In the Spring semester of 2014, Palestinian students and allies of the struggle for Palestinian rights at Harvard University were outraged to find the SodaStream label on water machines in five house dining halls, including Mather, Lowell, and Currier. SodaStream is a beverage machine company notorious for operating out of an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are a constant and state-sponsored project, with Palestinian villages demolished and hundreds of families displaced every year to make room for new, exclusively Israeli neighborhoods, complete with segregated buses and highways. These settlements have been condemned universally, including by the UN and the Obama administration, as one of the most significant impediments to the peace process between Palestine and Israel. They are considered illegal due to their directly contradicting land treaties and agreements signed by both Israel and Palestine.
SodaStream also appeared in the news last year when their celebrity spokesperson, Scarlett Johansson, was forced to resign from her role as Oxfam Ambassador due to her continued appearance in Sodastream advertisements. Oxfam stated, “businesses that operate in settlements, such as SodaStream, further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” Scarlett Johansson chose to leave Oxfam. Now, in the face of this international outcry and plummeting profits, SodaStream announced that it will soon be moving its main production facility out of the West Bank.
For Palestinian students at Harvard, the presence of the SodaStream label represented a direct endorsement of land theft that has destroyed their communities and left thousands without homes. Students quickly brought the issue to the attention of the Mather house masters, Dr. Michael Rosengarten and Dr. Christie McDonald, who to their credit, responded thoughtfully and immediately, organizing a meeting with Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde, representatives from Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS), and Dr. Allen Counter, Director of the Harvard Foundation. A subsequent meeting occurred with Interim Dean of the College Donald Pfister. A final meeting was arranged in Lowell House, to be moderated by Professor Diana Eck, Lowell House Master and Director of the Pluralism Project. Present at this meeting were representatives of Harvard College, HUDS, students supporting the move away from SodaStream, and students opposing it. The discussion was vibrant and productive, culminating in a verbal commitment by HUDS to purchase from vendors other than SodaStream in the future. The aformentioned meetings took place from February 2014 to March 2014, with the release of a statement (copied below) by Professor Diana Eck on April 7, 2014. In the weeks after our final meeting, HUDS showed their commitment to this decision by cancelling an order they had already made for a new SodaStream machine in Adams House, paying the restocking fee, and making an order from a different company.
On behalf of Palestinian rights activists here at Harvard, including members of the Progressive Jewish Alliance who helped us tremendously in this effort, we would like to thank HUDS and the Harvard administration, particularly the House Masters, for their decision to stand on the side of international justice as well as sensitivity to their own students. The discussion surrounding this move was enlightening, and we hope these events will only spur further discussion on the issues of Palestinian human rights and a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
Contact the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee at: [email protected]
Portions of this article were originally published in the Harvard Crimson on December 18th, 2014.