A spoof SodaStream ad via the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
Anyone flying into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport these days is confronted with a huge poster on exiting immigration.
The photograph on the poster is of hundreds of empty dirty cans and plastic bottles heaped on top of each other in what might be a landfill site. Superimposed onto the picture are the words: “1 family, 3 years, 2,066 bottles and cans. SodaStream.”
The imposing advert, situated in prime position for everyone entering Israel through Ben Gurion to see, is part of Israel’s latest attempt to distract the world from its illegal occupation of Palestinian land – this time through greenwashing. As a result, SodaStream, the Israeli carbonated drinks manufacturer, is being heavily promoted by the Israeli state as it seeks to rebrand itself from an occupier to a champion of the environment.
The central advertising message is that, by buying a SodaStream machine and making fizzy drinks at home, people no longer need to buy pop in plastic bottles and cans. The central problem is that SodaStream operates out of an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and, as such, the company is complicit in war crimes and contributes directly to the Israeli occupation.
It also falls foul of a new report on Israeli settlements released by the UN Human Rights Council on 31 January, which states: “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 SodaStream plant operates out of the industrial sector of Maale Adumin, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank, built on land stolen from the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El Akhmar, Anata and Nebbi Mussa. The municipal tax paid by the company goes to the Maale Adumin Municipality where the funds are solely used to support the growth and development of the settlement.
Like all the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Maale Adumin’s settlers have been brought in from Israel or further afield. The UN report of 31 January is clear in stating the transfer of a civilian population into occupied territory is a breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Moreover, SodaStream brands its products as “Made in Israel,” thus unfairly exempting them from customs fees when exporting into the European Union – the 2000 EU-Israel Trade Agreement exempts goods imported from Israel from customs fees but does not exempt settlement goods. This mislabelling has been highlighted by Who Profits as a possible case of consumer fraud.
Yet despite its complicity in the Israeli occupation, its location in and funding of a settlement which, like all settlements, is recognized as illegal under international law by the UN, and its contempt for trade agreements with Europe, UK media and politicians are lining up to help the Israeli state in its promotion of SodaStream.
On Israeli election night, on 22 January, the pro-Israeli pressure group, BICOM, hosted a party in London for the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. The Israeli election night party for British MPs was also a promotional event for SodaStream, which provided soft drinks for guests. BICOM was thanked from the platform by Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, for promoting a “great Israeli export.”
The BBC, funded by UK license-fee payers and therefore supposedly free from advertising, also appears to have bought into the SodaStream hype. On 21 September 2012, the BBC’s self-proclaimed flagship news and current affairs programme, “Today,” ran a five minute interview with SodaStream’s Chief Executive, Daniel Birnbaum.
Birnbaum used the opportunity to advertise SodaStream not just as an eco-friendly product, but one which also, allegedly, has health benefits. The BBC interviewer, Simon Jack, focused the interview on “the reasons for the consumer to have a SodaStream.” A concurrent BBC Online article by Louise Coletta, published on the same day, followed the same, soft approach to SodaStream – presenting it as a harmless, even cuddly, brand.
At no point during the “Today” interview did Jack interrogate Birnbaum about the company’s manufacturing plant being located in an illegal Israeli settlement, stealing Palestinian land and water, destroying the Palestinians’ environment, mislabelling its product, or being complicit in occupation and war crimes. He did not ask Birnbaum what the Chief Executive thought of the weekly protests, held every Saturday in Brighton outside the company’s only UK store, with protestors demanding that it be closed down.
The BBC audience, listening to this interview or reading Coletta’s online article, would be entirely unaware of these issues.
A complaint by Palestine Solidarity Campaign activist, Elizabeth Morley, to “Today,” querying the impartiality of a business-based item which kept its audience in the dark about the murkier side of the business being discussed, elicited this response from Claire Jordan, of BBC Complaints:
As was made clear in the introduction, SodaStream was once a leading, and highly fashionable product, which has since fallen out of favour somewhat. The interview was framed around the company’s attempts to revive its fortunes, not a discussion on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Ms. Morley was not asking for “a discussion on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.” But an item on a company’s “attempts to revive its fortunes” would surely be more relevant if information was provided on the growing worldwide boycott movement against SodaStream, a movement which has the potential to seriously harm those revival attempts.
At its annual general meeting last week, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the largest pro-Palestinian solidarity movement in the UK, passed a motion which confirmed the adoption of SodaStream as a campaign target for the coming year and beyond. SodaStream protestors in Brighton hope to emulate the success of pro-Palestinian protestors in London whose pickets were successful in closing down the flagship store of another settlement company, Ahava, in 2011.
In the US, the Interfaith Boycott Coalition is launching its SodaStream boycott campaign today, 3 February, to coincide with the company’s Super Bowl commercial, which will be broadcast during the NFL event. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has been encouraging activists to make spoof adverts, highlighting the crimes of the occupation, and has created a playlist of the best.
And so, while politicians and mainstream journalists fall for the hype of SodaStream and willingly turn a blind eye to its aiding and abetting of land theft and occupation, activists are mobilizing across the globe to hold this complicit company to account and stop the Israeli government’s attempts at greenwashing in its tracks.