Boycott win as Sodastream pulls out of West Bank

Activists outside a Target department store in Chicago call for the de-shelving of SodaStream products. Photo by Tess Scheflan/A

Israeli drink machine company SodaStream announced on October 29 that it will close its settlement-based factory in the occupied West Bank next year.

The move was hailed as a victory by campaigners for the boycott of Israel, who said they would continue to target SodaStream for its other human rights violations.

Rafeef Ziadah, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), said the announcement “shows that the BDS movement is increasingly capable of holding corporate criminals to account for their participation in Israeli apartheid and colonialism”.

SodaStream’s share price fell dramatically recently as sales dried up, particularly in North America. SodaStream insisted the boycott was merely a “nuisance”, but its spokesperson admitted the company had a strong ideological motivation: “We are not giving in to the boycott. We are Zionists.”

This may be part of the reason why the Israeli government strongly backs SodaStream. Announcing it was shutting its Mishor Adumim settlement factory, the company revealed the government has put US$20 million in grant money towards the opening of a new SodaStream factory in southern Israel.

The move seems to be intended to help protect the company from global criticism, which peaked in January with the controversy over Scarlett Johansson.

The A-list Hollywood actor had undertaken a lucrative advertising contract for the company, while remaining as an “ambassador” for poverty and development charity Oxfam. Johansson ultimately quit Oxfam after pressure mounted on the charity to dump her.

While SodaStream’s PR flacks claimed the company has “brought jobs” to Palestinians in the area, the fact remained that Palestinians were only forced to take such jobs because Israeli settlements had dispossessed and displaced them. Speaking anonymously to The Electronic Intifada for fear of company reprisal, one worker said SodaStream “treats us like slaves”.

SodaStream said it moved out of the occupied West Bank for “purely commercial” reasons, but the record of the impact of the BDS campaign against the company is clear.

In July, the company’s flagship “EcoStream” store was forced to shut down in the English town of Brighton after a sustained campaign by local Palestine solidarity activists.

A day later John Lewis, one of Britain’s biggest department store chains, announced it would be taking SodaStream off its shelves after frequent protests outside stores.

Grassroots activism also led to SodaStream being dropped by major US department store chain Macy’s.

But activists are emphasising that SodaStream will continue to be a BDS target, despite its move out of the West Bank. With the building of the new factory in the Naqab in Israel's south, the company is likely to be complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Bedouin Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Ziadah said: “Its new Lehavim factory is close to Rahat, a planned township in the Naqab desert, where Palestinian Bedouins are being forcefully transferred … Sodastream, as a beneficiary of this plan, is complicit with this violation of human rights.”

[Abridged from Electronic Intiafada.]

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