Why I’m Boycotting SodaStream

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Israel’s settlement juggernaut continues at full speed, creating apartheid conditions on the occupied West Bank while making a mockery of any hope of a two state solution. Since no nation or institution seems willing to hold Israel accountable, it seems to me the least any concerned citizen can do is to refuse to patronize companies that directly profit from this brutal and unjust occupation.

At the moment, Exhibit A is SodaStream – a company that produces home carbonating devices. Promoting its product as eco-friendly, SodaStream is sold in 39 countries in 35,000 stores worldwide, including Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, and Kmart.

It is also manufactured in the Israeli settlement of Mishor Adumim.

A bit of history: Mishor Adumim is the industrial park section of Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank.  The land for both of these settlements originally belonged to the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El Akhmar, Anata and Nebbi Mussa, but was expropriated by Israel in the 1970s.  Today, Ma’aleh and Mishor Adumim are a key part of the Israeli government’s plan to create Jewish facts on the ground around Arab East Jerusalem.

The SodaStream boycott is a particularly instructive action since the company actively promotes itself as an environmentally concerned enterprise. This is a tactic known as “greenwashing” – a cynical attempt to hide behind liberal environmental values in order to divert attention away from egregious violations of human rights. On this subject, I was profoundly saddened to read a post today by Rabbi Jason Miller, who sang the environmental praises of SodaStream and encouraged folks support Israel (and celebrate the Jewish festival of Tu B’shvat) by buying their product.

And what about the fact that the company says its product is “Made in Israel”, yet is based in the West Bank? By way of answer, Rabbi Miller approvingly quoted the company CEO Daniel Birnbaum, who he claims is “a strong proponent of human rights”:

(Birnbaum) said that thanks to SodaStream thousands of local Palestinians in Mishor Adumim have good paying jobs. Those workers, he explains, would not be able to support their families without their jobs in SodaStream’s manufacturing plant.

Wow. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that one. I’m not sure that resorting to a colonial “white man’s burden” argument is the surest way to defend entrepreneurial activity in occupied territory.

It’s also patently untrue. I strongly recommend this report by “Who Profits” for an important and in-depth expose of SodaStream, including the manner in which it exploits Palestinian laborers who come from the villages surrounding Mishor Adumim.

Jordan Ash, writing in the Twin Cities Daily Planet has also recently addressed this issue:

As with the Maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexican border, the high unemployment rate means that many Palestinians are forced to try to earn a living through jobs in the settlements, despite the low pay and harsh working conditions.

Palestinian workers in the settlements do not enjoy the full protection of Israeli labor laws.   They must get special permits and security clearance just to be able to enter these factories.   Involvement in a labor dispute constitutes a security risk and can result in the loss of not only a worker’s current job but their ability to work in settlements in the future.   Thus, many Palestinian workers do not demand their legal employment rights due to fear of losing their work permit.

At the SodaStream factory, when workers protested that they were being paid less than half of the minimum wage and were forced to work 12 hour days, they were fired. On another occasion, when workers who were fired and were still owed a month’s wages went to the factory to request their pay, SodaStream had them removed from the factory and banned from the entire industrial park.

As with all business in the illegal settlements, SodaStream pays taxes to Israel, not to the Palestinian Authority.  The municipal taxes that SodaStream pays are used exclusively to support the growth and development of the settlement through things such as roads, education, and sewage treatment.

While I certainly don’t have any illusions that this boycott will bring the Israeli economy to their knees, I do believe it provides us with the means to take a public moral stand against the injustices Israel is committing in the occupied West Bank – and to stand in solidarity with those whose lives are impacted by this oppression.

It is a particularly timely action since the company has spent $3.8 million on a 30-second spot during next month’s Super Bowl. Apparently the commercial advocates “setting the bubbles free”. Those concerned with human rights should know that freedom for real, living breathing human beings is what is truly at stake here.


31 Comments on “Why I’m Boycotting SodaStream”

  1. Deborah Thorne says:

    I wish you would discuss why the failure to pay fair wages is a violation of Jewish law just as the treatment of migrant workers I Iowa was a violation of Jewish law. As a Jewish person I am offended by this dreadful treatment of Palestinians. I also believe Israel is committing political suicide by allowing this to happen. I just returned from Israel and the West Bank and am very saddened and troubled. Thank you for your post. I hope we can draw up a list of other ways we can put pressure on Israel and the settlements.

