Forget SodaStream, help Palestinian workers by boycotting settlements and ending the occupation

I’ve heard this already a couple times on my book tour: “Hey, we shouldn’t boycott settlement goods. It’ll hurt job prospects for Palestinians!”

To me this sounds exactly like a white Afrikaaner saying, “Hey, if you try to end Apartheid, it’ll hurt the black people we’re kind enough to allow to leave their Bantustans occasionally and work for us at whatever wages we deem appropriate! (It’s not like they have any other prosepects… for some strange reason…)”

An excellent article in the Electronic Intifada picked up this theme and thoroughly demolished this ridiculous argument.

One example they use is a video made by the Israeli company SodaStream, whose main manufacturing facilities are located in an illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The video includes footage of Palestinian workers at the factory, the luxury coach that apparently takes them from their villages to the settlement, the factory “mosque,” and Sodastream chief executive Daniel Birnbaum patting workers on the shoulders and explaining that SodaStream “builds bridges, not walls.”

Responding to the video, the Palestinian Christian organization Kairos Palestine described the vision of reality presented as “cynical at best; at worst, it is criminally misleading.” The letter from Kairos Palestine went on the say “the emphasis on SodaStream’s economic benefits for its workers is, under the circumstances of occupation, absurd and offensive: what Palestinians need is freedom, not fancier oppression. It doesn’t matter if our cage is made of iron or gold: it is a cage.”

In Apartheid South Africa as well, companies that were complicit with the regime tried to adopt a “code of ethics” for continuing to engage with Apartheid:

Several large US companies, including Ford, General Motors, IBM and Union Carbide, signed on immediately, with other companies added later bringing the total to more than 130 endorsers. Ronald Reagan, a strong ally of the regime in South Africa, also supported the Sullivan Principles as part of his “constructive engagement” policy.

A public statement published in 1979 and signed by some 60 religious leaders, trade unions, academics and human rights organizations called into question the true effects of Sullivan’s code of ethics. Titled “The Sullivan Principles: No Cure for Apartheid,” the statement argued that the Sullivan Principles had “developed rapidly into a major defense of US business activity in South Africa” and were being used to undermine divestment campaigns.

The signatories of the statement argued that firms tended to endorse the Sullivan Principles “not as a result of genuine change in corporate attitudes but as a public relations effort,” providing “precisely what the companies were looking for: a guaranteed public relations success which promised maximum credit for minimum change.” The reforms proposed by the code, which were voluntary and provided no means for enforcement, were confined to the workplace and raised no objections to the system of apartheid that was the source of injustice in South Africa. “Africans are not struggling and dying to reform apartheid,” the statement added. “They want nothing less than the abolition of the system.”

Ten years later, Sullivan [the original creator of the "code of ethics"] abandoned his principles, disappointed that they had not had the expected impact. Sullivan instead called on companies to withdraw completely from all business activities in South Africa and on the US government to impose sanctions…

SodaStream, along with other supporters of oppression, occupation and apartheid, are using Palestinian workers in an attempt to give legitimacy to an unjust system, reinforcing the idea that Palestinians should make do with a job, rather than fight for every right they are due.

Next time someone suggests that taking steps to end the occupation — steps requested by the Palestinians themselves — will hurt Palestinians, be sure to remind them of these realities.

Or just say what I tend to say: “Hey, you know what hurts job prospects for Palestinians? A neverending military occupation that denies them basic human rights, including the right to develop their own economy.”

