When actress Scarlett Johansson agreed to an endorsement deal with SodaStream, the Israeli company that manufactures home carbonation systems, she got much more than she bargained for – a deep dive into the fraught world of Middle East politics and geography.
There are legitimate reasons to criticize SodaStream – and reasons that are not legitimate. First, the illegitimate.
There is a movement to boycott Israeli companies and products, and even universities. This movement in its more radical forms puts all of the responsibility for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Israel, and effectively calls for its demise.
The peace talks that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to restart are of little interest to the movement, which fails to acknowledge the historical complexity of how Israel ended up occupying the West Bank, or why finding a Palestinian partner with which to negotiate a peace has been so difficult.
The continued failure of the peace process has many fathers, both Israeli and Palestinian. The fact that SodaStream is an Israeli company is not a reason to ostracize or criticize it.
Nor is the fact that SodaStream does business on the West Bank. Canada, like our allies, does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel.
But the territories, though not legally part of Israel, cannot be cut off from economic contact with, and trade and investment from, the most prosperous and economically dynamic country in the region. If there is to be a two-state solution – the goal of the peace process – the future Palestinian state will need close economic ties with its neighbour.
SodaStream has a factory on the West Bank, which its CEO Daniel Birnbaum describes as “apolitical,” and says is providing 900 Palestinians with “respectable employment opportunities and an appropriate salary and benefits.” All other things being equal, that too would not be worthy of criticism. But SodaStream is not simply doing business in the West Bank. Its largest factory is in Ma’ale Adumim, an Israeli settlement on the West Bank.
That is the source – and a very legitimate source – of controversy over the company’s activities.