I was the president of my university’s chapter of Oxfam during my senior year of college. That year, together with other members, we organized a large, university-wide Hunger Banquet. The idea is simple, clever, and powerful: invite first-world college students interested in learning more about world hunger to a banquet. Then, randomly separate them into three groups, based on actual statistics about world hunger. Those from “rich countries”— about 15 people—sat at tables and received a three- course meal, with delicious, untouched food left over for about 30 more people. Those from “middle income countries” –around 30 people, received rice and beans, and had to sit on chairs without tables as they ate. Those from “poor countries,” about 50 people, had to sit on the floor and received only a cupful of rice for dinner. As the students ate their respective dinners and contemplated this unfair arrangement, I gave a talk about hunger around the world. The “first-world” students gazed sorrowfully at their hungry friends sitting on the floor, and were frustrated by the fact that they were not allowed to share the extra food with them. The event was eye-opening for my fellow students, and afterward, many donated money to Oxfam to help alleviate world hunger. I regret hosting that event.
I regret my involvement with Oxfam during my time in college.
Because I realized—too late— that Oxfam chooses to be blind and hypocritical. By attacking Soda Stream, a company that actually lifts the Palestinian people out of poverty by providing them with well-paying jobs close to their homes, they are inflicting poverty on the very people they claim to help. Even when Palestinian workers speak out against the boycott, their entreaties fall on deaf, self-righteous ears.
Scarlett Johansson was right to cut ties with Oxfam because the organization is morally bankrupt. If they truly cared about the Palestinians in the West Bank, they would realize that the highest form of charity is to provide a person with gainful employment, not to facilitate handouts to corrupt leaders with Mercedes-Benz addictions. Billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinian Authority do not reach the Palestinian people. The CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum, has said that he remains committed to the Palestinian workers and will not “throw them to the street,” but also admitted that the West Bank factory has been “a pain.” Thankfully, he cares enough to keep his business in the West Bank, for now. But what happens if the media pressure and boycott cause the company too great a loss? Who could fault them for moving the factory somewhere else? If that happens, Oxfam will be to blame for harming hard-working Palestinians who, after decades of conflict, just want a chance at a stable life and a future for their families.
In fact, raising the economic level of the Palestinian people will lead to more stability and, as a result, exactly what organizations like Oxfam claim to want for the developing world—better education, accountable leadership, and a peaceful state that continues to do business with Israel in a cooperative, productive way.
So don’t worry, Scarlett. Don’t feel guilty. You did the right thing. And I hope that Oxfam learns its lesson.