About Pamela Olson

Pamela Olson is the author of Fast Times in Palestine. She blogs here.
Posted in Activism, BDS, Israel/Palestine, Occupation

{ 28 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. HarryLaw says:

    Daniel Birnbaum CEO of Soda Stream is a proven liar, when Empire, which sells the Soda Stream devices in Sweden, said it was not aware that the factory was located in a settlement, and added that it had informed Soda Stream that Empire did not want the factory to stay there. Mr Daniel Birnbaum CEO of Soda Stream, was asked for comments by the National Swedish radio, he said Soda Stream “will supply the Scandanavian markets with products from any of our 7 facilities other than the Mishor plant” This is an outright lie, the Mishor plant is the only one that manufactures the main carbonating devices, apart from a few small components which are outsourced to China.
    It has a small operation in Ashkelon in Israel but this only produces the syrups which are extras to the main device. see Soda Stream, who profits.

  2. RJL says:

    You know, Pamela, your friend Abbas, couple of years back, wanted to stop Palestinians from working in any business (espec. construction) in the W.Bank. Nothing ever came of it, and he was opposed by his own people, for lack of jobs elsewhere. You could, of course, argue the PA economy doesn’t grow sufficiently d/t the occupation, and no doubt there’s truth in that. There is some foreign investment in the W.Bank, and some wealthy Palestinians in the “diaspora” have returned to start businesses, too. Yet, many more companies are reluctant, because of the terrible corruption and lack of transparency. I.E.-money doesn’t go where it should, ends up in some powerful peoples’ pockets, and no lawyer can help you. To a large degree, that is true of some current east European economies as well. The PA needs to modernize and bring its own house into order, aside from the severely curtailed freedom of speech there, before international companies flock to invest. Yes, there’s definitely a pool of well educated talent there, but their own (long overdue election) “government” stifles necessary investment through their own faults.

  3. alfa says:

    Hi Pamela, Good to learn a bit about your tour experiences. I missed the Tattered Cover event, the storm, I live 180 from Denver, hope to see you in Boulder tomorrow.

    I am hoping you would come to the BDS conference Saturday, link to coloradobdscampaign.org ?

    • Pamela Olson says:

      Thanks, Alfa. The weather was a bit nuts on Tuesday, but luckily we still had a full house! Most of my audiences have been thoughtful and generally awesome, but every now and then I’ll hear an ignorant comment like this, and it’ll put my hackles up. I was glad to find this article that laid it all out so calmly and clearly.

      I’d love to go to the Colorado BDS conference, but I’ve been invited to hike with some amigos in Boulder on Saturday. It’s pretty hard to pass up — book touring is way more intense than I expected, and a day to unwind would be great. But the BDS conference sounds great, too. I guess I’ll play it by ear.

      See you in Boulder in any case!

      • alfa says:

        Pamela, I think you should go on that hike, you will have had a busy week and it looks like nice weather forecast, refresh your batteries. You’re a valuable jewel for the cause and the human race.

        Just took a look at your schedule, looks like a event was added for Friday, UC boulder, if that’s open to public(?) I’ll do that one, more convenient with being back in the area Saturday. Take care and enjoy our mountains.

  4. K Renner says:

    Just don’t buy anything that says “made in Israel” on it.

    • Danaa says:

      Agreed. The only way forward on BDS that makes sense is to avoid as much as possible anything with “made in Israel” tag. All this boycotting of settlement products is just so much noise, IMO and barely makes a dent. besides, the israelis are clever enough to find ways around the roadblocks.

      There is only one solution and that is all out boycott. The justification is obvious – the vast majority of israelis support the occupation and are only concerned if it looks like they can’t get away with it. Hardly any israeli loses sleep over a single suffering palestinian and if tomorrow a way was found by israel to dispose of them all without a howl from the world, that would be fine – again with most israelis (disclaimer – not all!). Every day israelis support and uphold the horror show and oppression that is the occupation. Every day they support criminal activity they know very well is carried out in their name. And most – not all – could care less if they could just find a way to “nuke” Iran and Lebanon too – if only there were no consequences – why – they could find a way to live with the outcome, no matter how great the atrocity – as long as it isn’t the “Jewish ones’ that suffer. That’s the sad reality of the israeli population. They deal with it just fine, being armed with enough excuses to fill the oceans of the world as to why they need not care about calamities that are of their own choosing.