    • Sally says:

      Sodastream is now being sold on Home Shopping Network (HSN). Customers should write to HSN and protest carrying this product. Every little effort counts.

  2. Dave Boxthorn says:

    A little bit of advice. If I were you I’d stick to Ahava or dates, or whatever instead of Sodastream.

    As you can see here Sodastream is doing exceptionally well:

    http://www.stockhouse.com/companies/overview/soda/sodastream-international-ltd.

    Should this company continue doing well even with your boycott (and I suspect it will-it has so far) it will make your BDS movement look pretty useless.

    You think a handful of protesters outside a handful of stores ,maybe, will do much when currently (as you mention) it is being sold in 35000? (And its a little hard to protest outside an amazon or ebay ‘location’)

    At least with Ahava (which is not a public company), I believe, or dates any such proof would be harder to get.

    • The reader does not understand noncooperation in all its dimensions. Victory is not whether a company continues to do well, as the destruction of the company is not the aim of this kind of economic activism known as boycott. Boycott brings attention to the practices of specific companies and first and foremost, disturbs the status quo narrative. Over time, the protest narrative that highlights lousy working conditions, issues of land appropriation and the use of a tax system which avoids all responsibility for environmental impact on Palestinians will exert a moral jiu jitsu. Sometimes these campaigns take a year or more.
      Many people have opinions of which campaigns to support. I support the boycott of Soda Stream because the company presents itself to the public as environmentally friendly and a good employer. Not in my name.

      • Dave Boxthorn says:

        1/ By pointing out that a successful company is Israeli, the boycott itself (not Sodastream) continues and reinforces the narrative that Israelis are winners and that the Palestinians are losers, that the Jews in the Mideast can create many a successful economic organisation, while the Arabs, 50 times their number have difficulty creating any successful non-oil based economic organisation.

        And since we were just talking about war movies:

        ‘Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser’

        2/ And the only reason for anyone to think that Sodastream is doing anything ‘in your name’ is because you are mentioning its Israeli origin, not Sodastream.

  3. Donald Silversmith says:

    It isn’t enough to try to boycott SodaStream as an individual. If a boycott of a particular product is to work, especially one that is very discretionary and only appeals to a fraction of the general population, one has to raise public pressure against the stores that handle this item, so that they take these things off the shelves. Also public pressure has to be placed on the advertising channels for this product including the TV networks as well as the NFL. Finally there has to be pressure through the media with articles and sound bites such as “American Jews to Boycott Israeli Product.” A appeal to boycott advertisement in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times would also have some impact. One could also put pressure on the Board of Directors of the synagogue whose rabbi endorsed this product. If all these things are done, the point that many American Jews absolutely deplore what is going on in Israel regarding West Bank policies will have a serious impact. Just complaining as individuals will do very little, and we will have to live with apartheid in the promised land..

    • Hope you follow your own advice and are active in the ways you suggest. I am part of a 140,000 strong movement, Jewish Voice for Peace, and an even larger global movement for BDS that is based in direct action. Within th global BDS movement there are many shared campaigns as well as campaigns related to a specific locales. I hope you do write an op-ed, start a local de-shelving soda stream campaign, unless you are part of one already. In SF a group of people applied pressure on Cliff’s to de-shelve soda stream (it’s locally owned). In Santa Cruz, I believe Target was the object of a de-shelving campaign. etc. Instead of complaining about the perceived do nothing complainers, share with other readers what you’re doing in your own domain.

  4. MJ says:

    You are such a courageous soul.

  5. i_like_ike52 says:

    It is certainly heartwarming to see such self-sacrfice and a true committment to human rights by boycotting soda. Now, the next step is what are you “progressives” going to do to stop the slaughter in Syria which has already left 60,000 dead. Saying “we can’t get involved” is no excuse,…for instance, one could organize boycotts of Russian and Chinese goods because those countries are supporting Assad and keeping the killing going……oh, wait, that might cause some extra inconvenience, which boycotting soda doesn’t entail. Back to the human-rights drawing board!

