStream as a customer.”

“Thanks to all of the nutters at Oxfam for marginalizing the Palestinian people,” he said.

Global News asked Oxfam Canada for a response to Kenney’s comments.

The organization did not respond directly to that request, but Oxfam Canada Executive Director Robert Fox issued a statement saying the organization “support[s] the right of consumers to know the origin of the products they purchase.”

“Oxfam therefore urges the Israeli government to ensure distinct labeling of Israeli products and settlement products so that consumers may clearly differentiate between the two,” Fox said in an email sent late Tuesday afternoon.

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Fox also clarified, despite claims to the contrary, Oxfam “does not and has never supported a boycott of trade with Israel. We do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement nor promote its objectives.”

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