      The sick gestalt that is the israeli mind-frame is the reason I support not only commercial boycott but also cultural and academic. It’s not all that hard, and it can be something consisting of a series of personal choices. very personal even. One does not have to always give a reason why one chooses to collaborate with one university rather than another. one does not even need to give an excuse for skipping a performance – it’s not like there isn’t plenty to choose from. And when it comes to buying any equipment or a software application or a product – the choices are, again, legion. Isn’t that something we learnt to do as good consumers anyways? in just one example – I know people who refuse to shop at Walmart as a matter of principle. Yes, they are giving up on a few things, like lower cost on a few items, but aren’t they also gaining in, eg, easier conscience? what’s the cost of that? other people choose to be vegetarians. Again, they lose out on a few staples and need to work harder to replace them to remain healthy. But perhaps their overall health gains from having to be more resourceful and perhaps also from the easier conscience.

      If more and more people boycotted anything that’s made in Israel and avoided inviting their authors/academics/artists/technologists etc it’d make a real impact. Some very good people can get caught in this, no doubt. They can, however, leave israel. Living there is a choice and by making that choice those who stay there give a hand to a horrific occupation and a crazy quilt of steroid fueled ethnic theocracy masquerading as “culture”.

      Of course, it’s easy for me to say. I made the ultimate boycott – I’ve stopped speaking and reading in Hebrew quite a while ago, and let even my close family connections wither on the vine. That last one took only the recognition that everyone and everything is ultimately replaceable. Change is not necessarily a bad thing, and learning to live without some things one has taken for granted can make for some good lessons in creative choices. But i do accept that this may be harder for some than others. Others can make worthier choices and more power to them.

      • ritzl says:

        You’re a treasure, Danaa. And may your family reconcile to YOUR point of view. Tough stuff that. “Long run” clichés don’t matter too much in the interim.

      • miriam6 says:

        Danaa , you seem motivated to embrace punitive sanctions against your own country more out of a feeling for your own self- loathing than any feeling of genuine positive solidarity with the Palestinian people.
        Nowhere in your long diatribe , bearing false witness against your own, do you actually MENTION the Palestinians!
        You seem entirely self concerned.
        And it is such a shame you choose not to speak Hebrew.
        Mahmoud Darwish once described Hebrew as a ” language of love”.
        You assume sanctions must be the answer, but you are misguided.
        link to spiked-online.com

        link to econlib.org

        • Danaa says:

          Actually, miriam6, hebrew is not all that good a language for love. speaking from experience. It’s definitely better in french – try it sometime.

          i do not BTW profess to stand for Palestinians per se. Not being one – it’s not for me to do – as I cannot even begin to appreciate their suffering in the hands of their conquerors. But i do try to stand for humans – being one myself – and which I consider palestinians to be as well. It is humanity that israel put itself in opposition to and I am sorry to see you don’t have the tools to appreciate what that means.

          And yes, far from self-loathing (is that a projection BTW?) I do indeed resent having spent over 2 decades growing up in what i consider a cult. Like all refugees from cults- israeli mormon, ultras-orthodox, a lingustic struggle is part of the de-programming took kit, especially since language itself was part of the programming protocols. But I have no hope you’d understand since you seem to try rather hard to keep one foot inside the cult. Not that you could ever gain full entrance into the israeli gestalt, sorry. But putting comments on MW is certainly a good way of knocking on those doors – and they love that sound inside the gates. Makes them feel popular…..

          PS you shouldn’t take up arms against an Israeli – ex or extant. They don’t mind fighting under the belt, you know. That part never changes – even if transposed to another language…..

        • K Renner says:

          I don’t entirely understand the concept of “false witness”, but I assume it has to do with lying. Danaa isn’t lying, as far as I’ve seen. What Israeli in the mainstream shows any empathy for Palestinian suffering?

