Martin Buber tells the story of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev. Before Passover, the great rabbi was inspecting the local matzo factory to make sure it was kosher. Afterward, he said, ”This factory is not kosher.” When the shocked factory owner said, “We have followed all of the laws of kashrut,” the rabbi explained: “The women in this factory work from early morning until late at night. They are laboring too long and too hard. They are not being paid fairly for their labors.”
And so the rabbi said: “This matzo is treyf. It is not kosher because it was produced through oshek, oppression of the workers and exploitation.”
We thought of this story as we read the Forward’s coverage of SodaStream.
Palestinian workers are exploited daily under an oppressive military occupation that denies their rights and dignity. In response, the General Union of Palestinian Workers and many other elements of Palestinian society called on the international community to pursue boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. SodaStream is a target of this call as an Israeli company whose main factory is in the West Bank.
One piece (“SodaStream Boss Admits West Bank Plant Is ‘a Pain’” — Praises Scarlett Johansson, January 28) featured an interview with SodaStream’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, portraying himself as self-sacrificing for keeping the “pain in the ass” factory out of regard for his Palestinian workers, with short quotes from two Palestinian plant workers. Neither worker spoke about issues with the company, and the Forward, it seems, made no effort to include a single independent representative of Palestinian workers or the boycott movement for an alternative view of SodaStream’s West Bank presence.
The Forward’s coverage also included an editorial, “Bursting the Bubbles” (February 7), which, from its title onward, portrays BDS advocates as irrational “haters,” not as legitimate actors with political viewpoints. It claims that Palestinian society is divided by BDS tactics — demonstrably untrue — and says, “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….” This willfully ignores how Palestinian workers are exploited daily and how the BDS call, with worldwide support, comes from a groundswell of Palestinians themselves.
We hope that, as in Buber’s story, the Forward will honor those Jewish values that place justice above all, whether on the Lower East Side or in Palestine.
Jewish Voice for Peace