Israel's SodaStream Offers 1,000 Jobs to Syrian Refugees

SodaStream Israel Middle East Refugees
A Palestinian employee works at the SodaStream factory in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim January 28, 2014. Reuters/Ammar Awad

The Israeli drinks company SodaStream International has announced that it is working with an Israeli Bedouin town to give up to 1,000 Syrian refugees "immediate asylum" and employ them at its new factory in southern Israel.

The company recently closed its factory in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim, saying that the move was due to business considerations, although the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a pro-Palestinian pressure group, hailed SodaStream's exit from the West Bank as a victory. SodaStream has now moved its operations to a new factory near the southern Israeli town of Rahat in the Negev Desert.

A statement released by SodaStream on Friday said that the drinks manufacturer and the town are ready to accommodate 200 Syrian refugee families or 1,000 refugees in total. The town's mayor, Talal Al-Krenawi, says it will help to assist Syrian refugees to begin a new life in Israel, as long as the Israeli government permits the proposal.

"As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I refuse to stand by and observe this human tragedy unfold right across the border in Syria," SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said in the statement. A representative from SodaStream was not immediately available to provide further comment as the Israeli headquarters were closed for the Yom Kippur holiday.

"The time has come for local business and municipal leaders to address the Syrian humanitarian crisis and take the initiative to help those in need," he added. "We cannot expect our politicians to bear the entire burden of providing aid for the refugees."

However, before the company can move forward with the project, the proposal must be approved by the Israeli government, which might prove problematic. Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the notion that Israel could absorb Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war.

"Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa. Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth," he said at the time, according to his office.

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog criticized Netanyahu for not assisting Syrian refugees, writing in a Facebook post that the prime minister had "forgotten what it is to be Jewish. Refugees. Pursued."

SodaStream says that approximately 30 percent of employees at its new factory in the Negev Desert come from the town of Rahat where the Syrian refugees would be located. It is the largest Bedouin city in the world with a population of 60,000 as of December 2014, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

A representative from the Israeli Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption was not immediately available for comment.