SodaStream, an Israeli maker of devices that carbonate beverages with a manufacturing plant in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, plans to run a TV commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl, prompting calls for a boycott of the product by the Interfaith Boycott Coalition.
The group, which includes Jews, Christian and Moslems, said in a statement that the settlement is on Palestinian land upon which only Israelis may travel. Its location, coalition added, denies “Palestinians freedom of movement within their own territory. … By opposing products made in settlements, we are working for justice and equal rights for everyone in the Middle East.”
The Anti-Defamation League called the boycott “another misguided and unconstructive project of the virulently anti-Israel BDS [boycott, divestment and sanction] movement offering nothing but a warmed over rote recitation of the movement’s disregard for the facts and the actual well-being of Palestinians.”
It pointed out that the company’s plant provides employment – including enhanced medical insurance – for 900 Arabs, half of whom are from East Jerusalem and half from the Palestinian Authority.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, pointed out that Maale Adumim is a city of 40,000 people and that there is a “wide consensus that it will remain an integral part of Jerusalem” as part of a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
“The Palestinians employed there get paid wages equal to that of Israelis,” he pointed out. “Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has repeatedly called for the 10,000 plus Palestinians working in the settlements not to show up for work. Not one has not shown up for work.”
“I got a call from the mayor of a major Palestinian city who asked me to help stop the comments [of Fayyad] because if Palestinians are not gainfully employed they will turn to terrorism,” Hoenlein added. “And he said if Palestinians stop buying Israeli products, Israelis might stop buying ours. Thus, a boycott punishes Palestinians even more than it does Israelis. And if there is enough pressure, they may close the factory and move, hurting their Palestinian employees.”
Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, a non-profit pro-Israel advocacy group, issued a statement in which she noted that the Palestinians working at SodaStream area currently earning six times more than they would be earning otherwise.
“Perhaps the irresponsible boycotters should ask the Palestinians how happy they would be if they lost their jobs,” she suggested.
SodaStream has experienced near triple digit growth in sales of its product in the United States over the last two years. It said in a prospectus that the location of one of its plants in Maale Adumim is a risk due to political pressure and bad press outside of Israel. As a result, it said it might consider moving but noted that doing so would cause it to lose tax breaks accorded manufacturing plants in the territories.
Sidney Levy, advocacy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a member of the Interfaith Boycott Coalition that supports the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination, pointed out that although Palestinians can work in Maale Adumim “it is illegal for them to live there – even though it is their land. Israel is there illegally under international law. … The Palestinian workers cannot organize or unionize and they need permits from the Israeli government to work there. That means they don’t have the same rights as Israeli Jewish workers to protest.”
Levy pointed out that “all Palestinian labor unions support the boycott of settlement goods — and most Palestinians prefer not working there.” But they work in the settlements because Israeli restrictions on the free movement of Palestinian goods has “destroyed the Palestinian economy … and Palestinians want to make a livelihood anywhere they can.”