As SodaStream Leaves West Bank, CEO Accuses Boycott Campaigners of Anti-Semitism

Employees at SodaStream in West Bank
SodaStream announced plans to leave its West Bank factory last year Ammar Awad/Reuters

The chief executive of Israeli-owned drinks company SodaStream has accused campaigners against the company's operation in the West Bank of anti-Semitism on Wednesday, two weeks before the company closes its factory in the occupied territory, according to a report in The Guardian.

SodaStream had announced that it was to leave the West Bank last year. The factory is located in the industrial zone of Mishor Adumim within the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim and employed up to 600 Palestinians and 350 Jewish Israelis. Israeli settlements are defined as illegal under international law, a position supported by the U.N., EU, U.S. and the U.K. Israel contests that the settlements are illegal.

Despite attributing the closing of the factory to financial reasons, the company has been targeted by the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a campaign that advocates applying economic and political pressure on Israel to achieve equal rights for Palestinians in Israel and an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The company is to move its operation to a new factory in the Negev Desert in southern Israel. Its current West Bank factory will close its doors in two weeks. CEO Daniel Birnbaum condemned the boycott movement as a hateful campaign.

"It's propaganda. It's politics. It's hate. It's anti-Semitism. It's all the bad stuff we don't want to be part of," he said, according to The Guardian. He added that while the company is seeking to provide all of these workers with permits to transfer to the new Israeli plant, only 130 have been issued by Israel and, therefore, potentially hundreds could lose their jobs.

"SodaStream should have been encouraged in the West Bank if [the BDS movement] truly cared about the Palestinian people," he continued.

Riya Hassan, Europe campaigns officer with the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), countered Birnbaum's comments, saying that any suggestion that SodaStream acts out of concern for its Palestinian workforce was "ludicrous" and that real job creation would occur in the West Bank when Israel ended its occupation.

"SodaStream originally said that Palestinian workers at their West Bank plant would be offered jobs at their new facility in the Negev," the spokesman said. "Its Palestinian workers were paid far less than Israeli workers and Palestinian workers there complained of being treated like slaves.

"Israel deliberately attacks and undermines the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza and this de-development must be challenged," she added.

SodaStream has attracted attention previously because of Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson's relationship with the company. A row over her position as an ambassador for the Israeli company forced her to split with the international charity Oxfam, where she also served as an ambassador. The actress blamed a "fundamental difference of opinion" with the charity. Johansson also ended her commercial relationship with SodaStream soon after the 2014 row which saw her leave her role for the charity.

The BDS movement claimed another "major" success this week when French infrastructure corporation Veolia decided to sell-off its final investment in Israel. Transdev, a subsidiary of Veolia, last week sold its 5 percent stake in CityPass, which runs the controversial Jerusalem Light Rail that connects West Jerusalem with the Arab neighborhoods and Jewish settlements of East Jerusalem.

"SodaStream's announcement today provides further proof that the BDS movement is increasingly able to hold corporate criminals to account for their role in Israeli apartheid and colonialism," said Mahmoud Nawajaa, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BNC.

As SodaStream Leaves West Bank, CEO Accuses Boycott Campaigners of Anti-Semitism | Business