          Also, Palestinians were mentioned in that “long diatribe”, as you call it.

    • ritzl says:

      Exactly. Let the Israelis sort out and be truthful about what comes from where. They haven’t and won’t. Not my problem to do either, if they themselves are not going to bother with it. Anything labeled “Made in Israel” has to be assumed to have been made in settlements.

  5. miriam6 says:

    Pamela, opinion is still divided as to the extent to which sanctions could really be said to be responsible for ending Apartheid in South Africa.
    The economist Thomas .W. Hazlett has written on the subject, and he believes other factors mainly internal to South Africa were what made Apartheid ultimately unsustainable.
    According to Hazlett, the main external pressure which contributed to an end to South African apartheid was not sanctions but was the collapse of Soviet Union and Communism.

    He believes the sanctions that were imposed had much less effect than you seem to think.

    “Did international sanctions against South Africa force Pretoria’s hand in these reforms? The evidence is virtually unanimous that progress was only modestly correlated at best, and negatively correlated at worst, with such foreign campaigns. Not only did sanctions fail to lower South African trade flows from their previous levels, but GNP growth actually accelerated after the European Community and the United States imposed sanctions (in September and October 1986, respectively). Perversely, South African businesses reaped at least $5 billion to $10 billion in windfalls as Western firms disinvested at fire sale prices between 1984 and 1989.”
    link to econlib.org

    “Whatever the economic impact, the immediate political effect of sanctions was to encourage retrenchment by the Botha regime then in power. Right-wing (proapartheid) support rose sharply in the May 1987 parliamentary elections, and the National Party government responded by shelving all reforms and brutally suppressing antiapartheid dissent, initiating a state of emergency accompanied by sweeping press censorship. Only with a fading of sanctions pressures, a rebounding economy, and key changes in the international geopolitical environment (notably, the collapse of the Eastern bloc) did the course of reform reassert itself.”

  6. eGuard says:

    Title does not cover topic I think. Why ‘forget’ “SodaStream”?

  7. ● RE: “Ronald Reagan, a strong ally of the regime in South Africa, also supported the Sullivan Principles as part of his ‘constructive engagement’ policy.” ~ Pamela Olson

    ● FROM WIKIPEDIA [Constructive engagement]:

    [EXCERPT] Constructive engagement was the name given to the policy of the Reagan Administration towards the apartheid regime in South Africa in the early 1980s. It was promoted as an alternative to the economic sanctions and divestment from South Africa demanded by the UN General Assembly and the international anti-apartheid movement.[1]
    The Reagan Administration vetoed legislation from the United States Congress and blocked attempts by the United Nations to impose sanctions and to isolate South Africa.[2] Instead, advocates of constructive engagement sought to use incentives as a means of encouraging South Africa gradually to move away from apartheid.[3] The policy, echoed by the British government of Margaret Thatcher, came under criticism as South African government repression of the black population and anti-apartheid activism intensified. . .

    SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

    ● FROM foreignaffairs.com: “South Africa: Why Constructive Engagement Failed”, By Sanford J. Ungar and Peter Vale, Winter 1985/86

    Article Summary
    Ronald Reagan’s imposition of limited economic sanctions against the South African regime in September was a tacit admission that his policy of “constructive engagement”–encouraging change in the apartheid system through a quiet dialogue with that country’s white minority leaders–had failed. Having been offered many carrots by the United States over a period of four-and-a-half years as incentives to institute meaningful reforms, the South African authorities had simply made a carrot stew and eaten it. Under the combined pressures of the seemingly cataclysmic events in South Africa since September 1984 and the dramatic surge of anti-apartheid protest and political activism in the United States, the Reagan Administration was finally embarrassed into brandishing some small sticks as an element of American policy.
    [We're sorry, but Foreign Affairs does not have the copyright to display this article online.]

