Listen: SodaStream quits West Bank yet remains cruel to Palestinians

SodaStream will close its main production facilities in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank next week.

Boycott activists say this is a direct result of steady global campaigning against the fizzy drink maker. However, activists are maintaining their campaign against the company. As it declared last year, SodaStream is moving its facilities to a new location in the Naqab (Negev) desert in present-day Israel, where Palestinian Bedouin communities have been struggling against home demolitions and forced expulsion by the Israeli government. Israel is subsidizing the new factory with $20 million in grants.

“Even when this closure [of the West Bank factory] goes ahead, SodaStream will remain implicated in the displacement of Palestinians,” said Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), in a press release sent out last week.

“Its new Lehavim factory is close to Rahat, a planned township in the Naqab (Negev) desert, where Palestinian Bedouins are being forcefully transferred against their will,” Nawajaa added. “SodaStream, as a beneficiary of this plan, is complicit with this violation of human rights.”

Toxic brand

SodaStream has taken significant financial hits, including falling stock prices and plummeting sales, as grassroots campaigners have successfully organized to label SodaStream as a toxic brand around the world. Rafeef Ziadah, a spokesperson for the BNC, said last year that SodaStream’s planned shutdown of the West Bank factory “shows that the BDS movement is increasingly capable of holding corporate criminals to account for their participation in Israeli apartheid and colonialism.”

As The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley reported last October, 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 2014 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 the anti-poverty group Oxfam. Johansson ultimately quit Oxfam after pressure mounted on the charity to dump her.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported this week that SodaStream’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, claims that the factory move hurts West Bank-based Palestinian workers and that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which he labeled “anti-Semitic,” “doesn’t care about the Palestinian people.”

Deflecting criticism

Stephanie Westbrook, a Rome-based journalist and longtime SodaStream boycott organizer, told The Electronic Intifada that Birnbaum’s comments reveal a well-practiced feigning of concern for Palestinians in the West Bank — those who are left with little choice under military occupation than to work at SodaStream’s factory in an illegal settlement.

“It’s something that the company has learned to use as a way to deflect criticism from their violations of Palestinians’ rights,” Westbrook said.

In 2013, Westbrook spoke to a Palestinian worker at SodaStream’s West Bank factory who said that the Palestinians there “always feel like we are enslaved” and described the company’s discriminatory hiring practices.

As the company moves from the West Bank to the outskirts of the Rahat township in the Naqab, Westbrook said that campaigners will be organizing against SodaStream’s active role in the displacement of Palestinian Bedouin communities in “unrecognized” villages. Such communities, which are ignored by the Israeli government, are facing ongoing loss of traditional agriculture and violations of the right to natural resources, including water.

“They are denied the most basic services, anything from schools to roads to clinics — and also water,” Westbrook explained. “So the water that’s in the slogan for SodaStream — ‘Water Made Exciting’ — is something that must sound incredibly cruel to these communities that are living without any running water.”

Westbrook added that the boycott campaign against SodaStream will continue to be an educational tool in highlighting Israel’s discriminatory policies and pressuring companies that profit from violations of Palestinians’ rights.

Listen to the interview with Stephanie Westbrook via the media player above.

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Wherever soda stream goes, continue to boycott. BDS works. Shun Scarlett Johansson's films. What BDS hurts is the Israeli public face.

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).