    • Ike,

      You’ve brought this issue up many, many times, but as long as you insist on doing so, I’ll continue responding with the same answer I always have: actions such as these are part of a specific movement that has arisen in response to a 2005 Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in protest of Israel’s unwillingness to cease from its illegal and immoral occupation and to provide popular pressure so that it will abide by international law. Thus, the correct question is not, “Shouldn’t we also be boycotting Russia and China?” but rather, “Will we support the Palestinian call for solidarity or not?”

      If you are aware of a popular Syrian call for support through similar kinds of nonviolent direct action, I would be very interested in learning more about it and would certainly consider supporting it as well.

      • julietta wilder says:

        I kind of agree with Ike. I think it would be good to work toward changing the work conditions, rather than just boycotting the product. Liz Claiborne, Kathy Lee Gifford and Nike are some of the companies who changed their labor practices after bad publicity came to light. Of course, this has nothing to do with a two-state solution and the rest of the agenda, but it was just a thought. It’s reprehensible that the world is watching the Syrians be slaughtered and tortured, and the exploitation of children worldwide and the horrors in Congo. Palestinians have no allies in the Arab world and are used as pawns against the State of Israel. So sad, and Israel just makes things worse and worse. But Sodastream is a private company that does provide work for Palestinians and it would be a mitzvah to organize to help the workers improve conditions. Sorry I rambled on so long. . .

      • Steve Hinman says:

        Question…how are we supposed to take the “civil society call for Boycott..” comment above seriously after none other than Norman Finkelstein’s take down of the BDS movement this summer:

        “Discussing Palestinian civil groups and their claims to represent a cross-section of Palestinian society’s views, Prof Finkelstein denounced them as largely “one-person organisations” in Ramallah, unable to organise demonstrations of more than 500 people. “I gave my life to the cause. I’m tired of it… trying to play these silly little games.”

        More of his comments on the subject are here: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/63662/finkelstein-disowns-silly-israel-boycott

        Read the whole thing. Its pretty tough stuff from a professor who is well known for his anti-Israel views.

      • Although I strongly disagree with Finkelstein’s views on BDS – and find his dismissive attitude toward Palestinian civil society to be wrong-headed and patronizing in the extreme – I certainly wouldn’t deny he is welcome to his opinions. By the way, Finkelstein also believes that Israel is guilty of war crimes and that Israel is the moral equivalent of Hamas in regards to its policy of targeting killing. Do you take him equally as seriously on these issues as well or do you only take him seriously when it fits your ideological agenda?

      • Steve Hinman says:

        Prof. Finekstein has been a hero to many on the anti-Israel left. Now he appears to be arguing that the BDS movement is based upon false premisses. This should be a very interesting and troubling development for supporters of BDS.

        As for my ideological agenda, I’m basically a pragmatist..I doubt there is anyone who I completely agree with on everything.

      • Vicky says:

        Steve, Finkelstein referred to BDS as cult-like – which is why I am extra amused when proponents of Israeli policy try to present his opinion to BDS activists as though we all ought to fall on our knees and embrace it, because Finkelstein has spoken. That is what’s cult-like, if anything.

        I heard Finkelstein speak for the first time in 2006 and I talked with him afterwards. My respect for his work is tempered by an awareness that this is not a man who easily takes criticism or disagreement of any kind – and, of course, by the simple reality that like all of us, sometimes he gets it wrong.

      • kaplandf says:

        In response to Julietta’s comment:
        I’m curious how you see the SodaStream boycott campaign as not working toward changing work conditions for Palestinians. This boycott is bringing “bad publicity” to corporations like SodaStream that take advantage of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Remember, SodaStream has chosen to operate its factory not in Israel, but in an Israeli settlement on stolen Palestinian land. Even if CEO Daniel Birnbaum wishes to improve labor conditions, he has no control over the military occupation system that removes Palestinian workers if they organize or demand full labor rights. Furthermore, operating as a settlement industry makes SodaStream part of an occupation system that cripples the Palestinian economy and forces Palestinians to work under Israeli settlers.

        The only way to improve conditions is for SodaStream to stop contributing to the settlement/military occupation apparatus, which profits off of stolen Palestinian resources and exploited Palestinian labor. If they make this choice, then I think they’ll have made a genuine progression toward rectifying and injustice and no longer be a boycott target.

