Victory for BDS as SodaStream’s last Palestinian workers lose their jobs

Op-Ed: The liberal-minded beverage firm used to employ hundreds of locals until anti-Israel boycott pressure forced the closure of its West Bank factory. Now the final 75 Palestinian staffers have been fired. Viva Palestina!

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

A Palestinian woman works at SodaStream's plant in Mishor Adumim, February 2, 2014 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A Palestinian woman works at SodaStream's plant in Mishor Adumim, February 2, 2014 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Two years ago, The Times of Israel reported on SodaStream’s plant at the West Bank industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, where the Israeli carbonated beverage company was employing 1,300 workers. Of that workforce, 350 were Israeli Jews, 450 were Israeli Arabs and 500 were West Bank Palestinians. Management and staff confirmed to our reporter that pay and benefits were identical for workers in comparable jobs, irrespective of their citizenship and ethnicity.

We headlined the article, “At SodaStream, Palestinians hope their bubble won’t burst.”

On Monday, it did.

On Monday, SodaStream reluctantly announced that it was laying off its last 75 Palestinian workers, having failed to secure permits from the Israeli government for them to work at its new factory in the southern Israeli Bedouin town of Rahat. Under pressure from anti-Israel boycott groups, which launched a ferocious campaign against SodaStream and its spokeswoman Scarlett Johansson, the firm had closed its Mishor Adumim plant last October.

Hundreds of Palestinians who had been treated equitably by a fair-minded, decent Israeli firm are now out of work.

Scarlett Johansson with Sodastream's Daniel Birnbaum (photo credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream/via JTA)
Scarlett Johansson with SodaStream’s Daniel Birnbaum (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream/via JTA)

Although SodaStream vouched passionately for those last Palestinian workers, insisting that they would pose no danger to Israelis, the government authorities were unmoved — not too surprisingly in the current climate of terror and violence. On Saturday night, at a shopping mall in the settlement city of Ma’ale Adumim, a 10-minute drive away from the former SodaStream plant, a young Palestinian man, Saadi Ali Abu Ahmad, brutally attacked an unarmed security guard, Tzvika Cohen, in an unprovoked assault. Cohen is now fighting for his life in the hospital. Abu Ahmad worked in the mall, with a permit. He knew Cohen; according to some reports, knew him well enough to have had coffee with him.

Proponents of BDS purport to act in the interests of Palestinians, specifically their quest for independence. It is doubtful that the hundreds of unemployed former Palestinian workers of SodaStream see it that way.

Many Israelis — perhaps even most — actually want to partner the Palestinians toward some version of independence. Most Israelis do not want to rule over the Palestinians. Many Israelis, perhaps most, see a prime Israeli imperative in separating from the Palestinians — in order to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state (with its current approximate 3-1 Jewish-non-Jewish majority) and a democracy (with equal rights for that non-Jewish minority).

But every attack like the one on Saturday night bolsters the conviction that another generation of Palestinians has been educated to hate and hit out at Israel and Israelis rather than to seek coexistence alongside us. Given that hostility, even the leader of the center-left opposition, Isaac Herzog, the heir to Yitzhak Rabin’s once-dominant Labor Party, has publicly concluded of late that the notion of relinquishing security in the West Bank to facilitate a fully independent Palestinian state is simply not viable at the moment. If Israel had indeed ended its security oversight of Palestinian population centers, as the international community relentlessly demands, we would now be in the midst of a renewed Palestinian suicide bombing onslaught, rather than the “mere” bloody daily routine of stabbings, drive-by shootings, ax assaults and car-rammings.

The path to Palestinian independence, the way to reverse the grim and futile new wave of knifings, begins not with well- and less well-intentioned international efforts to try again to broker peace talks, and certainly not with ill-intentioned, thinly disguised efforts to weaken Israel such as those pursued by the BDS supporters. It starts, instead, with education. And not just in schools. Carbonated drink factories, too.

Employees work at the new SodaStream factory in Israel's Negev Desert, next to the city of Rahat, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP/Dan Balilty)
Employees work at the new SodaStream factory in Israel’s Negev Desert, next to the city of Rahat, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP/Dan Balilty)

The relatively low-level current Palestinian terror wave is not a strategic threat to Israel in terms of the death toll. But it is a strategic danger because it underlines that yet another generation of Palestinians has been brainwashed — mis-educated — to loathe the Jews as illegitimate usurpers, the source of their misfortune, the targets for their anger and violence.

Israel could do more to give encouragement for those on the Palestinian side who do preach tolerance and coexistence. There has been much talk of economic assistance. There has been too little talk of freezing settlement building in areas Israel does not envisage retaining come the day it is able to separate from the Palestinians. (The Mishor Adumim industrial park sits inside the Ma’ale Adumim settlement bloc that Israel would seek to retain under a permanent accord.) The joint Israeli-Palestinian mechanism, overseen by the United States, that is designed to enable both sides to tackle incitement remains sadly un-utilized.

But the real strategic focus must be on education, on the shattering of stereotypes, on the fostering of tolerance — in schools, in places of worship, in the media, among political leaders, and in the workplace.

Perhaps the most encouraging Israeli-Arab news item I have read in recent weeks was this one, that a new 9th-grade Egyptian text book teaches, for the first time, the process by which Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin achieved the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. That’s how you foster tolerance and understanding.

The most effective direction for those who are campaigning for Palestinian statehood would be to press for a revolution in Palestinian education — to include core elements of that infuriatingly conflicting Israeli historical narrative, and thus to underline that two peoples with rights are fated to share this narrow land. (Israel’s education minister, for his part, needs to ensure that our curriculum remains sensibly diverse and open.) As things stand, Palestinian education is heading in the opposite direction, to an increasing rejection of the very fact of Jewish history here — as most dismally seen in the modern Palestinian dismissal of the sanctity of the Temple Mount for Jews, hitherto unquestioned by Muslims.

At the SodaStream factory in Mishor Adumim, day after unremarkable day, stereotypes were being broken down without anybody even noticing. Jews and Arabs were working together, were treated equally, were able to support their families honorably. A bubble, indeed. But that factory held the promise of a better future for both sides. Who knows what other, similarly minded ventures it could have inspired?

Now it is shuttered. And as of Monday, all of its Palestinian employees are out of work. What a challenge now, for them, to feed their families, to keep their children safe and prevent them from succumbing to the prevailing hatreds.

Well done, BDS campaign. A great victory for Palestine. A great step forward on the way to… what, exactly?

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