Settlement Business Owners Unfazed by Boycott Surge After SodaStream Feud

Some See Threat If BDS Fervor Spreads in Europe

By Ben Sales

Published February 04, 2014.
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Though only a fraction of Lipski’s products are shipped abroad – 18 percent of total sales are for export, of which a majority goes to Europe – Cohen acknowledges that the EU move to label settlement products is a real threat. Labeling settlement products, Cohen says, could hamper relations with retailers.

“I don’t think we’ve come to the level of a boycott, but labeling is half a boycott,” Cohen said. “The retailer will say, ‘I don’t want problems. Israel is not acting well.’ “

A European boycott could have a much larger impact on SodaStream, which according to a 2012 Bloomberg News report looks to Europe for a majority of sales. The company’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, subsequently told the Forward recently that having a factory in a settlement was a “pain in the ass.”

The impact of a boycott, though hardly irrelevant, would be more limited for Psagot and Lipski, neither of which are as reliant on European business.

But neither Burg nor Cohen share Birnbaum’s sentiments about the virtues of operating a business in the West Bank. Nor does Rami Levy, the head of the budget supermarket chain Rami Levy Hashikma Market, which operates three locations in the West Bank.

For Burg, his vineyard’s location is in part an ideological statement of opposition to a Palestinian state. Cohen said he supports Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the goal of a two-state solution. Like other CEOs of companies with West Bank operations, he believes his company furthers the cause of peace by giving jobs to Palestinians.

“Not only does it not do damage, it provides an example of how to live together, how we can do business together,” Levy said. “When you open businesses, you create more jobs. Just don’t discriminate based on religion, race and nationality.”

Levy, whose chain employs about 2,000 Palestinians, was part of a delegation of 100 Israeli businessmen to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month aimed at encouraging a peace agreement. More than half the 90 employees of Lipski’s West Bank factory are Palestinians. Cohen employs four Palestinians out of 20 total employees.

Hilik Bar, who chairs the Knesset Caucus for Furthering Relations Between Israel and Europe, said Levy’s argument won’t convince Europeans in the absence of a peace agreement. Bar strongly opposes boycotts, but the Labor party lawmaker believes the government needs to pursue peace more aggressively.

“It’s not just the two [Scandinavian] banks; it is spreading everywhere,” said Bar, who also chairs the Caucus for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict. “Israel has an image as a state worthy to isolate. It’s a whole world we’re giving up on economically as long as we don’t come to a two-state solution.”

But Levy claims not to be worried. Europeans, he says, talk a good game when it comes to settlements, but ultimately they’re focused on the bottom line.

“If we let them profit, in the end they’ll invest,” he said. “The Europeans know one thing: Israel treats them well.”


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