    • mary muon says:

      Trying to change the subject?

  6. Matt Mascovich says:

    What a bunch of hypocritical, imbecilic nonsense from the Obstinate, Whiny Socialists (aka “OWS”). They’ll pound their chests in ultra-politically correct fervor over this by Tweeting on their Iphones made by slave labor in China…

  7. Trevor Goodger-Hill says:

    I am an anti-theist and I resent being asked to sign petitions with which I agree while blabbing on about inter-faith. I do not want to have anything to do with organisations who promote the concept that religion equals morality. God is a concept created by mankind out of ignorance and it enslaves the believer and promotes a hierarchical, mysoginist and species superior attitude for this one pathetic mammal species. Israel itself is an abomination based upon the theft of land ordered by god; hence literally promoting a theocracy. All non-secular states are abominations, which pretty much covers all of them.

    • i_like_ike52 says:

      Yes, the world needs more open-minded secularist-atheists like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao to bring about your dreamed utopia.

      • Trevor Goodger-Hill says:

        In effect, you do not answer even one statement I made. Instead, by inference, you call me names linked to power-hungry individuals who believed in manipulation and killing other people because of their ideas. Incidently, those people [parading as atheists not anti-theists] were put into power for the most part by those who support the metaphysical religious concepts spouted by humanity. Congratulations on your superficiality. Those people sounded more like Ariel Sharon:

        “Let them tremble, let them call us a mad state. Let them understand that we
        are a wild country, dangerous to our surroundings, not normal, that we might
        go crazy if one of our children is murdered, just one! If anyone even raises
        his hand against us we’ll take away half his land and burn the other half,
        including the oil. We might use nuclear arms.

        “Even today I am willing to volunteer to do the dirty work for Israel, to
        kill as many Arabs as necessary, to deport them, to expel and burn them, to
        have everyone hate us. . . . .

        “What you don’t understand is that the dirty work of Zionism is not finished
        yet, far from it.”

        17 December 1982 - Ariel Sharon

        or

        Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel,
        to convicted traitor and spy, Jonathan Pollard,

        “Once we squeeze all we can out of the United States, it can dry up and blow away.”

        Yours to incite World insight, Trevor Goodger-Hill

      • Vicky says:

        Trevor,

        Unless people have been chasing you down in the street with the interfaith Sodastream petition and trying to dragoon you into signing it, you don’t really have any grounds for ‘resenting’ it. There are plenty of secular activist organisations that you can give your time to if you can’t bring yourself to work alongside religious people – which begs the question of what you are doing commenting on the blog of a rabbi. I don’t know what you were expecting when you started to read it, but given Brant’s role in life, it’s natural that he would write about questions of justice from a faith-based perspective. Faith is of huge significance to him and to many other people, including people in Palestine (it’s a pretty religious society). From the tone of your comments it sounds as if you don’t care about that, you’re just interested in having a rant about religion and pushing your own vision of ‘liberation’ on Palestinians. This vision is detached both from the things Palestinian people hold to be important and the realities of life here – this conflict is not about religion. This was clear from the outset: modern Zionism emerged as a secular phenomenon, and many of the most ardent supporters of Israeli policy in the OPT are themselves completely secular. Trying to reduce Palestinian dispossession to a question of religion doesn’t do anyone in Palestine/Israel any favours. If all you want is to stand up on an anti-theist soapbox, there are plenty of other places in which you can do that.

      • Trevor Goodger-Hill says:

        Thank you Vicky for your polite comments. I am always interested in the ideas of others, even when I disagree with them. And what better place to speak to those who hold the illusion that a god, despite whatever name they give it, exists than to speak to those who profess such insanity. There is nor has there ever been one iota of factual proof that a diety exists, and to hold such a belief carries with it the delusion that we are special in the animal kingdom, that the so-called spirit is separate from and superior to the physical body (usually twisted into the denigration of our normal sexuality and resulting in misogyny) and perhaps, worst of all, that there is an afterlife — resulting in the killing of others and the reward of sitting on the right-hand side of god or being reimbursed with a bunch of virgins. Having rabis, priests or imans, all of which partake of the killing by marching with the self-righteous armies, just reinforces the hierarchical structure of society — resulting in the almost universal acceptance of doing what one is told is moral when it is patently immoral. The christians slaughtered and tortured christains by the thousands in the middle ages, the muslims are doing it to eachother now and the jews, not even an cohesive ethnic group, use the words of their fictious god to steal and torture the semite Palestinians — and administer sterility drugs to their black fellow jews, who have fled to Isael to steal more land. Unlike you, I have no intention of telling other people what to do, or think, but I do wish to combat the concept that religion equals morality in the hope that some people with an open mind will reassess their beliefs and throw off the nonsense of religious books that prate on about doing “good” while practicing hypocrisy and “evil”.

