After a tearful goodbye party, a stream of 74 Palestinian workers left a SodaStream factory for the last time on Monday.
These were the last survivors of the once great “Island of peace” that SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum had built in the company’s factory in Mishor Adumim, where 500 out of 1,300 workers were Palestinians from the West Bank.
After the company became the target of an intense boycott campaign in 2014, it was forced to relocate to the south of Israel. Only 74 experienced Palestinian workers were able to continue to work for the company, which employs some 400 Negev Bedouin at the new plant out of a total staff of 1,200.
Then the Israeli government refused to renew the work permits of those remaining Palestinian workers.
The CEO of SodaStream is furious. But his anger today is directed at the Israeli government rather than at the BDS movement that brought the boycott plague upon his house in the first place.
“This has nothing to do with BDS,” Birnbaum told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “It has everything to do with the Israeli government. I hope someone in the government will step up and correct the idiocy in the bureaucracy.”
“There is no way the 74 permits could be so difficult to solve,” he continued, adding that renewing the permits is “both the right thing to do as humans, as Jews and for the security of the state.”
According to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), 58,000 Palestinians hold permits to work in Israel.
‘I hope someone in the government will step up and correct the idiocy in the bureaucracy’
The decision not to renew the permits for the 74 Palestinian was likely not related to security measures since they already had clearance, but was rather a matter of policy to reduce foreign workers that came from the Prime Minister’s Office.
An anonymous official from PMO said only the following statement was available to explain the SodaStream situation: “The policy of the government is to give priority to the employment of Israeli workers. The government will continue to assist the factory in accordance with the law and in an equitable way, as it assists other factories in the area.”
‘Ashamed’ of Israel
On top of his anger, Birnbaum said he was also “ashamed” — ashamed of what he called a blunder by the government of a country for which he cares deeply.
The CEO calculated from the private insurance he provided his 74 former Palestinian workers that they were breadwinners for about 740 people. “Who has the moral right” to take away that income? Birnbaum asked.
One of those who lost their job on Monday was Muhamad Jeradat, 36, a resident of a village near Ramallah and father to three girls and a boy. He had worked as a quality control manager for SodaStream for seven years.
“Each one has his own family to feed to. The situation is very difficult,” said Jeradat.
Though it was difficult to travel every day from the West Bank to the new factory in the southern Israeli Bedouin town of Rahat, Jeradat was content with his employment.
“This was a nice place to work, unlike other jobs for Palestinians that usually require manual labor,” he said.
Jeradat said his former workplace was “a factory of peace. There was never discrimination between the workers and everyone was equal.”
The father of four has not started looking for a new job yet. He is still waiting on the off chance that he will be allowed to work again in the factory — that the government will issue permits after all — or that his old CEO will find him other work.
Birnbaum promised he won’t give up on his former employees. He will not be moving back to the West Bank, but said he aims to help Palestinians set up their own industry.
ָ“If the Israeli government won’t let Palestinians come to their jobs here, I will bring the jobs to the Palestinians,” he said.