Harvard University Dining Services has decided to stop buying water machines from Sodastream and will remove the Israeli company’s label from existing devices because it maintains a factory in the West Bank, the Harvard Crimson reported on Wednesday.
Last April the company from which the university was purchasing filtered water machines was taken over by Sodastream, leading some pro-Palestinian students to protest after they noticed Sodastream labels on the machines in dining rooms.
The students asked house masters and tutors to arrange a meeting with a view to having the machines removed, the report said.
Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash, who is a member of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, said that personally she could see why the machines would be offensive to some students.
“I think it is neither anti-Israel nor anti-Semite to take a stand against the occupation,” she said. “These machines can be seen as a microaggression to Palestinian students and their families and like the University doesn’t care about Palestinian human rights.”
A meeting was held on April 7 and after which HUDS decided to stop buying more machines and remove the labels on the ones they have, the Harvard Crimson said.
In October Sodastream announced it would close a West Bank factory that has been targeted by boycott activists and move the facility to a location inside Israel.
SodaStream representative Nirit Hurwitz said that the decision to move the factory to Lehavim in Israel’s southern Negev region was for “purely commercial” reasons and was not connected to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists who had boycotted the company because of its location.
SodaStream has defended the factory in the past, saying it employs hundreds of Palestinians and gives them equal benefits as Israeli workers. Most of them are from nearby West Bank towns.
The company said it would try to keep all of its workers at the new plant, though they will face lengthy commutes and need permits to work inside Israel. For Palestinian workers from the nearby city of Ramallah, the new facility will be over 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. From Hebron, another nearby city in the southern West Bank, the commute will be about 50 kilometers (30 miles).
Actress Scarlett Johansson was caught up in the controversy over the plant’s location earlier this year after she agreed to serve as SodaStream’s global brand ambassador. The decision upset Oxfam International, a humanitarian aid organization for which Johansson had served as a global ambassador for eight years, and she parted ways with the charity.
A pro-Palestinian boycott movement has targeted businesses that operate in the West Bank, saying they benefit from Israel’s occupation of the territory, which was captured in 1967 and is claimed by the Palestinians.
Associated Press contributed to this report.