In front of the SodaStream plant just outside Jerusalem there is a statue that contains the prophet Isaiah’s exhortation: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” This is not a statue one necessarily expects to find outside a beverage-maker factory, let alone in the hotly-disputed West Bank.
The SodaStream factory is not just any factory, however. In 1996 an Israeli startup converted it from a munitions plant into one that manufactures at-home soda makers, a green-friendly enterprise aimed at weaning consumers away from environmentally-harmful plastic bottles.
SodaStream’s plant has created jobs for 950 Palestinian and Israeli Arabs and 350 Israeli Jews without regard to citizenship or ethnicity. Arabs and Jews work, eat and socialize together, an example of the kind of positive coexistence that is found far more regularly in Israel than conflict-centric media coverage usually suggests.
The company’s global growth has been enormous. It went public in 2010 and is listed on Nasdaq. But Soda-Stream does not only illustrate Israel’s reputation as “startup nation.” It illustrates what the end of conflict could look like in a region afflicted not only by conflict, but by the sort of moral stupidity that is the conflict’s all-too-frequent by-product.
Recently, SodaStream has been targeted by anti-Israel boycotters based on the fact that the plant is located in the West Bank. Of course, the community in which it is located, Ma’ale Adumim, a city of 40,000 with 21 schools and 80 kindergartens located a couple of miles from Jerusalem, is acknowledged by both Palestinians and Israelis as slated to be part of Israel in any peace deal, compensated for by land swaps. The Soda-Stream plant provides jobs for Palestinians whose leaders chose to decimate the Palestinian economy by launching a multi-year campaign of bombings in the early 2000s.
As Nabil Basharat, a Palestinian from near Ramallah, put it last week in rejecting the boycotters’ position: “[T]hey need to understand what this factory gives Palestinian workers.” Put less politely, from their comfortable perches in academia and elsewhere, the boycotters are actually hurting those whom they profess to be seeking to help.
The controversy grew last week as the boycotters tried, and failed, to pressure Soda-Stream spokeswoman Scarlett Johansson into dropping her support for the company. The actress refused to buckle under to an intimidation campaign directed at her on the Internet, standing by SodaStream and emerging as a model for standing up to cyber-bullying.
In an ideal world, the rantings of the anti-Israel crowd would be regarded as too gross to gain any traction. A metastasis has begun, however, and it will not do to sit by idly while it spreads. It is time to start saying “No.”
This op-ed originally appeared in the Boston Herald.