US retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF drops SodaStream

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Protesters in Nablus denounced Israel’s plan to ethnically cleanse tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Naqab.

(Nedal Eshtayah / APA images)

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Click here for the transcript of the interivew with Sabreen Shalabi.

Rush transcript: Anna Baltzer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

The Electronic Intifada: So this is a very significant move by TIAA-CREF, to drop Sodastream from its portfolio. What do you attribute to this move, and what does this signify in terms of broader activism around divestment?

Anna Baltzer: Well, we cannot be sure of the reasons why TIAA-CREF divested from SodaStream. We do know that SodaStream has performed very well over the last 12 months, market-wise; well above average. And yet TIAA-CREF decided to divest.

Regardless of TIAA-CREF’s reasons, I think what we’re seeing is that it is increasingly unacceptable to associate in any way, to invest in, to sell products that are produced in illegal Israeli settlements. And we’re seeing this as part of that trend.

Whether TIAA-CREF will admit it or not, we are not privy to those internal conversations.

EI: Talk a little bit more about what Sodastream boycott campaigning looks like right now, across the US and across the world. What are some of the actions that have really been sustaining this campaign?

AB: So SodaStream is one of the most popular BDS targets nationwide. There are campaigns happening in at least 20 cities in various stages of their development. And SodaStream really exemplifies corporate profiteering from the Israeli occupation. It exemplifies complicity and participation with Israeli companies in Israel’s gross violations of Palestinians’ rights.

Companies like SodaStream exploit Palestinian land and resources and labor, and activists around the country see SodaStream as an excellent way to educate people about the occupation and to make those links — to show that this is not just happening across the world, but it makes it local. It brings it to Seattle, or St. Louis, or whatever city you’re in. That these products that are on your shelves are produced in an Israeli settlement, SodaStream is profiting from the violations of Palestinian rights. So activists are using all kinds of creative campaign strategies and tactics to get the word out, with some success.

People protest local vendors, educate consumers to try and dissuade them from purchasing SodaStream, they do flash mobs, and there was a really neat contest where people made ads that were spoofs of the ads that SodaStream were putting on during the 2013 Super Bowl — really attracting attention to the underbelly of SodaStream, to the real SodaStream.

It’s public relations strategy to try and sort of deflect attention to the reality that it is a deeply-regressive company, a colonial outpost, by touting progressive values like valuing the environment, or workers’ rights — when in fact it in itself it is deeply-regressive and is participating in egregious human rights violations.

So SodaStream is a really great way for us to bring the realities of what is happening in Palestine to our local towns and cities across the country, which is what activists are doing. It’s very widespread, in fact I’m involved in a network of different campaigns around the country that are coordinating with each other, talking about different corporate targets, talking about different tactics that are working, trying to keep our campaigns local but also learn from each other. And we see it growing, so much so that it’s sometimes hard for me to keep up with all the different ones that are springing up around the country.

SodaStream is a very, very controversial product, and I think we’re going to see it continue to be so, and I think that TIAA-CREF’s decision to divest may be related to that, and certainly comes at a time when it really is no longer acceptable to continue to do business as usual with settlement products.