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Sodastream, ScarJo, and the Myth of Benevolent Occupation

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A flawed but compelling narrative has taken root in the debate over SodaStream. It's the story of the politically moderate Israeli businessman building bridges to peace by providing Palestinians good employment. What could be the problem with that?

The problem is that, by virtue of being located in a settlement, SodaStream's operations are inherently anti-peace and, by extension, anti-Israel. This is true, no matter how benevolent SodaStream's intentions or fair its labor practices. SodaStream made a conscious decision to set up operations in a settlement and become part of the occupation -- a decision it cannot now whitewash by adopting the language of peace and coexistence.

Defenders of SodaStream want people to believe that SodaStream's settlement operations promote peace, when in reality, these activities only further entrench the Israeli occupation. This occupation, now in its 46th year, is poisoning Israeli society and represents an existential threat to Israel as a democracy and a Jewish state. With the window closing on the two-state solution, those who care about Israel, and don't want its future hijacked by Greater Israel ideologues, cannot hide their heads in the sand or drown their fears in home-made fizzy water. That's why the Israeli Peace Now movement and my organization, Americans for Peace Now, endorse a boycott of settlement products, while opposing BDS efforts -- boycott, divestment, and sanctions -- targeting Israel proper.

They also want people to believe that the only important fact is that SodaStream's operations in a settlement benefit some Palestinians. In truth, the occupation prevents the development of a healthy Palestinian economy that could generate employment opportunities for all Palestinians. Given this reality, nobody can blame a Palestinian for working in a settlement, or defending his decision to do so (or for not criticizing his employer to reporters). But the fact that jobs in settlements are the best or only thing available drives home the fact that the occupation is about exploiting the Palestinians and depriving them of options, not offering them opportunities.

There is no such thing as benevolent occupation. Occupation is bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians, and antithetical to Israel's survival as a democracy and Jewish state. The effort to rationalize SodaStream's position or use this drama to oppose settlement boycotts is understandable on the part of Greater Israel advocates, "Israel-right-or-wrong"-ers, and pro-settlement hardliners. This same effort, embraced by some who would never put themselves in any of those camps, appears to be a case of good people looking for a rationale to do the wrong thing.

Someday, if there is peace with sovereign states of Israel and Palestine existing side-by-side, things may be different. One can imagine Israeli companies recruiting Palestinians to work inside Israel, including in areas of the West Bank that become part of Israel under a peace deal. One can imagine a future Palestinian government encouraging Israeli businesses to establish operations in Palestine, where they could employ Israelis and Palestinians alike. Such economic interactions could be among the mutually beneficial and mutually reinforcing fruits of peace.

SodaStream and its fellow settlement businesses are undermining the chances of ever seeing such a future. That is why as long as SodaStream insists on manufacturing in a settlement, the pro-Israel thing to do is to boycott its products.

Not long ago, some argued that boycotting settlement products was pointless. The SodaStream drama proves they were wrong. Likewise, in the past -- and again today -- some argued that boycotting settlement products would only feed the global BDS movement. The SodaStream drama, instead, demonstrates how the refusal to boycott settlements -- the refusal to draw the line between the West Bank and Israel -- promotes boycotts against Israel proper. If we cannot succeed in isolating settlements and demarcating the Green Line, others will succeed in isolating Israel. It is only by embracing the settlement boycott that people who care about Israel can push back against the false binary promoted by many BDS activists and Greater Israel ideologues alike: a choice between endorsing the occupation or treating all of Israel as the enemy.