Is it wrong for Scarlett Johansson to perform as the celebrity global ambassador for the Israeli company SodaStream? Is it wrong for the rest of us to drink the fizzy, made-at-home water in the environmentally-friendly reusable bottles that are manufactured in Palestinian land occupied by Israel since the 1967 war?
Thanks to the high-wattage Super Bowl commercial starring the half-Jewish actress, SodaStream is getting all the publicity it could dream of, and then some. The company has become a convenient tool in the propaganda war promulgated by activists who, true to their trade, are exaggerating the extent of SodaStream’s nefarious behavior or its lofty ideals.
Examining the facts, as opposed to the propaganda, leads us to a more basic conclusion: The only legitimate criticism of SodaStream is that one of its 13 locations is where it is, in the occupied territory where Palestinians do not share the same rights as Israelis.
If you believe that buying any product from the territories reinforces the occupation, and that by doing so violates a consumer moral code, then Coke and Pepsi might indeed be better for your conscience.
For us, it’s not that simple. A blanket boycott of Israeli goods produced in the Palestinian territories — formulated as a more targeted version of the boycott, divestment and sanction movement known as BDS — is shortsighted, unfair, largely unenforceable, and ultimately self-defeating. Some Palestinian leaders have called for sympathizers to take up this cause. Some Palestinian workers, clearly, don’t agree.
The other charges and counter-charges hurled at SodaStream, especially by the pro-boycott activists, just don’t hold up to scrutiny — not the kind the Forward’s Nathan Jeffay provided in his excellent examination of the controversial claims.
Yes, SodaStream enjoys some tax benefits because of its location in Mishor Adumim, an industrial park that is part of Maale Adumim, a sprawling settlement 15 minutes from Jerusalem in occupied territory that many expect would remain Israeli in an agreement with the Palestinians. And its owner acknowledges that economic incentives enticed him to move there years ago. But the tax benefits SodaStream enjoys today are granted to other companies located in similar industrial areas within the Green Line, in Israel proper. It is not “profiting from the occupation,” as its critics claim.
Yes, while an Israeli workers’ rights group had criticized labor practices at SodaStream from 2008 to 2010, the company has had no complaints in the last three years. Even its most vociferous critic concedes that the 500 Palestinians employed there — who receive the same salary as their Israeli counterparts — earn three to four times the Palestinian average. SodaStream says the advantage is even higher.
So no special government incentives. No worker exploitation.
And 500 well-paying jobs. There’s a certain arrogance in promoting a boycott from the safety and security of America that would economically damage workers who really need those jobs, and who appear to be treated fairly inside the factory walls.
Outside, the occupation — with all its lopsided oppressiveness — reigns. It is the fault of the Israeli leadership, the Palestinian leadership, an Arab world which pays only lip service to the Palestinian cause. It’s not the fault of a company trying to make a buck by selling fancy seltzer. Ending the occupation requires everyone to engage, not to run away or to demonize the wrong parties to the conflict.