Boycotters declare victory as SodaStream retreats from West Bank

Activists outside a Target department store in Chicago call for the de-shelving of SodaStream products.

Tess Scheflan ActiveStills

Israeli drink machine company SodaStream announced yesterday that it will close its settlement-based factory in the occupied West Bank in 2015. The move was instantly hailed as a victory by campaigners for the boycott of Israel, who said they would continue to target SodaStream for its other human rights violations.

In a press release, Rafeef Ziadah, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), said the announcement “shows that the BDS movement is increasingly capable of holding corporate criminals to account for their participation in Israeli apartheid and colonialism.”

She added that “BDS campaign pressure has forced retailers across Europe and North America to drop SodaStream, and the company’s share price has tumbled in recent months as our movement has caused increasing reputational damage to the SodaStream brand.”

The announcement was also welcomed by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and, in the UK, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“Today’s news is just the latest sign that these global BDS campaigns are having an impact on changing the behavior of companies that profit from Israeli occupation and apartheid,” said Ramah Kudaimi of the US Campaign in a press release.

Sarah Colborne of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign told me: “SodaStream is a toxic brand. They have already been de-shelved. They might think by doing this that the pressure will come off them, but while they still profit from Palestinian dispossession they will still be a [BDS] target.”

Cambridge activists today occupied the rooftop of SodaStream’s UK headquarters, posting a photo to Twitter this morning:

In a press release, Dave, one of three protesters on the roof said: “SodaStream claims to build bridges between Israel and Palestine, when in fact they’ve been involved in the exploitation of a captive workforce on stolen Palestinian land.” According to the group, Leslie, a local resident in support of today’s action, said: “Cambridgeshire may feel a long way from the occupation, but we have a key player on our doorstep. The less financially viable the occupation, the shorter it will be. Together we can beat them.”

Real money

SodaStream’s share price fell dramatically recently as sales dried up, particularly in North America. Analyst Doug Henwood wrote earlier this month that the boycott movement “may well” have cost this “real-world company real money.”

SodaStream responded to Henwood by underplaying the impact of the BDS campaign, dismissing it as merely a “nuisance.” Yet at the same time, their spokesperson admitted the company had a strong ideological motivation: “We are not giving in to the boycott. We are Zionists.”

Perhaps this is part of the reason why the Israeli government is strongly backing SodaStream. In the same announcement that it was shutting its Mishor Adumim settlement factory, the company revealed that the government has put $20 million in grant money towards the opening of a new SodaStream factory in the Naqab (or Negev) desert.

The move from a factory in an internationally-condemned settlement to the south of present-day Israel would seem to be intended to help protect the company from global criticism, which peaked in January with the controversy over Scarlett Johansson.

The A-list Hollywood actor had undertaken a lucrative advertising contract for the company, while remaining as an “ambassador” for poverty and development charity Oxfam. Johansson ultimately quit Oxfam after pressure mounted on the charity to dump her.

While SodaStream’s PR flacks – including Johansson – claimed that the company has “brought jobs” to Palestinians in the area, the fact remained that Palestinians were only brought to such desperate straits because Israeli settlements had dispossessed and displaced them. And speaking anonymously to The Electronic Intifada, for fear of company reprisal, one worker said SodaStream “treats us like slaves.”

Despite her choice of SodaStream money over charity work, the whole affair brought far more bad publicity for the company than boycott activists likely ever dreamed of.

Still a BDS target

While SodaStream downplayed their move out the occupied West Bank as done for “purely commercial” reasons, the record of the impact of the BDS campaign against the company is clear.

In July in the UK, the company’s flagship “EcoStream” store was forced to shut down in Brighton after a sustained campaign by local Palestine solidarity activists. Just one day later John Lewis, one of the country’s biggest department store chains, announced it would be taking SodaStream off its shelves. Activists in London had run regular protests outside the Oxford Street John Lewis.

Grassroots boycott activism also saw SodaStream dropped by Macy’s, a major department store chain in the US.

But activists are now emphasizing that SodaStream will continue to be a BDS target, despite its move out of the West Bank.

With the building of the new factory in the Naqab, the company is likely to be complicit in the ethnic cleaning of Bedouin Palestinian citizens of Israel, as reported by Andrew Beale for The Electronic Intifada in February.

Ziadah of the BNC said: “Even if this announced closure goes ahead, SodaStream will remain implicated … Its new Lehavim factory is close to Rahat, a planned township in the Naqab desert, where Palestinian Bedouins are being forcefully transferred … Sodastream, as a beneficiary of this plan, is complicit with this violation of human rights.”

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Comments

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It's heartening to see the BDS movement gaining steam across the world. BDS helped enormously in ending the apartheid in South Africa and it can do a long way toward freeing Palestine from the savage grip of Israeli occupation and oppression.

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BDS has shown its strength and deserves congratulations.

There is hardly any cause for "celebration" except that the corporation has
has lost profits. To regain what is lost Soda Stream is permitting BDS
to "celebrate" and will regain their money by exploiting 1. legalities
(they are relocating OUT of a settlement 2. helping Israel to push others
from lands which are theirs (but are not in a "settlement"---yet).

Where is the cause for "celebration"? It's like Wahlmart, the giant
retail store, relocating from one vast location where objections caused
them the loss of money to another location where there is not as yet
the opposition. Soda Stream in this case has fabricated a victory for BDS.

When Soda Stream has become so unprofitable that it goes bankrupt
taking Israel with it there will be cause enough to "celebrate".
Do not get fooled by these fabricated mini-triumphs.

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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This communicating vessels effect between the oppression of West Bank settlements and the oppression of the Bedouins in the Negev must be highlighted. Let's give Sodastream the star recognition it was seeking with Scarlett Johansson, by ensuring it is remembered as the company that made this clear to all on the international public arena.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.