  8. Meg Hitchcock says:

    the boycott of Soda stream is a concerned with the matter of land on which their factory is sited has been obtained by theft,.Theism or anti theism is not the issue…except perhaps in relation to one of the ten Commandments given by God to Moses…though shalt not steal.

    • Trevor Goodger-Hill says:

      Meg, I beg to differ. The belief in god is exactly the over-riding issue. Logically g-d cannot tell Moses anything since he doesn’t exist, although the Zionists — and their fellow travellers who flock to populate Palestine — use that as a basis for their nationalistic actions. [If god is unknowable, how come you know he spoke Hebrew and you could hear him.] If you would do a bit of uninspired reading you would discover that Karl Marx traces the evolution of the nation state and the reason we created it — to simplify, after the seizure of the commonly held land by the rising owning class, they needed a state to adminster the economic affairs of the emerging capitalist class, to regiment the dispossessed producers, to use a hierarchical political structure for control and, of course to wage war against other nation states for control of markets and sources of raw materials. [Isn't it interesting that the Zionists have used religion, and the afflictions suffered by their "fellow" religionists, to create a nation state, based on theocratic principals and theft by force, which now has essentially produced a new capitalist class of thirteen families? So I am told by the economic statistics.]
      Fables created by an ignorant population that claims that Moses even existed, let alone that bushes can speak to someone, who had absorbed the concept of g-d by hearing of the idea when he was an infant, cannot be believed. By the way, those “commandments”, just like the universal concept of the golden rule, predate all religions and evolved as we did from the relations of a social animal emerging from the caves: it was that basic sense of cooperation that permitted us to survive and evolve, and you really should read Petr Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid for your own edification.

  9. Robert Press says:

    I continue to believe both sides are wrong. Until they can sit together and compromise there will not be peace.

  10. elijan76 says:

    The issue is that by boycotting israeli produced products from the West Bank you are hurting the Palestinians more since they are loosing their income when the companies are moving location. Israeli companies support employ many Palestinians. Read more on

    http://livinginisrael.info/international-boycotts-actually-harm-the-palestinians-judea-and-samaria/

    • mrs269 says:

      Especially since Soda stream provides its Palestinian employees the same pay and benefits as their Jewish employees. Plus Israel gets to keep Mishor Adumim under all of the proposed peace agreements. Probably because it’s less than 10 minutes away from Jerusalem. Giving the west bank back to the Palestinians is a noble goal. Doing so by hurting Palestinians just doesn’t look like a great way to accomplish that goal.

      • mrs269:

        Do you have an objective source (i.e. other than SodaStream itself) to back up your point? Because according to Global Exchange (an international human rights organization that social, economic and environmental justice around the world), “SodaStream factory workers suffer from harsh working conditions including pay well below the minimum wage despite their entitlement under Israeli law to the same rights as Israeli workers.”

        According to one Palestinian worker, SodaStream employs 800-850 workers on the factory floor, 90 percent of whom are Palestinians. Only a tiny fraction of the Palestinians employees hold higher level positions and there are none at all in management.

        Moreover, there is a structural inequity facing Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank overall. Palestinians who work in the settlements, unlike Israelis, depend on their employers for work permits. These permits can be denied for “security reasons” after any kind of labor disagreement with an employer; therefore, Palestinian workers are unable to demand their legal labor rights without risking current and future sources of employment.

        Your point about “proposed peace agreements” is an argument based in a vacuum. According to international law, and the position of every country in the world (including the US), the settlements are not part of the state of Israel. And it does the well being of Palestinians no good to pretend that they do.


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