Eye on the Middle East May/Jun 2013

How often have you seen a household appliance create an international commotion? Apparently, when an Israeli company manufactures it, people become agitated.

SodaStream International is an Israeli company selling a kitchen appliance that turns ordinary tap water into carbonated water. It also sells more than 100 flavorings that mimic well-known sodas and other beverages, so you can make virtually anything you like at home.

The company is traded on NASDAQ; and the soda maker is sold in 55,000 stores—including Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, Walmart, Target, and Macy’s—in 43 countries. In February it advertised during the Super Bowl, becoming the first private Israeli company ever to air such a commercial. The message: Using SodaStream saves the planet myriads of unnecessary plastic bottles.

But saving the planet apparently isn’t the prime consideration for the Islamic and political organizations that want to put SodaStream out of business, despite the fact that it employs more Arabs than Jews.

One of its factories is located in Mishor Adumim, an industrial park in Ma’aleh Adumim, located less than 15 minutes west of Jerusalem. Although some consider the area “occupied territory,” Ma’aleh Adumim actually is located in Area C, which, according to the Oslo accords, is considered “disputed territory.” The documents signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority leave the area under Israel’s control until a final agreement can be reached.

That fact, however, does not impress the Interfaith Boycott Coalition, an advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). The Coalition advocates boycotting SodaStream, claiming that buying the soda maker is the same as supporting the occupation of the West Bank.

An online petition asks stores not to carry SodaStream. According to Kristin Szremski, a spokesperson for the Coalition, “The boycott of SodaStream felt like it was a great opportunity to raise awareness about settlements and thwart SodaStream’s effort to get into the American market.”

The Interfaith Boycott Coalition sees itself as the faith-based wing of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Its members include the Presbyterian Church USA’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network, Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network, United Church of Christ Palestine Israel Network and Response, Jewish Voice for Peace, United Methodist Kairos Response, and others.

The website to boycott SodaStream, sodastreamboycott.org, showcases support from Imam Zaid Shakir, an Islamist cleric with a history of incendiary rhetoric. It also boasts support from Karen Danielson, outreach director of the Muslim American Society, which federal prosecutors say was founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.

SodaSteam would seem like the last company to offend anybody. It employs 500 West Bank Palestinians, 400 Arab Israelis, and 200 Israeli Jews and foreign workers (including African refugees).

CEO Daniel Birnbaum says the company is committed to “practice equality and full cooperation both on the job and off it.” Every day his workforce practices that philosophy by working and eating together at the plant. Employees enjoy the same medical insurance coverage and equal wages. They can worship at either the mosque or synagogue built by the company and located in the factory. Jewish male employees openly wear yarmulkes, while the Muslim women wear their hijabs.

Isn’t this what a peaceful Middle East could look like? Would not both Palestinians and Israelis want this? Not according to Interfaith spokesperson Szremski, who dismissed the argument that hurting SodaStream will hurt the livelihoods of Palestinians: “The fact that a worker goes to work every day does not indicate that it is a good thing.”

Yet SodaStream believes it is a good thing to be responsible for contributing to the Palestinian community by supplying jobs. More than 3,000 Palestinians rely on the income and medical benefits these jobs provide.

If you love soda, are interested in saving the planet from plastic bottles, and believe that Genesis 12:3 promises a blessing to those who bless the Jewish people, I say buy SodaStream.

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