Israel has long prided itself on being an environmentally conscious, technologically advanced nation. SodaStream is therefore exactly the kind of product Israel wants to promote: a machine which carbonates tap water, relegating fizzy drinks in a can as unnecessarily expensive and wasteful. Such a solution understandably has caused corporate backlash from soft drink competitors. The recent Super Bowl ad, which criticized Pepsi and Coke for contributing to the use of “over 500 million bottles on Game Day alone,” was immediately vetoed by CBS, a broadcasting network supported by those same companies.
The Super Bowl advertisement has brought to light another foe of SodaStream: anti-settlement activists. The main manufacturing plant is located in Ma’ale Adumim, a West Bank settlement outside Jerusalem. Sound familiar? Netanyahu’s response to the UN’s approval of Palestine as a “non-member observer state” was to resume the E1 Project — building on the corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim. According to WhoProfits, the Israeli government offers economic incentives for industries in the settlements such as tax deductions and cheap land prices.
A particularly dicey issue is the low cost of labor of Palestinian employees. Although the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that Palestinian workers from the West Bank have the same rights enjoyed by Israeli workers, Palestinian workers often claim they are discriminated against. In April 2008, Palestinian workers protested SodaStream, demanding higher wages (their original wages were below the minimum wage) and better working conditions. And they aren’t protesting alone. A recent NPR Morning Edition segment aired Palestinian rights demonstrators at a Boston rally chanting to the tune of Hava Nagila: “Your dimes are funding war crimes, and it’s about time, that shoppers take a stand, SodaStream.”
SodaStream representatives have claimed otherwise. The company’s Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Birnbaum, concluded that “we give them an opportunity not only to have a job and health insurance, but also social benefits and a very high pay scale which they could never achieve in the West Bank.”
Labeling the product’s origins has been another legal concern for SodaStream. It is necessary to know where a product comes from and how it is made in order to protect consumers against consumer fraud. Until April 2010, it had been ambiguous where the products were produced, and some products made in the Ma’ale Adumim plant were labeled as Israeli products. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek report, about one third of SodaStream products are either partially or completely made in the settlements. The EU-Israel Association Agreement from 2000 made all Israeli goods exempt from customs fees. However, as the EU does not recognize the settlements as part of Israel, this economic incentive does not apply to SodaStream products made there, making the issue of labeling the manufacturing plant controversial.
The UN Human Rights Council’s January 31, 2013 fact-finding mission reported, “private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps — including by terminating their business interests in the settlements — to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian People in conformity with international law.” The report encouraged political and economic sanctions against Israel, not just the settlements.
The UN’s position is in line with the BDS movement, which, according to its website, advocates for “boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” This position radically opposes the June 2011 law passed by the Knesset, making it illegal to publicly call for a boycott of Israel. BDS advocates for a boycott of all Israeli cultural and academic institutions such as study abroad programs in Israel, or pressures artists to refuse performing in Israel. This is not a helpful solution, especially because one of the greatest sources of criticisms of the state comes from inside Israeli universities.
In researching this article, BDS was linked to almost every source as an example of advocacy against SodaStream. The organization advocates an extremist position that hinders the possibility of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. This destroys any hope for peace. The group also advocates for the complete right of return for all Palestinians, which would destroy the notion of a Jewish state. The Israeli government’s support for settlements is a policy which is embarrassing to supporters of a democratic Israeli state. However, boycotting Israeli goods is now associated with BDS policies, a group which should not be supported.
A more moderate solution may be Peter Beinart’s proposal in his March 2012 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. Beinart argues that boycotting settlements (and not the entire state) would relieve the systematic oppression of West Bank Palestinians and maintain the two-state solution as a viable option. However, this solution isolates many moderate liberals who consider boycotting to be an extremist tactic. To achieve peace, or at least work towards it, a large coalition is necessary for viable change. It is therefore imperative to assess the effectiveness of any political strategy before diving headfirst in an ideological strike.
Conscientious citizens should put pressure on the Israeli government to lessen the economic incentives for companies like SodaStream to profit from conducting business on settlements. It is possible to have a stance that does not resort to the extreme of a complete boycott or of tacit acceptance of all Israeli policies. When the issue of settlements comes up, the two-state solution is often put in a precarious position. Long-term strategies may ultimately prove more effective than boycotts, which alienate moderate liberals. Encouraging nonviolent resistance among Palestinians and creating programs that bring Jews and Arabs together may make coexistence a reality.