BDS roundup: In latest setback, Veolia Water drops California contract bid following boycott campaign

In this latest roundup of news from the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, Veolia Water withdraws its bid on a contract in Northern California following sustained BDS campaigning; Sodastream’s Super Bowl ad gets spoofed by activists; and not-for-profit anti-hunger organization “in ethics bind” due to links with Israeli settlement builder Lev Leviev.

Veolia Water drops out of contract bidding in Northern California following BDS campaigns

- Woodland and Davis, California: Following sustained activism by boycott campaigners in Yolo County, California, multinational corporation Veolia has withdrawn its bid for a $325 million water project in Woodland and Davis, near Sacramento.

According to a press release from the Davis Committee of Palestinian Rights, the announcement came at a meeting in late December of the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency, a joint powers authority between the University of California at Davis and the cities of Woodland and Davis.

Veolia and its various subsidiaries are involved in a number of Israeli projects supporting illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, including the Jerusalem Light Rail and the Tovlan landfill.

Although Veolia did not give a specific reason for their withdrawal from the Yolo County contract bid, it was reportedly the only company which withdrew from the bidding process.

The press release adds, in part:

Members of the Davis Committee of Palestinian Rights first contested the participation of Veolia Water as a prospective bidder in June 2011. Appearing before meetings of the Water Agency Board of Directors, DCPR provided substantial documentation of Veolia’s history of profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid policies in Palestine, as well as the dissatisfaction of public agencies throughout the U.S. for Veolia’s mismanaged operations and poor performance, environmental permit violations and fines, and failure to make good on promised improvements.

On April 19th, 2012, DCPR testified before the Board charging that Veolia did not meet the Water Agency’s ethical criteria. Veolia’s involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail Transit system, its operation of settler-only buses on segregated roads in the occupied West Bank for inhabitants of illegal Israeli settlements, and its operation of a landfill on land confiscated from Palestinians have been contested by Palestinians and international human rights activists throughout the last decade. Veolia has suffered the loss of more than $20 billion in contracts to date following this global outcry.

… Bids were initially due in December 2012, but following outcry from citizenry regarding the large impact of the project’s capital cost upon resident’s water bills, the City Council decided to postpone the due date and appoint a citizens’ advisory committee to investigate rate alternatives, revisit the water supply need-assessment, and consider other water procurement options. Veolia was the only company to withdraw from bidding.

Boycott activists working to expose Veolia’s ongoing involvement in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights and international law have successfully pressured local city councils across Europe and Australia to deny Veolia’s contract bids. The company has lost billions of dollars worth of contracts over the past several years.

Recently, Veolia withdrew its bid on a waste contract in London at the last minute, following mounting opposition to the bid by the No to Veolia Action Group.

And in St. Louis, Missouri, also in late December, the city declined to approve a contract with Veolia until an official investigation into Veolia’s activities can be completed by the city, prompted by “concerns about the company’s human rights practices and financial condition.”

Spoof ad campaigns, public protests heat up against Sodastream

- United States: Gearing up for the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League in the US, boycott activists have begun filming spoof advertisement videos for Sodastream as part of an ongoing effort to expose the company’s profiteering from Israeli colonization in the West Bank. An example of one spoof ad is below:

Sodastream has bought a 30-second spot in a commercial break during the Super Bowl, which is the most-watched television event in the United States. Advertisements during the Super Bowl can cost millions of dollars each.

Sodastream products are made in the industrial zone inside the illegal Israeli settlement colony of Mishor Eddumim in the occupied West Bank.

According to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, “SodaStream reported that ‘the US will be the first market to air the TV commercial’ as part of the ‘Set the Bubbles Free’ campaign.”

A coalition of activism groups including the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is calling on activists worldwide to create their own “spoof ad” about Sodastream’s activities and practices in time for the Super Bowl. You can read more about how to create and upload your ad here.

Meanwhile, political sportswriter Dave Zirin, who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies and has, for example, written about Palestinian soccer star Mahmoud Sarsak who was imprisoned without charge, spoke eloquently about Sodastream’s Super Bowl ad in the context of the company’s practices and involvement in the Israeli settlement industry this past Sunday on MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes. The YouTube video is below:

Over the holidays, activists in at least 9 US cities participated in Sodastream boycott actions as well as one in Osaka, Japan.

Not-for-profit anti-hunger organization “in ethics bind” due to links with Israeli settlement builder Lev Leviev

- New York City: City Harvest, a not-for-profit anti-hunger organization is in an “ethics bind” because of its ties to Lev Leviev, an Israeli settlement builder.

In a press release from Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, City Harvest is “avoiding requests to distance itself from funding and support from controversial Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, despite over 500 letters to the organization complaining about Leviev’s human rights record.”

Leviev is also accused of human rights violations and unethical business practices in the diamond industry in Angola, Namibia, and possibly Zimbabwe as well, Adalah-NY adds.

Adalah-NY adds:

An October 2012 article and a celebrity photo blog reported on an October fundraiser for City Harvest held at Leviev’s Madison Avenue diamond store. In July Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the Vice Chairman of City Harvest’s board of directors, Heather Mnuchin, was opening her Hamptons home “for a viewing of the diamond collection of Leviev LVD, a City Harvest supporter.”

In February 2010, Women’s Wear Daily reported on a “luncheon for City Harvest” at Leviev’s Madison Avenue store. City Harvest’s 2010 Annual Report lists Leviev as donating $25,000 - $49,999. Board Vice Chair Mnuchin, an organizer of all three publicized City Harvest events with Leviev, and Nina Rennert Davidson, noted as an organizer of two of the Leviev events, are listed as major donors in the organization’s 2011 annual report.

… Adalah-NY, along with five other New York City human rights and food justice organizations, sent two letters (first letter, second letter) to City Harvest with extensive documentation of Leviev’s companies’ abysmal business practices. On December 10th, after City Harvest failed to return repeated follow-up calls, Adalah-NY launched a letter writing campaign which has resulted in over 500 emails sent to City Harvest’s leadership calling on the organization to sever ties with Leviev.

City Harvest even used the automated email system on Adalah-NY’s website on December 14th to send its senior management two of the form emails about Leviev, labelling them as sent from “test test.”

Ryvka Barnard of Adalah-NY commented, “We greatly value all the excellent work that City Harvest does to address hunger in our city. Still, we don’t believe that feeding hungry New Yorkers needs be achieved at the expense of Palestinian communities that are losing their farmland to Leviev’s settlements, or poor Angolan communities that have suffered violence at the hands of his private security forces. It’s a hard decision to turn back money, but sticking with ethical standards is right, and will also gain City Harvest respect and support.”

Much more on Leviev’s business practices and the relationship with City Harvest can be found on the Adalah-NY website.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this post incorrectly noted where in which Israeli settlement Sodastream products are produced. It has been corrected.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).