SodaStream, the Israeli gadget for homemade seltzer and soda, is the boogey man du jour for activists supporting the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement. Retailers around the world have been lobbied to remove SodaStream products from their shelves. A public radio station in San Francisco recently succumbed to pressure to remove the soda machine as a pledge gift. Most prominently, starlet Scarlett Johansson is being vilified for her Super Bowl commercials for the product.
What undermines the defamation of SodaStream by these entrenched anti-Israel activists is this booming global company's humane and practical commitment to true Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
The rallying point for BDS-ers is that one of SodaStream's 22 manufacturing facilities is located in an industrial park in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, and they accuse the company of "profiting from the occupation."
But SodaStream is far from an evil profiteer, intent on the colonial subjugation of Palestinians. The factory employs 500 West Bank Palestinians out of its 1,300 on-site employees. Describing the working conditions in the plant, in a 2012 interview with Al-Monitor, CEO Daniel Birnbaum, explains:
"We are building bridges between us and the Palestinian population, and we provide our Palestinian employees with respectable employment opportunities and an appropriate salary and benefits. We "even" purchase medical insurance for them from a private Israeli company, because I am not confident that the money we pay to the Palestinian Authority for such social benefits will actually be used for medical insurance. Our factory has a synagogue, but it also has a small mosque. We all eat the same food in the same dining hall, and if necessary, we will go through the same security inspection."
Birnbaum told a journalist this week that SodaStream will not close the facility and move employees to its new plant in the Negev, because of the implications for those Palestinian workers: "We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone's political agenda," he said. Challenging the BDS activists, he added: he "just can't see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them."
As for SodaStream as the poster child of Israel's "occupation," Birnbaum posited that should a Palestinian state be established, SodaStream will remain in the West Bank and "pay its taxes to the new Palestinian state."
"We already have factories under the control of the Chinese, the Germans, the Americans and many other countries," he said. "So what's the problem to have a factory in the in the Palestinian state-to-be? We don't give a hoot where the factory is going to be."
Retailers and consumers can make their own decision about stocking or purchasing SodaStream products. But the pillorying of this company by BDS activists only reveals the absurdity of their blind campaign, and their misguided refusal to engage in constructive dialogue regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, at their core, rejection of Israel's Jewish existence and the two-state solution.