    SOURCE – link to foreignaffairs.com

  8. a blah chick says:

    “The video includes footage of Palestinian workers at the factory… and Sodastream chief executive Daniel Birnbaum patting workers on the shoulders and explaining that SodaStream “builds bridges, not walls.”

    Mighty white of you, Dan.

  9. HarryLaw says:

    talknic @ “When was the area legally annexed to Israel? link to wp.me” Thanks for the information, should make the Lebanese and Palestinian claims to their share of the gas fields off their coasts interesting when International arbitration is called for.

  10. Citizen says:

    When did US TV News die, in 2003 when Phil Donohue was fired from his hi-ratings show because he didn’t buy the 2003 news programs all peddling war on Iraq? Did anyone catch this from Amber Lyon last year? link to youtube.com

    • Eva Smagacz says:

      Citizen, this made me speechless. Is ANY content not an infomercial these days?

      • Citizen says:

        @ Eva Smagacz
        Good question. Especially as to news content. Ms Lyon uses Bahrain as an example in the referenced YouTube clip. I’ve never seen the rebellion in Bahrain even mentioned in primetime US news; in contrast, Syria rebellion is much discussed–always as a civil war created by the tyrant Assad regime with Iran as a key foreign enabler of said regime. News about Israel is the biggest example of propaganda, spun with info-bread lies by factual/contextual commission, and slavishly buttered with repetitive praise of Israel.

  11. Here’s an example of a South African collaborator trying his hardest to save Apartheid, exactly 5 years 3 weeks 2 days before F.W. de Klerk announced the repeal of Apartheid laws.

    From The Miami News – Jan 10, 1985
    link to news.google.com

    Zulu tells Ted boycott hurts blacks

    “DURBAN, South Africa — Zulu leader Gatsha Buthelezi, chief of South Africa’s largest tribe, told Sen. Edward M. Kennedy today that pulling U.S. investments out of South Africa to protest its racial policies hurts blacks more than the ruling white minority.”

  12. eGuard says:

    “Hey, we shouldn’t boycott settlement goods. It’ll hurt job prospects for Palestinians!”

    Or one could respond: “Good point, we’ll boycott the whole of Israel instead.”

  13. German Lefty says:

    “Hey, we shouldn’t boycott settlement goods. It’ll hurt job prospects for Palestinians!”

    I just saw the very same argument several times in the comments section to a German article that discusses the pros and cons of the boycott.
    I am very glad that a German newspaper deals with that topic. However, the pros were presented by an Israeli Jew who lives in Germany, not by a German gentile.
    Some other comments to the article compared the call for the boycott of Israeli products to the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews!” and equated it with Jew hatred. A further commenter claimed that the West Bank is merely “disputed territory”, not occupied.
    However, there were also a lot of pro-boycott comments. For example, one couple wrote that they told their fruit and vegetable retailer that they won’t buy any products from Israel anymore “until this rogue state starts behaving humanely”. The retailer replied that they weren’t the only customers with that request.
    http://www.taz.de/Pro–Contra-Israel-Warenboykott/Kommentare/!c112711/

  14. giladg says:

    The forecast for the Palestinian economy is gloom and doom.
    So those with jobs somehow connected to settlements or those who make a living working with settlers, should join the unemployment pool. I am sure donations from Mondoweiss are going to go a long way in putting food on their tables. Even Philip has to shnore for funds. Lets see him take a significant cut in lifestyle. Easy to tell others to do what you are not likely to do yourself.

    • German Lefty says:

      So those with jobs somehow connected to settlements or those who make a living working with settlers, should join the unemployment pool.

      Bullshit! It’s not about creating more unemployment for Palestinians. It’s about creating more employment for Palestinians by finally ending the occupation.

    • K Renner says:

      “The forecast for the Palestinian economy is gloom and doom”

      Because the government of Israel abetted by the jewish population and the western toadies in America and Europe throw as many obstacles in the way of the Palestinians regarding standard of living and economic viability.