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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

No, Oxfam Has Not Called for a Boycott of Israel

Video of a debate about SodaStream’s factory in the occupied West Bank, pitting the Israeli company’s chief executive against the charity Oxfam’s policy director.

It may be too soon to tell if SodaStream made a wise investment by hiring the actress Scarlett Johansson as a “brand ambassador” for the products it makes in a factory in the occupied West Bank, although its share price has dropped sharply since then and the company also missed its earnings target. But one thing is already clear: Criticism of the deal from the charity Oxfam has been a publicity bonanza for a Palestinian-led movement to counter Israel’s military dominance with a campagn of boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

As that movement, commonly known as B.D.S., has received more attention, though, it has been frequently confused with a narrower campaign to boycott the settlements but not Israel, a tactic supported by some prominent Israeli and American Jews.

Ms. Johansson was responsible for some of the confusion because she implied, in a statement explaining her decision to stop working with Oxfam, that the charity supports the B.D.S. movement.

In fact, as the charity’s director of policy, Ben Phillips, reiterated in a televised debate with SodaStream’s chief executive on the BBC on Tuesday night, “Oxfam doesn’t support a boycott against Israel â€" we’ve been very, very clear about that.” However, Mr. Phillips told Jeremy Paxman of the BBC: “This factory and the settlements are not in Israel. That’s the position of international law, and the settlements hurt Palestinians.”

The confusion about Oxfam’s position is not as arcane a detail as it might at first appear. As the debate fueled by Ms. Johansson’s resignation from the charity has unfolded, defenders of Israel’s settlements seem to have made a concerted effort to discredit Oxfam’s stance against SodaStream, and other businesses that profit from the occupation of the West Bank through tax breaks and lax enforcement of labor laws, by tying it to the more radical aims of the B.D.S. movement.

While Oxfam’s stated position exactly matches that of Peter Beinart, a supporter of Israel who calls the settlements a disaster for the country, many B.D.S. activists want a total boycott of Israel until it both withdraws from the land it seized in 1967 and acknowledges the right of Palestinian refugees who fled their homes when Israel was created in 1948 to return to what is now the Jewish state. That last demand strikes many Israelis as an existential threat, since allowing the return of those Palestinian refugees and their families could well make Jews a minority in Israel, destroying its character as a Jewish homeland.

One Israeli who insists that Oxfam does support the B.D.S. movement no matter what it says is Gerald Steinberg, the president of the Jerusalem-based group NGO Monitor, which was set up to expose “politicized” nongovernmental organizations critical of Israel by “noting when their rhetoric and reports are inconsistent with their claimed principles or missions.”

In emails to Jennifer Rubin, a conservative opinion blogger for The Washington Post, Mr. Steinberg argued that because one of Oxfam’s 17 national branches had provided some financing to a group of Israeli feminists opposed to the occupation whose research on businesses that profit from the settlements is used by B.D.S. activists, the charity must support the wider boycott movement.

According to Ms. Rubin, Mr. Steinberg used similar reasoning to accuse Oxfam of endorsing the “demonization” of Israel by calling on the European Union to take “urgent and concrete measures to push for an immediate end to settlement construction.”

Commuters Share Woes of Transport Chaos in London

Channel 4 News posted video of a packed Stratford station on Feb. 5, the first day of the subway strike.

Commuters documented the chaos of getting to work on Wednesday, the first day of a strike on the London Underground that disrupted service for millions of people.

Jonny Hallam, a BBC news producer, posted images of the long lines of people waiting at one of the main subway, or Tube, stations in London, and taking alternative forms of transportation.

On Facebook and Instagram, commuters posted short videos of people struggling to get into packed trains near Haringey, a borough of London, and of crowds trying to get through the turnstiles at Waterloo station.

An editor based in the United Kingdom, Gemma Louise Lowe, showed what happened when a train finally did stop.

James Coatsworth, a media researcher, and others observed that the strike brought out more of the city’s iconic red buses as ground transportation was pressed into service.

As my colleague Stephen Castle reported, the 48-hour strike on the London Underground, which began Tuesday evening, was called by two unions to protest plans to cut about 950 jobs and close all ticket offices as part of a restructuring plan.

It shut down several parts of the subway system, which normally has some 3.5 million passenger trips each day. The lines that remained open were operating on a reduced schedule, forcing commuters to cram into overcrowded buses and trains or walk or cycle to work.

RMT, a transport union that includes underground workers, shared photographs that it described as showing “lethal” overcrowding at Waterloo station.

News organizations called out to commuters to share their experiences online via Twitter. The Times of London posted a gallery of images on its Facebook account.

On Twitter, commuters shared their long, circuitous journeys to work, or suggested alternate routes, many using the hashtag #tubestrike, such as Lucy Tobin, a writer at the Evening Standard.

Symeon Brown, a journalist in London, told fellow travelers where not to go, and was credited on the Channel 4 News web site for the video showing the call to evacuate Stratford station because of overcrowding.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

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